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Monday, October 31, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Unpredictable

The snowstorm on Saturday, October 29th in the Mid-Hudson Valley, will be long remembered by anyone hoping to enjoy the last weekend of 'peak' autumn leaves, preparing for Halloween happenings, or getting caught in a scary and dangerous commute along roads that were unplowed and made impassable by downed limbs and trees. This weather event, along with Hurricane Irene, have impressed many residents in the area to be on alert and ready for natural disasters that create mundane crises. For those of us who lost power, we got to see if we had sufficient flashlights and battery-operated lighting to help us navigate our homes. For those of us with cellphones, to see whether we had an available car charger or an old-fashioned land line. For those of us with electric appliances, the value of gas cooking and a Bodum coffee press. For those of us who went to the bank, a new reason to carry some extra cash. For those of us without a stocked freezer, the relief of not worrying about wasted food. For those who are addicted to the Internet or TV, the experience of indulging in a day of reading the newspapers that were loyally delivered to our homes and the time to take out that long overdue knitting project. It was also an opportunity to take a walk and to see some of the beautiful images, unexpected and out-of-sync, for a 'normal' late October afternoon.

Some food for thought: I watched a birch tree, brought to its 'knees' by the heavy, wet snow, be nudged by caring hands to be set free and to unfold and open its branches once again to the warming sun without any damage; a true sign of resilience. I have much gratitude for a safe journey home, my haven in the Hudson Highlands and friends who called or jogged over to check in (even an email from Norway) to see how I was doing. But next year, I plan to get my snow tires onto the car by October 1st!

Juxtaposition --
Snow and ice and autumn leaves,
When two seasons meet.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Act Now

I just read a saying on my Farmer's Almanac desk calendar, "there are always 19 fine days in October." I thought about my recent 10-day 'staycation' packed with daily outings and simple pleasures and found the statement to be humorous since all ten were good days and there are now 9 days left in the month! The saying reminded me that there's no time to waste; so out came my planner, pen in hand, checking various websites and newspaper listings, looking for special events and things to do. There's still enough time for another author's talk at the BIRE with photographer Ted Spiegel and for one of the last tours for the season of Manitoga, home of designer Russell Wright, to fold more experiences into the fabric of this autumn season.

Reflecting on all the happenings of this month makes me remember all the joys of past Octobers, my favorite month of the year. And it brings to mind that all the happiness is not only planned, but spontaneous as well. Camera in hand, camera left at home. Being alone or sharing the experience. Intended outing or accidental find. A picnic along Fishkill Creek at Madam Brett Park. A walk along Beacon's waterfront for the annual Pumpkin Festival and catching a glimpse of Pete Seeger and the Clearwater. A trip to Storm King Art Center. A ride to Innisfree Garden. A moment's grace and haiku drifting into my mind as the image along Route 9D across from Storm King Mountain makes an impression.

Storm clouds are clearing;
The break of an autumn day--
Golden boughs ahead.

I also am mindful that as the month presses on and the days grow shorter, the clock is ticking and time is running out on two important sociopolitical issues: the votes on re-licensing Indian Point nuclear power plant and rescinding the moratorium on fracking in New York state. These are two issues that affect the natural environment in the Hudson Highlands and Hudson River Valley, both directly and indirectly. The river towns from the Bear Mountain bridge to the Newburgh-Beacon bridge all fall within the 'peak fatality zone' and the watershed area on the western banks of the river with local farms and orchards could be adversely impacted by chemical wastes from unregulated hydraulic fracturing processes. I wondered how many individuals hiking Breakneck Ridge over the last few weeks in October thought about being in the crossroads of two potential environmental disasters. During leaf peeping season you can see that even without any urgency, a traffic jam at the Bear Mountain circle leading across the Bear Mountain bridge to the 'goat trail' of Route 6/202 or north on 9D or 9W or west to the Palisades Parkway may last several hours. There is clearly 'no exit' or evacuation route if a nuclear crisis occurs along the local roads as they twist and turn, follow the river,  and go up and down the mountains.

