Cross Country Skiing

Two SkiersI don’t think I went skiing even once last year.  I had fallen in love with the snow shoes so my poor skis sat lonely in the garage.  Today, I ended the skiing hiatus with a lovely outing at Camp Timbercrest with my eldest daughter.

Lolli was quite delighted to be asked to join us.  I think for every mile we travelled, she travelled three.  Take a look at my shadow…  Emily Took This Picture of MeActually… take a look at all the doggie footprints ahead of me in the trail…  Those are all Lolli’s.  She absolutely BOUNDS through the snow… she loves it.

Here’s a little opportunity to have a laugh at Emily’s expense:

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up 1

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up 2

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up 3

It was such a pretty day.  We had a blast skiing on pristine snow.  This weekend, the camp will be FULL of Girl Scouts trampling the snow everywhere: sliding, hiking, skiing, and generally having a great time.  I think we timed our ski trip well.

Thanksgiving with the Birds

I started visiting the Audubon Center and Sanctuary in the 1970s.  I took my children to Saturday programs and camps 10 or 15 years ago.  I’ve worked there for the past nine years.  Still, it took until this year for me to make it to one of Audubon’s oldest traditions – Thanksgiving with the Birds.

Making the soup... Tim Eckstrom adds his contribution...In the early days, before Jamestown Audubon Society had any property, the event was held at Allegany State Park.  Once the property on Riverside Road was acquired, the dinner had a home – outside at first… now mostly inside.

It all starts at 11:15 when the fire is started for the (in)famous soup pot.  The recipe?  It’s sort of a variation on Stone Soup, I guess you could say:  As folks arrive, they dump a small portion of any-kind-of soup into the pot.  Well, not any-kind-of…  They are supposed to avoid cream soups.  Broth soups only.

Jennifer Tries the SoupIn years past, not all have obeyed the no-cream-soups rule.  I know… I’ve seen the leftovers in the refrigerator the next morning…  not very appetizing.  So, understandably, I was a bit hesitant when it was time to sample the soup.

This year, it was pretty tasty… so tasty that there were barely any leftovers!

While folks enjoy soup outside, volunteers work inside decorating the tables and carving the turkeys.  A committee supplies the turkeys; all the side dishes are provided potluck style by the participants.

The Table Decorations Carving the Turkey

After dinner, there is always a program, often with slides.  Think about that.  People come and fill themselves with way too much food, including turkey with its supposed sleep-inducing  tryptophan.  Then we turn the lights down low, show some pretty pictures, and talk to them…  Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for disaster?  It did to me, the invited speaker!  (Yes, you heard it right… I wasn’t at this event as a fellow guest… I was on the clock!  I suppose my boss will tease me forever about how the only way she was able to get me to this annual event was to make me work on a Saturday!)

Watching the Birds

My talk was completely random.  Pictures made it into the slide show only if they were taken at the Sanctuary or of an official offsite event, and if they inspired an interesting story.  I gave prizes for people who were truly paying attention.  I think only one person snoozed a little during a two and a half minute stretch of 36 wildflower pictures that automatically advanced every 4 seconds or so…  Hypnotizing…

Anyway… I had a great time and might go back again – even if I don’t have to work that Saturday!  The food was great.  The company was great.  A fabulous way to kick off the holiday season. 

There are more pictures at Audubon’s Flickr Site.

What Were We Thinking?

Waterway Trail - the way it looks just before a really scary thunderstorm...My friend Sue and I had quite the adventure today.  I checked the weather forecast in the morning.  Honest I did.  It said possible thunderstorms late in the afternoon or early evening…  Well…  unless 11am is now considered late afternoon/early evening…  Anyway, we’re still alive, did not get struck by lightning (though one crashed so nearby there was no time to count even a single second between flash and noise!), and didn’t suffer hypothermia.

The whole idea was to explore a part of the Marden Cobb Waterway Trail for my Hike Chautauqua blog.  I wanted to get some pictures along the way, experiment with my new polarizing filter, etc.  My camera spent most of the time inside the dry bag, so I don’t have many pictures to share.

We got a bit of a false start trying to decide where to put in and which direction to paddle.  We finally put in at the Levant launch and paddled upstream a little ways toward Ross Mills, then swung around and returned to Levant.


