Monday, April 30, 2012

Valley Malt

Spent the morning with Andrea of Valley Malt in Hadley, Massachusetts. With her 2 year old daughter Sara on her hip she showed us around their malting facility and fields planted with malt barley and we learned a lot.

Hadley is a different place from where we live where there is a constant battle between farmland and suburban sprawl. In Hadley everyone lives along the road and the land behind the houses all remains in agriculture and is referred to locally as “the old meadow.” Located in an oxbow of the Connecticut River this land is very fertile and has been farmed since the Native Americans lived there. The soil is a type known as Haldey Loam and is one of the better sandy loam soils in the country.

Andrea and her husband grow malt barley on about 40 acres of land in Hadley. Behind their malt house they have another five acres which they rent from a neighbor. This is where they do field trials. In addition to malting barley they raise themselves organically they buy barley from other organic farmers. In their malting facility barley kernels are steeped in water, then germinated, releasing the sugars. The barley is then “kilned” which essentially means dried. The Malt House, which started production in 2010, sells the locally grown barley to craft brewers through the Northeast

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pillar/Chimney Rock No More

You know you are old when events of geological significance begin to occur during your lifetime. As long as most alive can remember there has been a column of rock rising up at the base of the Helderberg Escarpment known by many as Pillar or Chimney Rock. It was actually once part of escarpment. Over who knows how many years, a crevice eroded away between the giant tower of rock and the cliff it was once attached to and eventually it stood on its own as a towering column as high as the cliff itself. A couple of days ago it fell down.

News traveled fast in our neighborhood, which lies along the base of the mountain. Many of us who live here have grown up here and spent a lifetime studying the cliffs in all seasons. We don’t know yet of anyone who heard it fall but one neighbor, Dwight Anderson, who lives on the flats right below the section of the escarpment where Pillar Rock had stood, came home one day and thought something seemed strange. He studied his environs and soon determined that Pillar Rock, which was visible from his back door, was gone. He called another neighbor, Tim Albright with the news. Yesterday Tim called my husband, and that’s how I found out. This morning my husband went down the road to take a look and it is true—Pillar Rock is no more.

Pillar Rock stood near the base of Yellow Rock Falls, an area which is in Thacher Park but is not accessible to the public. As teenagers however we frequently set out from our own backyards and climbed up to the base of the escarpment. The huge, limestone blocks of staggering size that litter the slope beneath the cliffs had fallen once, as Pillar Rock would eventually do. We spent hours scrabbling amongst these enormous boulders as big as cars and along the Upper and Lower Bear Paths that run the length of the escarpment.  It was possible to walk along a narrow path in between Pillar Rock and the cliff and of course we did.

If you want to learn more about Thacher Park, check out the book of antique photographs I helped Tim Albright put together, John Boyd Thacher Park and the Indian Ladder Region

Also, this Saturday local people will have a chance to talk to state officials about what we think the future should hold for Thacher Park. The state folks will be at the Emma Treadwell Nature Center on Saturday, April 28 from 9 to 5 to hear comments.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Confident Warblers, Barracudas, Flat Tires and Dutch Cheese

One of the best things about Bonaire is the abundance of Belgian and Dutch beer and excellent cheeses which make a good lunch or happy hour snack. There is a giant Dutch grocery store here called Van Der Tweel which has an incredible selection of cheese.

We have been combing the west coast of the island, snorkeling at various spots along the way. A trip to an abandoned fishing village introduced us to the island’s Yellow Warbler, described in the island bird book as “Very Confident”. Our truck was swarmed by these little birds who were intent on fighting their reflections in the side mirrors.

Snorkeling this morning, Dieter and Wolfie saw a very big barracuda, Dieter actually swam with it for awhile. Happily I did not see it. I was lucky enough to be the only one to see a ray. The other day, thanks to Wolfie’s sharp eyes, we all saw a turtle.

We went to Washington Slaagbaai Park today, careening around back roads in our trusty pick up. Dieter was able to make a video that you all should find interesting of a Caracara bird eating a dead goat. We found a great isolated beach. It even had a cave Wolfie and I were able to use as a changing room. The water over the coral was so shallow though we felt like we were swimming in a fish tank and had to got out. That is when Dieter almost stepped on a poor little striped eel. We got back up to the top of the cliff to find the trusty truck had a flat tire. Fortunately Dieter was able to change the tire without too much trouble.

