Finding God, self, and community in wild spaces. The better we know our wild neighbors the more we'll discover ourselves.
A vision informed by Henry David Thoreau’s interpretation of sauntering, Jesus’ understanding of neighbor, Aldo Leopold’s concept of thinking like a mountain, Rachel Carson’s prophetic voice and John Muir’s way of capturing the beauty and uniqueness of wild neighbors with words.

Monday, December 30, 2019

A Bog, a Mountain, and a River


A view of Whiteface Mountain from Bloomingdale Bog
December 26th 6:00am-noon: Driving northwards

I had plans to sleep in until 7am and depart Wellsboro around 8am, but woke up two hours before the alarm and was so eager to get to the Adirondacks that I was up at 5:15 and on the road by 6.

A long drive; but very interesting six hours. Through the northern tier of Pennsylvania, the southern tier of New York, skirted just east of the finger lakes and then continuing north with Lake Ontario to my west until reaching Watertown, at which point heading direct east into the Adirondacks region.

It was so awesome seeing the sign that said "Entering Adirondack Park."


December 26th Noon-3:30pm: 3 miles on the Bloomingdale Bog Trail

Upon my arrival at the Adirondack Park (which is huge!) my first stop was at the Bloomingdale Bog; a hot spot for boreal species of birds such as Canada jay, boreal chickadee, and my target species the black-backed woodpecker. I spent three-and-a-half hours walking the bog trail. It is a special place. Tall red spruce, black spruce, and balsam fir, along with a scattering of white birch, tamarack and a few other species of tree. The ground is wet at the bog, very soggy in a number of spots. But the ground was all snow-covered so you couldn't really tell.

Canada jay
Near the first open area I was greeted by a Canada jay. This wild neighbor perched on a branch protruding from a balsam fir at about eye level, just three yards away. I reached for one of the shelled walnuts in my pocket, held out my hand, and he/she alighted and perched on my hand with no hesitation. The jay took the piece of walnut and flew off with it.

Farther along and deeper into the bog wilderness I went, in search of the illusive black-backed woodpecker. I did not encounter it during this outing though.

Still, there is much I was thankful for during that walk in the bog. The friendliness of the Canada jay. The beauty of the boreal bog. The unique species composition of this place. Solitude and community all around.

December 26th 4:00pm: check-in at North Pole Lodge

 At 4pm I checked in at the North Pole Lodge. Sufficient facilities. A room with lights and a bed. A bathroom with its typical amenities.

The good thing is that I packed enough toastable waffles and microwavable food packets to last me two-and-a-half days.

But no toaster. No microwave. No refrigerator.

This was my own doing as I chose the cheapest of room available..

Not a problem though. I tend to be resourceful, perhaps even to the point of weird.

You know that ice bucket that is in all hotel/motel rooms? Fill it with hot water, put food packets in, put lid on, wait 5 minutes. Repeat once or twice and there's lunch and dinner cooked and ready! What can I say, what I lack in style I make up for in resourcefulness.

December 27th 8:00am-noon: Bloomingdale Bog seven mile loop

This was the big day. A seven-mile walk through the bog. For those familiar with the Bloomingdale Bog this was my route: From bog parking lot along Rt 55, I did a lollipop loop: walked the bog trail north, turned right on Bigelow Rd, left on Oregon Plains Rd, left on Merrill Rd, and left on bog trail straight back to parking at Rt 55.

Cloudy with rain today, temperature between 38-42 degrees Fahrenheit.

Snow covered ground. Rain coming down all around all day.

Black-backed woodpecker
Two miles into the walk tapping could be heard among the low branches of conifers next to the path. Sure enough, a female black-backed woodpecker was perched on the trunk of one of those trees! I stayed with this bird for 40 minutes, watching her meticulously work her way down the trunk of one fir tree. She started at about 25 feet up, and over the course of forty minutes she slowly made her way down to about eye level. She made me think of a metronome, as she'd cock her head back to the right, two taps, cock her head back to the left, two taps...left, two taps, right, two taps...do it again...

At one point one of the beard lichens growing on the side of the tree must have been in her way because she pecked it once, plucked it from the bark of the tree with her beak, and whipped it to the ground.

The only reason I ceased watching the black-backed woodpecker after forty minutes was because something even rarer showed up, as three white-winged crossbills flew directly overhead calling as they went, sounding like four small yet mighty car alarms!

I turned away from the woodpecker to watch the crossbills as they landed on the upper branches of American tamarack trees on the other side of the path.