I wish I could show you pictures:  A great blue heron, green herons, some sort of sand piper or yellow legs, some swallows or martins, and some LBBs (little brown birds) graced us with their presence.  (Sorry I’m not more specific on the species… I’m a Reluctant Birder, don’t forget!)  A couple of flocks of Canada Geese honked overhead.  Fish jumped and flashed their tails.  At least 4 different kinds of dragonflies went by – too far away to identify postively.  Flowers were plentiful, too:  several species of smartweeds, cardinal flower, blue vervain, jewelweed, arrowhead, some new yellow thing that I must learn…

We're going to have to paddle like h*#! to get back to the car before the storm!After we had been paddling for 45 minutes or so, we thought we heard thunder.  We turned back right away.  After a bit of paddling downstream, the temperature dropped noticably and the sky darkened.  Lightning flashed.  It began to sprinkle.  We thought it might be wise to pull the canoe close to shore, munch on some trail mix and wait a bit.  Let’s just say it got a LOT worse before it got better.  Now you know that I love rain and I don’t mind taking my camera out when it is a bit drizzly.  Yeah.  Not in this rain, though.  It came down HARD and fast and the lightning flashed all around us for some time.

When it seemed to be slowing down, we paddled a bit further… but the flashing started up again… so we found “cover” under a shrubby willow.  Sue laughed… She had just returned from a camping trip in the Adirondack’s yesterday.  Our Trusty Canoe... filling slowly with water...Out there, she had to sign waivers and release forms assuring everyone that she understood the danger of bears and knew the precautions one had to take to avoid an encounter.  Here we sat in our own backyards in more serious “mortal danger” than she had been amongst the bears…  “If a lightning strike doesn’t kill us, maybe hypothermia will…”  Hmmm… But what a way to go:  doing what you love – and snacking on chocolate at the same time!

I'm smiling.  But I'm thinking... Ball cap - in the car.  First aid kit - in the car.  Space blanket - in the car.  Raincoat - in the car.  Thank the Goddess the chocolate is here with us!

After we got back to the launch and wrestled the canoe back to the top of Sue’s car, I hopped in my car and turned the heat up all the way.  A nice hot shower and a nice hot cup of coffee later, and I felt I could type again…  Next time, we’ll be more prepared… We’ll bring twice as much chocolate and a thermos of coffee to go with it!

If you click here, you can read Sue’s “Canoeing Adventure”.

Staff Relaxation Day

Ruth Sails - Sarah RelaxesOne of the nicest things our boss did for us was heed our suggestion that we could really use a Staff Relaxation Day each summer when Day Camp was over and before the school season got underway.  Yesterday was our third or fourth (we can’t quite remember) annual.  At my suggestion, we went out to Camp Timbercrest where each could of us partake in whatever activity we found most relaxing.  Some brought books.  Some cameras.  We all brought food.  Some sat and soaked up the sun.  Others enjoyed the cool shade.  Some hiked.  Some went boating.  We had perfect weather and we all got the chance to relax.

JeffIf you haven’t figured it out, one of my favorite ways to relax is to hike with my camera.  After boating a bit in the morning and eating a delicious potluck lunch, I took a hike around the lake with Jeff who taught me a few new flowers and a fern.

I’ll start with the fern, because it was so little and cute.  It’s called Lance-leaved Grape Fern:

Lance-leaved Grape Fern

Nodding Smartweed
I knew it was a smartweed.  Now I know it is Nodding Smartweed.

White Snakeroot Closeup
White Snakeroot is a tall edge-of-the-woods plant.  It reminds you a little of Boneset.  Below is a picture of the whole plant, next to a small picture of Dewdrop.

White Snakeroot   Dewdrop

Dewdrop and moss and hemlock
Dewdrop – mixed in with moss and a little Hemlock sapling…

Yeah so, nothing new here:  Jennifer relaxes by hiking and taking pictures… and she’s always learning new flowers…

What do you do to relax?

Dogs Have Passion, Too

I named this blog “A Passion for Nature” because I have one.  I also have companions in my life whose passion rivals my own.

LolliThis is Lolli.  Lolli is my dog.  (Or, better said, as all pet people know, I am Lolli’s human.)  She’s a mixed breed (a.k.a. mutt).  Poor Lolli.  She shouldn’t live in suburbia.  She should live in the country.  She loves the woods.  Loves to run.  Loves to chase squirrels or rabbits or deer.  Loves to roll in “stuff.”  Loves to carry around big sticks.  I mean BIG.  The stick pictured here is a mere twig compared to some of the logs she chooses to carry.  It’s got to hurt her mouth… but that doesn’t stop her!  Sometimes she chooses really long branches and then watch your calves!

On the Trail of a DeerLolli is my most frequent companion when hiking.  She’ll go anywhere, anytime.  Weather never deters her.  Rain?  Snow?  It doesn’t matter.  Time of day?  Doesn’t matter.  Whenever you want to go, she’s ready.  Already went for a long walk this morning?  So what?  She’ll go again.

I like having her along.  Sometimes she points things out to me that I may have missed – an animal sound or track.  Of course, sometimes she destroys the tracks before I can see them… Oh well.

