When Nature Calls

This article was published on Jamestown Audubon’s blog, as well as in local newspapers. It is hard for me to speak so calmly about the topic, because it just makes me mad when I come upon piles of poo and toilet paper in the woods. It doesn’t help that both the dogs I walk with enjoy eating the stuff. So gross. I’m guessing anyone who reads this blog is responsible about it, so I am “preaching to the already-saved” as it were. Anyway…


When Nature Calls
by Jennifer Schlick

The spunky little twenty-something facilitator of the workshop asked us all to think about something we all do every day, perhaps even several times a day. In fact, she encouraged us to review in our minds a typical day and count how many times we do it.

Willis Creek Leanto

The Willis Creek Lean-to on the Finger Lakes Trail in Allegany State Park has an outhouse and an artesian spring.

Once upon waking, once after breakfast. Again before lunch, and once before supper. Once before bed and that makes at least five for me.

Next, she instructed us to take marking flags – one for each time we do it – yellow flags for number 1, oranges ones for number 2 – and “plant” them in the surrounding woods.

There were probably twenty of us at the Leave-No-Trace (LNT) workshop – by now all giggling, some slightly embarrassed. When we returned to the teaching circle, we were surrounded by over one hundred yellow and orange marking flags – a visual representation of the impact we might have on an area – just doing what we all have to do.

Allegany Autumn Breakfast-15

There are no facilities along the Patterson and Snowsnake Run trails, so be prepared! These are great trails for hiking – and skiing when there is snow. There are restrooms at the warming hut at the top of the Art Roscoe ski area.

As with any human activity, there are ways to do even this while having less impact on the environment, which, of course, was the whole point of this part of the LNT training.

What prompted me to write about this topic? I recently took a nice long hike along trails in Allegany State Park and found three little piles of toilet paper on top of the fresh blanket of autumn leaves. One was right next to – almost right in the trail. One was within 3 feet of a creek. And the third – of the orange flag variety – was behind the lean-to where campers eat and sleep. Really, people?

What makes someone do that? Is it a disregard for other people’s experience? “I’ll be gone in a few minutes, what do I care if someone has to come upon my excrement while hiking?” Is it a fear of our own bodily functions? “Ew! I don’t want to touch that any more than I have to!” I hope it’s just that they’ve never been taught the proper way. So let me teach you.

The Leave-No-Trace guidelines instruct us to use facilities if they exist. This seems like a no brainer, but I’ve camped at several lean to areas where others have not used the outhouse. If no facilities exist, and you are camping together with several others, you are best to designate a potty area at least 200 feet from trails, campsites, and water sources, and dig your own mini-latrine. If you are hiking, walk 200 feet away from trails, campsites, and water sources. Deposit human solid waste in a “cat hole” 6-8 inches deep, then cover and disguise the hole. Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. Read it again: Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.

IMG_4753

East Meadow Trail, Allegany State Park

Some of my hiking companions are “grossed out” by this last guideline. It’s not that hard to do. It just takes a little planning. One of the pockets on each of my packs is the potty pocket. In one ziplock bag is clean toilet paper; in another is the dirty stuff that I’ll throw away when I get home.

You may be surprised to learn that there are some heavily visited natural areas that require you to also pack out the human solid waste. Oh, I can hear you screaming, “That’s so gross!” But think about it. Is it less gross to pull your canoe up onto a sandy beach to setup camp only to find that every place you dig brings up someone else’s deposit? That’s what was happening along the Colorado River as rafting became more and more popular. And that’s what prompted organizations to recommend “pack it in, pack it out” – and to have that principle apply to EVERYTHING you bring in. There are products to facilitate the packing out of your own waste.

Next time you are online, do a search for “how to poop in the woods” and see what comes up! In addition to products and advice, you will find a lot of conversation and disagreement about whether it is necessary to cart ours out. Isn’t ours just as natural as the animals’? Won’t ours disintegrate just as the animals’ does?

Turkey Scat

Under the right conditions, animal scat disintegrates and becomes part of the soil. This deposit was left by a turkey.

Sadly, given our diet and medications, ours is not as natural as the animals. And yes, ours will disintegrate over time, just as the animals’ does (or doesn’t depending on the weather and climate)… but as it breaks down (if it breaks down), our pathogens and medications are passed along.

One of the websites I read encouraged people who will be hiking or camping together to have The Potty Talk before venturing out. Don’t make assumptions about what your friends know and don’t know about the proper way to dispose of human waste. Talk about it. Laugh about it. Make rules about it. But for all our sakes, please be responsible about it. The natural world is full beauty and wonder. Let’s not mar it with bad habits. When nature calls, answer responsibly.