Oh, one more exciting thing, Wolfie is now drinking espresso!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


As often happens when you travel you set off to see one thing and end up seeing quite another. Today we set off for the town of Rincon, located in the hills and the center of the island. It is a very old town, settled by the Spanish in the 1500s. Our plan was to go to the town, walk around and see what there was to see, then get something to eat at the one restaurant there. It turned out to be a very quiet place aside from the preschool where several  women wrestled a dozen or so toddlers on a fenced in porch. The restaurant, despite the sign announcing it was closed on Wednesday, was closed today—a Tuesday. So we set off in search of the Blow Hole, a section of rocky shoreline on the east coast where the surf spouts up in the air. We were side tracked by a sign for “Indian Inscriptions” which took us down a long dirt road through a cactus forest to a coastline strewn with enormous boulders and lined with craggy limestone caves. The ceilings of several of the caves were decorated with red ink drawings. A sign posted at one site told us the Arawak and Carib Indians had astrologers that came to these sites to document the movements of the stars, whereby they predicted weather patterns and other natural phenomena. On a more modern note there was also a row of a dozen or so giant wind turbines.

We moved on along the coast in search of the Blow Hole but never found it. Instead we ended up following another long dirt road through a cactus forest, this with the occasional house surrounded by junk cars. One even had a tipped over cement truck in the yard. Eventually there wee no more houses. We encountered several enormous dump trucks coming from the opposite direction filled with coral rock boulders. Oddly we passed a tiny, brightly painted piece of green wood about 8 inches long laying on the ground on the side of the road that said “Golf.” We kept going. Eventually we came out on a desolate plain with a slight dirt track which we followed. We eventually came to the coast, which was lined with mountainous piles of enormous pieces of broken coral which a big piece of heavy equipment was pushing around. Continuing on the track, scattering herds of goats, we came upon what else but a golf course, just as the sign had said. There were no people there, no grass either really. Just thinly scattered goats and a few donkeys, tattered yellow flags with numbers on them flapping in the breeze and pieces of coral painted red saying “Par 7” and the like.

We headed back. We stopped at what we thought might be a goat farm to ask directions. It turned out to be a chicken farm. Fortunately we did not get out of the car as three vicious dogs came running out from under the fence snarling and barking. Never having found the Blow Hole we headed back to town for lunch.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Donkey Bonaire

This week we are on Bonaire, an island in the Netherlands Antilles. Many things are different from home. It is hot. We go snorkeling. There are parrots at breakfast and happy hour. But one thing is still the same. I am still being woken up by the braying of a donkey.

At home when I am woken by the braying of a donkey it is morning and I know it is Simon waiting to be fed. Here it is in the middle of the night. We are staying at a place called Caribbean Club/Bonaire. It is a compound of bungalows interconnected by paths at the edge of the sea. At night feral donkeys invade the compound and rampage through the compound. Each night so far at least one has stopped under my window and let loose a loud series of hee haws. Last night when Dieter heard them he leapt from bed and opened the door onto our second floor deck. Out there in the night there were at least 10 donkeys running around. He grabbed his camera to take a picture but of course had trouble with the flash. He eventually brought the camera with him when he got into bed and proceeded to fool with it, flashing repeatedly, until he fixed the problem. Needless to say it was hard to sleep.  But tonight he is ready!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Chore Time

Last Sunday Dieter and Wolfie took care of some chores. First Wolfie and Dieter drove
up to Zimmer Rd. in Schoharie to buy chicken feed from a farm family up there that
mixes and grinds feed. When they returned they trimmed the goats’ hooves, gave them
tetanus shots and wormed them. Wolfie would chase the goats into the stall where I
would attempt to grab one, eventually succeeding. (Fortunately there are only four).
Wolfie held each goat while Dieter performed the procedure. Then it was time to unload
the grain, six 100 pound bags, each of which had to be brought through our ridiculously

tiny barn door. Don’t forget—Eggs for Sale!