Mozart is a relatively new friend.  He’s a wonderful big German Shepherd with kind eyes.  He has a human named Terry.  I first met Mozart when I went to Terry’s shop to watch him make some wooden bluebird eggs for my display at Audubon.  Mozart goes everywhere with Terry, so of course he was at the shop.  Turns out, Mozart has a passion for nature, too.  Don’t his eyes seem to say… “Please let’s go to the woods!”


Mozart Retrieves RockMozart loves water.  Anytime we are hiking, if we come to a pond, creek, or puddle, Mo goes right over and gets in.  Even in winter.  I was so surprised to see him get into a creek and lie down on a cold snowy winter day.

As much as Lolli loves big sticks, Mozart loves rocks.  If you throw a rock in the water, he will retrieve it.


Mozart and Lolli get along fairly well.  There are disagreements over toys, sticks, and deer carcasses now and again.  But they seem to have figured out how to share the back of the truck, or the back seat of my car… somehow knowing that suffering the cramped quarters will be rewarded with a long romp in the woods. 

Mo’s human likes nature, too.  Luckily, his boss let’s him off work once in a while so the four of us can go hiking!

Pine Hill Forest

We Started HereWe’ve had an unusual run of exceptionally good weather.  I can hardly stand to stay inside when it’s like this.  Thursday I spent most of the day tramping around at various places, and finding more places where I’d like to tramp.  On one of the backroads up behind Camp Timbercrest, I saw several trail heads along the road with round, red NYS Department of Environmental Conservation markers.  Friday, I went back to explore one of them, dragging Bob along.  That’s him, standing by the trail head.  He doesn’t even look too unhappy about it.  (Bob doesn’t mind an occasional walk in the woods.  But he doesn’t like to go all day, or for several days with a backpack, the way I like to!)

Some Trail Markers Were PinkIn some places along the trail, you could find more of the round, red metal markers nailed to trees.  But most of the time, we followed bright pink ribbon that was attached to overhanging branches using clip clothespins.  This was a new method of trail marking for me…  I thought it was clever, though my cynical mind wondered if a prankster may have moved some of the ribbons to random new locations…

Mixed ConifersSometimes the ribbons were difficult to find and because the trail is not heavily used, it wasn’t always obvious where to go.  But with a little patience, and only a few false turns, we managed not to get lost.  It was such a gorgeous day – brilliant, blue sky, just the right temperature.

Whenever I walk these old hills, I find myself wondering about the history, the land use over time.  In 1890, only 20-25% of New York State had forest cover, so it is quite likely this forest was farmland a little over 100 years ago.  By the 1920s and 30s, many of the farms had been abandonned and New York State had begun a reforestation program.  Hardwoods TooMillions of trees were planted all across the state, which explains the arrangement of trees – often in straight rows, as well as the high numbers of non-native species.

The trees weren’t all non-native.  And they weren’t all “new”.  I was especially taken by a stand of very old, very large white pines.  How did these magnificent giants escape harvest, I wondered.

Magnificent Big Old White Pines

From what I understand, white pines were coveted for furniture-making, building, and especially for masts for British ships.  So most were cut and shipped out of our region when the Europeans arrived in this area.  Maybe these pines were younger than they looked.  But let me tell you again:  they were BIG! 

The hike we took alternated between old logging/agricultural roads, and more rustic looking trails.  A clear, fast-running creek sliced through the center of the trail loop.  A mixture of conifers made up most of the forest, but at one point we found ourselves in the midst of a wide expanse of deciduous trees.

It isn’t a difficult trail:  it descends to the creek, then ascends again to the road.  But the climbs are not steep.

False HellaboreThe forest floor did not disappoint.  There were several species of ground pine, as well as the promise of many spring wildflowers.  Skunk Cabbage and False Hellabore were sporting lush new greenery.  The speckled leaves of Trout Lily were popping up through brown forest floor.  Spring-fed seeps made me wonder if I might find later this spring or summer some of the odonates that like that sort of breeding area.

The trail we walked is one of several on this same road.  One of these days, I intend to return to walk them all.

You can read more about the history of the New York State Reforestation Program at the DEC website:

There are a few more pictures, and a topo at my Flickr Site:

Friends and the Outdoors

Mother GooseI try to get outside for at least a little walk every day, regardless of the weather, or the availability of a companion.  I must admit that walking with a friend is my favorite way to enjoy the natural world.  Yesterday provided me with two opportunities: one at the Center with Linda O. and one at Point Gratiot on Lake Erie with Sue Mc.