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is now on winter hours. Trails remain open from dawn until dusk daily, but the building is closed Tuesday through Friday, except when there are special programs, or by appointment. Monday and Saturday the building opens from 10:00am until 4:30pm. Sundays the building is open from 1:00pm until 4:30pm. Even though the building is not open, if we are inside during business hours, we will hang a sign and unlock the door that leads to our restrooms. If you are hiking or skiing, feel free to stop inside to make your deposits, if you know what I mean!

Jennifer Schlick is program director at Audubon.

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Moon Walking

I was 12.  I was at Girl Scout Camp.  Camp.  No flush toilets.  No showers.  No phones.  No TV.  (and no other electronic stuff because it wasn’t invented yet…)  Roughing it.  And we loved it…

And then there was a TV in the dining hall.  What???  Why?  We NEVER had a TV in the dining hall before?…  And we all went up to the units to get into our jammies, but instead of going to bed, we came back to the dining hall.

We watched and waited.  Some of us dozed.  Finally they sent us to bed…  In the morning, though, the TV was on again…  We saw in re-runs what we had been trying to see live:  The first human steps on the moon.


This picture stolen shamelessly without permission from the NPR website.

Are you old enough to remember?  Tell your story here!

Day 3 – Group Size Reduction

Six of us had to go home after two nights…  Look how triumphant they look!

 Six are Done

By the way, I misjudged my fellow hikers by describing Mode 1 yesterday as “Let’s just get there.”  Here’s what my friend Susan had to say about that:

Actually, the goal of us Mode 1 Hikers was not “let’s just get there”, but rather to experience ourselves traveling through and within the nature on a macro level. We didn’t look at the pieces so much as we looked at the whole. We each commented on feeling in “the zone” as we strode along. And, hey, it was probably nice to stroll into camp with the fire already lit!

Yes, ladies, it was very nice to stroll into camp with the fire blazing.  Thank you for that!  Perhaps if I were in better aerobic health, I could have kept up with you and experienced the zone!  At any rate, I was sad to say goodbye to the Six.  Many thanks to you all for being a part of my trek!

Deb and I carried on at our slow, measured pace…  There is a spot in this section between ASP 1 and Bay State Road that passes an old growth forest.  The biggest trees are at the bottom of a rather steep hill.  We opted not to go explore them today, but vowed to come back another time.  Still, even at the top there were some enormous trees… some standing, others blown down:

 Enormous Cherry (and Deb) Enormous Blowdown (and me)

Can you even see me next to that root mass?  I always wonder what it would be like to be in the woods when the wind is strong enough to take down a tree like that!

The last leanto turned out to be our favorite, tucked in a little hemlock grove on level ground.  Bob walked Emily in from the other end of the trail so she could sing camp songs around the fire and spend the night with us.  An entry in the trail registry warned that the porcupine would likely pay us a visit at around midnight.  I don’t know what time it was, but I had my flashlight and camera ready.  The shots didn’t come out all that well, but you can sort of see him back there between two trees, messing up our neat and tidy wood pile:

Porcupine

He put on quite a display for us, puffing out those quills and trying to look all scary.  It was hysterical to watch him climb down the tree in a sort of ratcheting fashion, and to climb up with no effort at all like a gekko – as though the tree were horizontal.  (none of those pictures turned out at all!)

We drift off thinking of tomorrow and hot bubble baths…

Day 2 <– Click –> Day 4

Day 2 – Scary, Icky, Mysterious Wildlife

Day two was full of wonderful walking, nice surprises, pleasant people, great food in gorgeous locations…  And I could go on and on about the details of all that… but for some reason, three wildlife events stick in my mind:

Scary:  Bear Scare!

Just after we crossed ASP 3 – a road that goes through the park – and after we had a delicious lunch on the banks of Stony Brook, with Our Lunch Spot - Stony Brooknaked toes dangling in the water, and were packing up to start our climb up the next section of trail, we met a woman who was running down the hill.  She had a big swelling scrape on her shin and was obviously in a panick.  She and her boyfriend had just seen a bear.

As we put our backpacks on again to resume our hike, we decided to take our cameras out, so that if we also saw the bear we could take it’s picture…  The poor woman was incredulous that we would continue on…  But, we weren’t afraid.  We sang “The Other Day, I Met a Bear” as we climbed the hill, knowing that all our noise would send the bear for cover…

Icky:  Tent Caterpillars

It was just gross.  Totally gross.  For about 2 miles of our hike, the caterpillars were so plentiful that our faces and arms were continuously covered with webs.  When we stopped for a brief rest, there was so much frass falling from above hitting the leaves that it nearly sounded like rain.

 The Amazing Concetta Deb holds them in place...

At one point we found a particularly good nest, a bit too high for a photograph.  But my companions were able to bring it to my level.  First Concetta coaxed the tree down, then Deb held the branch steady.  Such pals.