Yeah, this is the kind of day I was having; OVERJOYED to be watching a BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER work her way down the trunk of a balsam snag only to get DISTRACTED by a flock of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS picking seeds from among tamarack cones just across the path!

A rare year-round resident of the bog (the woodpecker) twenty yards west of me and simultaneously three irruptives (crossbills) twenty yards east of me!

This felt like bog heaven for a birder!

White-winged crossbills are a very interesting wild neighbor with beaks designed in such a way that the top and bottom mandibles cross over each other near the tip. This acts as a special tool for efficiently removing the small seeds from between the scales of pine and tamarack cones.

White-winged crossbill
Furthermore, the white-winged crossbill is like a jack-in-the-box:

quietly feeding...
quietly feeding...
a few muffled notes...
quietly feeding...
and erupting in boisterous four-part song!

If it interests you, you have got to check this out! Click this link to listen to the call of the white-winged crossbill.

That 60 minutes was by far the most exciting of my four hours at the Bloomingdale Bog on Friday, but every moment of every hour held its own treasures.

Bog trail
Misty fog rises from the snow that I walk upon and that spruce and fir are rooted beneath on this gray and rainy day. But the bog is bursting with life in so many ways! Red squirrels feed, frolic, argue and defend. Lichens cling and dangle. Moss covers log, tree, and bog. All is well in the bog; a boreal symphony; a living masterpiece of divine creativity and love.

December 27th 2:00pm-dusk: Ausable River

Monument Falls at Ausable River
After cooking another meal in the ice bucket, I made my way along the West Branch of the Ausable River. This time of year the ice formed by snow, rain, and water spray along the margins of the river make for some of the most elegant sculptures. H2O is a molecule that evaporates, condensates, falls, flows, freezes, crystallizes and more.

At a side tributary I happened upon some of the most beautiful ice-bells I'd ever seen, the result of creek water splashing upon ice sheets above and freezing before it could drip back into the flowing water. This happens again and again through the consistent flow of the stream.
Ice bells, Ausable tributary stream
December 28th 7:30am-10:45am: Whiteface Mountain

Bottom of Whiteface Memorial Highway
The morning of December 28th I ascended Whiteface Mountain via Whiteface Memorial Highway. The highway which was covered in snow and ice increases 2,516 feet in elevation over the course of five miles. While it is closed to vehicles for the winter, walking the mountain road is permitted. I'm sure glad I did. And I approached it with a plan. I would walk from the bottom to the top and then ride down the mountain road on a $12 plastic sled which I'd purchased the evening prior and secured to my backpack for the trek upwards.

One of the remarkable things about ascending an Adirondack Mountain is experiencing stratified layers of habitat zones along the way. From the deciduous/mixed forest, up into the spruce-fir zone, transitioning higher into the Krumholz zone (the habitat zone of stunted windswept spruces), and up into the highest habitat zone, the alpine tundra.

Boreal chickadee
In particular, I most enjoyed watching a small mixed flock of boreal chickadees and cedar waxwings feeding among the branches of mountain ash trees where spruce-fir and Krumholz intersect.

As for the sled, it was a rush! All went well the first two miles down from the top; that is, until the plastic sled broke into a dozen or so pieces under the pressure of bumpy ice beneath the snow. I walked up five miles to the top. I sledded down two miles and walked the final three to the parking area at the bottom. Still, I call it success. Two miles is by far the longest sled ride I've ever taken!

These regal mountains, crowned with igneous rock and hardy fir, draped with snow and ice, howling with north wind and whispering with the call of boreal chickadees is a wild space that reflects the power, strength, and beauty of the King of all, the creative Word of God whose incarnation I'm celebrating during the Christmas season.

I saw myself in the rickety sled, in the hardy spruce, in the energetic chickadee.

I could stay a while longer in this wild space. I could easily stay the whole season if not the whole year long. There are so many treasures, so many wild neighbors, so many more peaks, valleys, bogs, and rivers to saunter.


Deciduous/mixed forest at the bottom of Whiteface Memorial Highway.
About halfway up Whiteface Memorial Highway.
Mountain ash.
Upper layer of the spruce-fir zone.
Krumholz zone.
Nearing the top.

On the way down (photo by Alexander Savich)
My poor sled, after the mountain.
December 28th 11:00am-4:45pm: Departure

I left Wilmington, NY at 11am and arrived back in Wellsboro, PA at 4:45pm

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