Goose NestIt was a busy day at work, with lots of reports and grant requests to get done.  So by lunchtime, I was a little stressed.  Faithful volunteer, Linda O., was on hand to help with some of the work and she agreed to take a little stress-reliever with me.  We chose to walk a short 1/2 mile loop on which we know of at least one nesting goose.  In just a couple of weeks, the school field trips will begin in earnest at the Center and we’ll have loads of kids to march past those goose nests.  We consider it our duty to go out daily – possibly even more than once per day – to help get the mother goose acclimated to people.  (OK, admittedly… it’s just another excuse to get outside!)  She hissed at us, dutifully, but stayed put.  It’s a stupid place for a nest, but the trail is wide enough that we could get around her without causing too much undo distress.

MuskratAnother nest further on has three unprotected eggs and no sign of parents.  We’re curious what will happen with them!  A muskrat munched on grass on the bank of the pond, seemingly unconcerned.  We also saw many things that left me longing for a longer lens again…  An immature bald eagle, rusty blackbirds, shorebirds and ducks.

Icescape-Lake ErieAfter work, I headed north to Fredonia to spend some time with my friend, Sue Mc.  She took me up to a park on Lake Erie called Point Gratiot – a place where I had picnicked many times as a child – but which I hadn’t visited in a long time.  The ice was piled up near the shore like mountains.  There was some exposed beach, however, that provided plenty of opportunities for interesting shots.  I took photographs of driftwood, rockpiles, the shale cliffs, and , yes, even trash.  Here are the shots that got “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” from my colleagues:
Driftwood Sculpture 3
Layers of History 1
Party Remains

You can see the whole set of photos I took on my Flickr site in the “Lake Erie” set:

Friend and the Outdoors:  It’s a natural combination.  Try it!

A River Runs Through Me?

Me and my brother - a Swimming day, not a fishing dayAs a kid, the only fishing I did was with a bamboo pole from the end of a dock on Lake Chautauqua.  Most often, we just walked to the end of the road on a cool summer day.  (Hot summer days found us IN the lake.)  I thought it was terrific fun.  The night before, we would soak the lawn with the hose, then wait for the nightcrawlers to make their way to the surface.  In the light of our flashlights, we’d see that little glint – that little reflection off the slimy fat bodies.  We’d nab one when about half of its body was out of the hole.  You had to hold on just tight enough to keep them from retreating back.  Eventually, they would relax and slide easily out of the hole and we’d toss them into the coffee can with a little garden soil.

Next morning, it was off to the lake with our poles, the worms, and a bucket to bring back our catch.  It was through fishing that I first became aware of the process of learning.  I can remember making mental notes about just what the bobber needed to be doing before I should pull… and just what direction I should pull to make sure I caught the hook in the mouth of the fish.

Grandpa and Scotty on Lake ChautauquaSometimes we would go over to my grandpa’s house at night to fish; he lived right on the lake.  That was exciting, because it always meant we would get to stay up late, and we would get to watch grandpa clean the fish – removing the roe, which he loved to fry up and eat for dinner.  (We thought that was gross.  But we still loved to watch!)

My Dad with the MuskiMy dad had a spinning rod and he fished some when we were kids – often at night.  I remember the night he brought home a muskie.  Mom had put the three kids to bed, but being summer, we weren’t asleep.  We heard him come home and heard all the commotion.  I distinctly remember watching my mom take this photograph as I stood nearby in my summer pajamas, barefoot.  After he retired, he would go out with his friend Chuck just about every day in the summer on Chuck’s boat.  Now that he is gone, I regret that I never went out with them.  Chuck’s gone, too.  Maybe they’re fishing together somewhere out there…

At the Nature Center where I work, Sarah decided to set up a fly fishing workshop and I decided to take it.  I knew my friend Sue had done some fly fishing and I thought maybe we could become fishing buddies.  We took the workshop together this morning, which included a little background on the sport and a tying demonstration.  Then we got to try our hands at tying a fly, and learning a few tips about casting.

I'm Tying a FlyThere was a lot of information in a short amount of time.  I got a little frustrated with the fly tying, because my vice kept slipping.  But eventually, I managed to create something that might catch a fish.  Thank goodness Sue was with me, because she will be my mentor when we actually go out fishing.  That’s what it’s all about… getting into the creeks.

Alberto ReyNotes:  (1) I’ve never seen the movie, nor read the story “A River Runs Through It”… but I plan to soon.  (2) Sue tells me that fly fishing is a sport that was started by a woman, and at which women tend to excel – sometimes better than men…  I need to find out more about that.  Not that it’s a competition, mind you… (3) Many of the flies sold by companies like Orvis are tied by women in cottage industries…  Interesting…  (4) Here’s a picture of our instructor.  His website is  (You should go there.  He’s an artist, college drawing and painting professor, and fly fishing teacher and guide.