Mysterious:  Unidentified Bird Call

There were two modes of hiking among the 8 women on this trip.  Mode 1:  let’s just get there!  Mode 2:  let’s not kill ourselves.  Deb, Concetta, and I were mode 2 hikers.  During one of our many long breaks, we munched on party-colored chocolate-covered sunflower seeds and heard a bird we did not recognize.  Close-by and loud is a Red-eyed Vireo, but in the distance, can you hear the mystery sound?

I was sure I had never heard it before.  When I got home, I noticed a certain bird listed on the sightings list at Audubon and wondered if that was it.  I checked it at the Cornell site, and sure enough:  Black-billed Cuckoo.  Then last weekend when I got to Allegany (again) for the pilgrimage and heard it calling outside the registration building I realized I HAD heard it before.  The interesting thing is what the Cornell site had to say about diet:

Cuckoos eat many spiny caterpillars and the spines stick in the lining of the stomach. The stomach lining is periodically shed to remove the spines. source

Well, little Cuckoos… you weren’t eating them fast enough for me!!

Day 1 <– Click –> Day 3

Day 1 – Wildflowers!

The mighty LASSes (Ladies Adventure and Social Society) and a few of their lassies set for themselves a rugged challenge for Memorial Day weekend 2009:  to hike the section of the North Country Trail / Finger Lakes Trail that goes through Allegany State Park.

002-Ready to hit the trail

This hike would be shorter in distance than the last, but more rugged and stretched over more days – 4 days, 3 nights.

Due to a sleeping bag that went missing, we got a later start than we had hoped and had to hit the first steep mile in the heat of late morning.  I nearly passed out!  But a nibble on a PowerBar and a few sips of water and I managed to make the top of the hill.  Lunch at the top of the hill provided many miracles to reward us…

…including this beetle:
Gorgeous Insect

…and a view of a Hairy Woodpecker that kept going in and out of a hole that looked far to small for her to fit:
Hairy Woodpecker Babies Inside!

The theme for day one, though, had to be Wildflowers.  I’ll list some, but I’m sure I’ll have forgotten many:

  • CPolygala (Gay Wings)anada Mayflower
  • Foam Flower
  • Dwarf Ginseng
  • Several kinds of violets including Canada Violet (the tall white ones with the purple on the back)
  • Mayapples
  • Fringed Polygala (a.k.a. Gay Wings)
  • White Baneberry
  • Blue Phlox
  • Wild Geranium
  • SCanada Violetsweet Cicely
  • Star Flower
  • Miterwort
  • Golden Saxafrage
  • Painted Trillium
  • White Trillium
  • Red Trillium
  • Yellow Clintonia
  • Solomon’s Seal
  • False Solomon’s Seal
  • Bird’s Eye Speedwell
  • Rosybells

Stunning” seems too mild a word to describe the flowers we saw.  MiterwortNot only were individual specimens large and healthy, but so were populations of them.  Some species, for example, were found in huge patches.  There was one rocky spring-fed area we crossed that had Miterwort intermixed with Jewelweed leaves cascading down the slope.

We were pretty beat by the end of the first day.  But a splash in the creek, a good dinner, a couple of Advil, an amazing night of sleep and I felt like a new woman.

Click –> Day 2

Cayuga Lake State Park

After the backpacking adventure, Emily and I headed east so that she could see her friends at college before heading off to Costa Rica for the semester.  Not wanting to spend exorbitant amounts of money on lodging, and having our car filled up with camping gear, we opted to stay at one of the NYS Parks:  Cayuga Lake State Park.  I made reservations ahead of time since it was the Labor Day Weekend…  $57 for 3 nights.  Not bad at all, since the B&B in town would be three times that amount for one night…

We arrived under clear skies and set up our tent, cooked dinner over my Pocket Rocket stove, ate, showered, then took a walk down by the lake.  We hit the mats pretty early and slept well.  It rained in the night and early morning. Here’s a shot from the driver’s seat of the car. Emily is still snoozing in the tent…

Coffee Perks in the Rain
What is that under the umbrella?

Nothing stops me from my morning coffee
Nothing keeps me from my morning coffee!  (Thank goodness there was no wind.)

Cayuga Lake State Park was clean, safe, and provided everything I needed for the weekend – a cheap place to sleep, a hot shower and a home base for my Finger Lakes explorations.  It is not my idea of camping, though it was for hundreds of families, all of whom obeyed the 10pm – 7am quiet time.  Campsites are a little close together for my taste, though most are separated by trees and bushes from the next site.  The biggest downside for me was that almost every family had its own campfire.  The air was thick with campfire smoke making it a little hard to breathe as we tried to go to sleep.