Some food for thought: Just as the leaves begin to 'blow in the wind' and questions about right action take hold and individuals voicing concerns about our societal values are more visible and prevalent, as in Occupy Wall Street, know that there's still enough time to balance the personal and the political this autumn season. It's time for action and purpose. Time for a letter to Governor Cuomo and the other politicians about conscientious decision-making about denying Entergy the renewal of licenses for plants 2 and 3 at Indian Point. Consider it another good day in October. There's time for planning a bus trip to protest fracking. It will give you a head start on all the good days in October months in years to come. People in the Hudson River Valley have always sought to protect the natural environment; protesting is second nature. While Pete Seeger visited OWS on 10/22/11, he lives and sings and sails and stands for justice in the Hudson Highlands every day of the year.

Hudson Highlands - A watercolor by Amanda Epstein

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Autumn Flow

Sunrise and sunset are spectacular in the Hudson River Valley especially during the autumn months when the skies are either crisp and clear or misty and foggy with all the clouds that have romantic names like cirrus, strato-nimbus, and alto-cumulus. Artists, past and present, captured the light around dawn and twilight for posterity, as well as for their sheer pleasure of living in the moment. Whether you gaze at a Fredric Church treasure at Olana or visit the Kingston gallery of contemporary landscape painter Jane Bloodgood-Abrams or super-realistic photographer-painter Russell Cusick in Beacon, you'll revel in the way in which hues of pink, yellow, gray, orange, purple, and red along the horizon line become luminescent beyond belief.

Color is the operative word for the season. The leaves on the trees. The sweaters people dig out from summer's storage. The farmer's markets with tables strewn with rusts and golds from the hearty harvest. The apple orchards with ample numbers of pickers. The pumpkin patches ready to be made into Jack O'Lanterns. Jars of honey gathered by local beekeepers. The placards posted alongside the road in anticipation of Election Day.

Everything seems to be moving fast forward. The squirrels scurrying across the roads as they gather nuts and seeds. The leaf peepers driving to get to the very peak of the season ahead of schedule. The football teams warming up before their homecoming games. It's a season of transition and change, full of energy and activity. Weekend events compete for attendees. There's almost too much to do. The annual Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck where sheep shearing, dog trials, yarn vendors, spinners, and dyers occupy the tents at the Dutchess county fairgrounds. The Pumpkin Festival at Riverside Park in Beacon, sponsored by the Beacon Sloop Club. The Apple Shindig for Friends of Boscobel. The numerous arts and crafts festivals, auctions to benefit local charities, 5K runs, birding and hiking events and food and wine festivals abound to get everyone outdoors for those perfect 'in the moment' moments. With all the distractions, it's hard to settle down and just 'be'. But the enjoyment of doing and living into this glorious season captures every one's heart in the Hudson Highlands. There's no other way than to keep apprised of all the events and keep moving up and down the roads that lie parallel to the river.

Some food for thought: With the passage of summer into fall, there are also melancholic moments when fleeting feelings of loss and death appear out of nowhere casting a poignant spell over the festivities.  Marked by the earthy smell of decay in the fields and the baring of trees as leaves begin to dry and crumple as they scatter in the wind, they remind us of how fleeting life can be. This week, we heard the news of Steve Jobs' death and his words spoken during the Stanford commencement in 2005 resound for their simple eloquence and honesty about life. I believe he speaks to this feeling of the autumnal blaze of glory when he says: "When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has be 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've every encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.'

So feel the urgency and rush and hurry of getting places and doing things. The season is the epitome of having each day matter more. Make this autumn a memorable one until the last leaf falls and the last apple is picked. Winter will be here before we know it. Relish the shorter days as we move towards turning the clock back. Have no regrets and no misgivings. Be in the autumn flow.

Simply Apples
There's nothing like coming home at the end of a busy and beautiful day
to something home-cooked that's a classic taste of the season.
Peel, core, slice and dice 2 to 4 dozen apples into 1" pieces.
Place into a stainless steel pot.
Squeeze the juice from 1 lemon over the apples and add 2-3 tbs. water.
Shake or grate some spices (nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger) over the apples to taste. Cook and stir for about 1/2 hr. until some apples create juice and
then add 3-4 tbs. of your favorite local honey. Cook about 15 minute more until thick.
Serve warm over ice cream, preferably Jane's French Vanilla,
or serve cold with Greek yogurt,
or mix into your morning oatmeal.