Sunday, May 31, 2009

Memorable Memorial Day

Puzzle: You have 5-day Swiper (valid Monday through Friday-- all month long). It's a Monday holiday and buses are running on a Sunday/ Holiday schedule -- does the pass work?

Now that it's spring and I have a bike and those 7-day CDTA monthly passes are so very pricey since the fare hike was implemented in April, I experimented in May, and purchased a 5-day monthly Swiper (valid Monday through Friday for the month of May).

Getting around with a 5-day pass hasn't slowed me down a bit. I use my bike on the weekends, and sometimes I walk. Not taking the bus has in fact, helped to make life less stressful on weekends since I don't incorporate CDTA bus schedules into my planning.

I have run into a bit of a fashion dilemma though.

Riding my bike so much has left me wondering how to incorporate skirts and dresses into the new travel system.

A few weeks ago, I saw a woman wearing a long skirt and pedaling on her bike with no problem. Looked simple enough. It didn't appear that she had any particular riding strategy.

On Memorial Day I decided to just go for it. I wore a tried and true black summer dress that I adore,

and put a pair of bike shorts on -- just in case the wind blew the wrong way.

Well, that woman I saw happily pedaling with her pretty skirt must have had some strategy -- or special fashionista bike -- or something because by the time I got around my corner, my dress was caught in the back tire and before I had the chance to pull over and check things out -- the dress had knotted and worked itself into a tight little ball.

I managed to get myself untangled -- and worked out a strategy of tying up and holding onto the dress and handlebars simultaneously so I could hop back on and get over to my friend's house.

I was on my way to Garden Street. It's a great little street behind the Spectrum. The first time I visited, I felt like I was in a different time and place. It was after I'd locked up my bike and after I'd rung the doorbell, that I stopped and examined the damage I'd done to my dress.

I was determined to continue with the plan. Good thing I had those bike shorts on at least....

See, my friend Barry and I had been talking for a while about walking from the Delaware Avenue side of the Normanskill across to New Scotland Avenue, then catching a bus back into the city. Memorial Day, we decided, was the day to go for it. The weather was spectacular.

We needed to be mindful of the time so that we could catch the very last Number 13 bus of the day back into town. That bus was scheduled to depart from the Slingerlands Price Chopper at 5:40.

Buses were running on a Sunday/ Holiday schedule.
I'd get to test out my 5-day Swiper to see if it worked.

I like the outdoors. I like nature. As a kid, I dug for worms and played with frogs, I'd spend hours and hours playing in rural upstate NY all summer long. But, Barry -- he's in a whole different category. He not only loves the outdoors -- he studies all of the stuff outside that he loves.

Barry's got field guides for birds, plants, insects, trees and shrubs throughout the seasons...and he uses them regularly. He's got binoculars to see things far away and little lenses to look at the details up close. When Barry takes a walk, he is equipped and it's always an adventure to join him.

On previous walks near the Normanskill we'd seen a bluebird, a pileated woodpecker, and curious animal tracks in the snow.

We've found quartz
which Barry told me had grown from the vein of hot fluids that forced themselves into cracks in the rock.

...and gloppy slimy stuff

which he said were algae colonies living in the waterfall puffing themselves up with oxygen they produce inside the colony.

It's handy to take a walk with Barry because even in the winter he can identify poison ivy vines. Yes, there is poison ivy at the Normanskill. He'll make an icky face when he sees it and animate his voice when I ask him how he knows it's poison ivy "You can tell poison ivy vines because they're gross and fat and covered in little red hairs."


Catching on, I spotted a vine on one of our winter walks, and asked cautiously, "Is that poison ivy?"

Barry replied, "That? No, no, no. That's a grapevine. It's happy -- not all covered in those icky red hairs. A grapevine... good for swinging from tree to tree!"

Grapevine or poison ivy -- I really couldn't tell the difference. Happy to have Barry as my guide.

Back to fashion.

In addition wearing my summer dress on Memorial Day, I did not wear socks and hiking shoes (well, I don't even own hiking shoes), rather, I had bare feet with little slip-on sneaker things that work great for walks. But, really are not ideal for traipsing through the woods. If it weren't for the poison ivy (and the tics) - I would've been fine.

We weren't far into our walk when I asked Barry to keep an eye out for poison ivy for me. I should know how to tell poison ivy in the spring. Three leaves. Pointy. There's even some poem that I'd heard uttered, but never committed to memory. But still, there are other plants with 3 pointy leaves -- and he knows his stuff, so it just seemed easier to ask him to look out for it.

Well, Barry wasn't going to let me get away with being lazy on Memorial Day. He's one of those natural teachers. We walked a few feet, he stopped and pointed to a plant and asked me, "Is that poison ivy?"

"That, ummm... no, it's thorny. Poison ivy isn't thorny, " I replied.

Twenty feet later, he was asking me again, "How about there? Is there any poison ivy there?" as he pointed to a square yard of earth covered with many different plants.

"I don't know," I responded, "wait... is that poison ivy?"

"That? Well, let's see, ... the leaves are opposite"

Leaves are opposite? What is he talking about?

"Poison ivy leaves are not opposite, so no - it's not poison ivy," Barry told me.

I fessed up and told him that I had no idea what he was talking about, "opposite?", and got myself a quick lesson.

Thank you, Barry.

We had made it down to the Normanskill. And at the same time, we noticed a whole bunch of ...


Along we walked... and we saw more and more tadpoles.

There were lots of 'em. I asked Barry if he knew how long the tadpoles were tadpoles. He told me that it varied depending upon the species -- some a few months -- while bull frogs could be tadpoles for a year or longer. Wow.

We waded through the Normanskill for a while walking along. We ran into a family walking the opposite direction who had stopped to play on the long trunk of tree that had apparently floated downstream at some point and pitched itself there -- it was perfect for kids to climb on -- and that's exactly what they were doing.