The funniest thing we saw:  Look at the top photo.  Behind and JUST to the right of the umbrella – all blurry and out of focus – is a car parked at a campsite on the other side of the road.  The building to the right is the bathhouse.  The person at that campsite (hidden completely behind my umbrella in the second photo) DROVE to the shower in the morning.  Emily and I were incredulous.  When we walked over for our morning ablutions, we decided to count the paces from her campsite to the shower:  63.  SIXTY THREE PACES!  AND SHE DROVE!!!  Still shaking my head about that…  Oh well… it WAS raining, after all.  Don’t want to get wet on your way to get wet…

Learn more:


Camping with Emily

Canoeing with EmilyIn my camping box there is a little journal that we started on June 16, 2000.  “We” would be Girl Scout Troop 289…  disbanded, the number probably assigned to another troop by now.  I don’t know who wrote the first entry.  She didn’t sign her name.  Here’s what it said, all spellings as they were written:

We had to go to are school.  Then we went to camp and made are bed.  Then we made Banana Bout.  Then we went to bed leat at night.

My youngest daughter, Maddie, who was 8 at the time, wrote this a bit later in the weekend:

Today at lunch we found 2 toads.  everyone went crazy.  before lunch we made our T-shirts.  we used painted leafs.

Each time we go camping, we list the wildlife we see.  That first year, the girls were very young and we were consumed with making sure they were busy so that no home-sickness would set in.  The only wildlife listed were toads, newts, and a dragonfly nymph (spelled “nimt” by the journal writer!).  Meals were simple – hot dogs on a stick… S’mores…  Actually, I’m surprised we made Banana Boats!  That’s pretty complicated for little girls…

A Pickles RoastFast forward to 2008.  Emily is 18 and she and I are camping together – just the two of us until Chelsea joins us for the last evening.  What a great time we had…  packed with activities that included the Girl Scout Cookie Carnival (Friday evening), Camp Open House (Saturday afternoon) – including a Pickle Roast, and our own little outing to Tom’s Bird Banding station on Sunday.

Despite the busy schedule, we still managed to relax, read a little, do some dragon-hunting, cook some excellent meals, and pay attention to all the wildlife we saw and/or heard.

My favorite part of the weekend were the two evenings when we canoed at dusk.

Emily Floats Between Two Worlds

The lake was so still and beautiful.  We heard plenty of birds all around us and watched the swallows and the kingbirds over the water.  We sneaked up on the beaver lodge and were scolded numerous times by the slap of the beaver’s tail.  If only I had my camera at the ready for that!

The nest boxes that my girls built and installed as part of their Bridging activities from Juniors to Cadettes years ago – the account of which is also in the journal – still play home to birds.  We found tree swallows in two of them.

Wildlife List:

Amphibians: American Toad, Green Frogs, Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs, and could that one trill have been a Gray Tree Frog???  I wish…

Tree SwallowBirds: American Goldfinch, American Robin, Barn Swallow, Barred Owl, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Bobolink, Canada Geese, Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Common Loon, Common Yellowthroat, Crow, Cuckoo, Field Sparrow, Green Heron, Hairy Woodpecker, House Wren, Indigo Bunting, Kingbird, Kingfisher, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow, Tree Swallow, Turkey Vulture, Veery, Wood Thrush, Yellow Warbler

Fish (don’t know what kinds)

Luna MothInsects: Calico Pennant, Common Baskettail, Common Whitetail, Eastern Forktail, Eastern Pondhawk, Firefly, Forest Caterpillars, Fritillaries, Gnat, June Beetle, Ladybug, Lancet Clubtail, Luna Moth, Mosquitoes, Paper Wasps, Prince Baskettail, Sedge Sprite, Spittle Bug, Summer Azure, Tiger Swallowtail, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Variable Dancer, Wasp (the one with the REALLY long ovipositor – at least 3X longer than the body), Widow Skimmer

Mammals: Bat, Beaver, Dog, Eastern Cottontail, Mink, Muskrat, White-tailed Deer (an adult on camp and a fawn on the road to Randolph)

Reptiles: Garter Snake, Painted Turtle, Snapping Turtle, Water Snake

Besides taking too long to eat breakfast, part of the reason we were late arriving at Bird Banding on Sunday was this Snapping Turtle, laying eggs in a hole on the side of the road on the HILL that leads up to the tent units.  What an unlikely place for a nest.
Mama Snapping Turtle

Crab Spider on CloverMiscellaneous Other Critters: Crab Spider, Earthworm, Giant Millipede, Harvestman

Wildflowers: Bedstraw, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Dogwood, Hawkweed (yellow and orange), Musk Mallow, Oxeye Daisies, Red Clover, White Clover, Wild Roses

All weekend long, rain alternated with sun.  There were thunderstorms at night…  None of it seemed to matter.

Rose After the Rain

We had a fabulous time.  If it weren’t for the fact that the entire sixth grade from Portville School came noisily to camp on Monday morning, it would have been very hard to leave.