We got ourselves back on land, and Barry continued to ask me periodically whether there was poison ivy in this patch or that patch.

"Leah, is that poison ivy?"

I stopped, I looked, I pondered. Three leaves. Pointy. Leaves aren't opposite. "Yes, I said, that is poison ivy!"

Since we had now positively identified some poison ivy, we examined it so I could try to learn additional features. Barry explained poison ivy is often oily and the leaves sometimes have a red tint. I saw the oily shine and the red tint. I noticed the leaves... they weren't all shaped the same. Exactly, he said, the leaves are not regular, some have teeth, the teeth can vary, and others are almost smooth.

It seemed, I was now on my way to being able to recognize poison ivy on my own.

And we walked along the path of the Normanskill trail that we often take.
We saw birds. Robins, swallows, goldfinches and of course, red-winged blackbirds... perhaps a bluebird...though we weren't quite sure this time.

And there were lots of wildflowers growing... I snapped a few with my camera phone...

Above is fleabane - some species of Erigeron - part of the aster family.

And that purple flower above is Dame's rocket - Hesperis matronalis - it's in the mustard family.
Well, my camera phone didn't do a good job of capturing the very fun-looking flower above which Barry tells me is Ragged Robin - Lychnis Flos-cuculi - and it's part of the pink family.

We walked through the woods, (still looking for poison ivy) and down a steep hill, and then suddenly we were no longer among the leaves and trees, but on the manicured green of the Albany Municipal Golf Course.


There's supposed to be a trail. But where? We saw something that could have been a trail going along the power lines, but Barry, looked for a marker and didn't see one. He was concerned about us starting off along the power lines without knowing that following the path would actually lead us someplace...and not stranded. Hmmm...

It suddenly dawned on me that (a) I was on a golf course, and (b) I was clueless about golf course etiquette.

I was wearing a torn dress. Barry had on a tee-shirt. We were clearly out of place. And what about golf balls soaring through the air?

I'd only been to the golf course for winter sledding. Never for golfing.

We walked along the course hoping to see signs of the trail. It wasn't really crowded, I think most regular golfers were probably busy with Memorial Day barbecues. Eventually we saw some golfers, and one of them, before moving on to his next shot, took a moment to walk over to us and said, "You know you really shouldn't be walking along here. It's dangerous."

"Yeah, we know, we were looking for the trail, but couldn't find it."

"Ah," he said, "Well, the trail is along the power lines."

At that point, the power lines were no longer in sight and we had walked quite a while. The three of us looked around.

"There, " the golfer said pointing, "See that path over there, if you follow it, it will take you to the power lines. Then you can follow the trail."

We thanked him and were on our way.

We walked along the path until Barry stopped suddenly. He was staring at a huge pile of dirt.

(Again, the camera phone -- didn't quite capture this) This pile of dirt was the biggest anthill that I'd ever come across. Ever. And the ants were busy. Barry told me that these were of the Formica Rufa group, called wood ants in Europe and they are protected species because they control caterpillars that defoliate spruce trees.

Barry knows his ants.

He put his finger on the anthill and they started biting him. Protecting their territory, I guess.

We continued along the trail. Barry, in true Barry fashion, continued to periodically keep me on my poison ivy searching toes. We seemed to be doing ok with the time, though it was tricky to really gauge. Not knowing quite how far we had to go, and hoping we would catch the last bus.

At one point Barry paused and held his finger to his lip -- in that way to signal, "be quiet, very, very quiet." "Hear that?" Barry asked, "It's a wood thrush."

The sound was beautiful.

"I've never seen one," he told me. That surprised me.

Eventually, the trail ended and we could tell we had made it to the other side.

Starving. We were both really, really hungry.

"Oh, that's gotta be Martel's," I said to Barry pointing to a building and knowing he had no idea what Martel's was, "it's a restaurant."

We had a little time before our bus. Not a lot of time.

... and guess who we saw enjoying a relaxed late afternoon out on the Martel's patio?

I smiled and waved hello as we walked by. Then Barry asked who it was.

You see, Barry knows a lot about bugs and plants and birds and science. But, unlike me, he really doesn't pay attention to politics.

Before I answered, he asked, "Wait... was that the ORANGE guy?"

Starving - we walked inside Martel's, and ordered some food to go. We considered eating there, but didn't think we had enough time. We figured sandwiches would be quick --so we asked for a couple of easy sandwich-type orders.

We waited and waited. We waited so long that we saw the mayor and his wife again as they walked through on their way out and said his good-byes to everyone. "Good night, Mayor," I said.

"Does he know you?" Barry asked.

"No, he might recognize me as one of those City PTA people or something...but he doesn't know me," I said.

We started to get anxious thinking that we might not make our bus.

Finally, with food in hand, at about 5:30, we ran out, and walked quickly towards New Scotland Avenue where we found the bus stop easily.

When the bus pulled up, I asked the driver if my 5-day Swiper would work - he said it would, and it did.

Puzzle solved.

What a day. Seeing tons of tadpoles, finally learning to recognize poison ivy, wandering out of place on the golf course and bumping into the mayor at Martel's.

Even with my mangled dress, I couldn't have asked for a more satisfying Albany adventure.


tixie said...

oh that Barry! love him! Did i tell you about the Mayor at the Fallen Firefighter ceremony? Kissed me on the cheek... my sister was so jealous... ;-) i don't think he really had any clue who i was...

Sarah said...

A skirt guard will help with the dress. And there are tips here, especially in the comments.

Good luck!

This Quality Life said...

@ tixie -- so funny!

@ sarah - thanks for the great tips!

barry goldman said...

leah, this is a great blog entry