Plan your Link Trail hike!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Seen on the Link Trail

Bettina submitted the following shots and captions from her hike yesterday. Thanks Bettina!

Great Lobelia

Black Snake root


Red baneberry, berries

White baneberry, 'Doll's Eyes'

Joe Pye Weed



Saturday, July 25, 2009

Work Hike Details (July 4)

For many more pictures from this hike, see the Picasa web album.

Grace and I met Steve, Mike, Carol, and Kathy at about 9:00 in Cazenovia. From there we carpooled to a section of trail a few miles south of Stone Quarry Art Park. We divvied up the pick mattocks, shovels, rakes, buckets, bow saws and sundry supplies and headed south. Grace and I talked to Steve as we followed the winding trail through the woods. He's a retired Air Force doctor who does volunteer work now, so he's an interesting person to talk to. Of course Grace, being a Columbia student, had more in the medical line to talk to him about.

These beautiful little flowers were all over the place. At the time, Grace and I thought they were wintergreen, but they turned out to be partridge berry.

We got to the site, dropped the gear, and followed Steve as he explained the whys and wherefores of the project. There was a beautiful view down to the stream on our left from along the top of the steep right bank. For a hundred yards or so the trail ran along that edge and then crossed near the ravine's downhill entrance. But the crossing itself had become a problem. The stream banks, along with the trail leading down to them, were steep enough to cause falls. Today's goal was to close off that section of trail and establish a crossing upstream.

Steve had chosen a point where the stream flowed over a broad, flat, level shelf of solid rock. We would be cutting a new trail that curved to the left off the existing one, forming a switchback with a gentle slope down to the crossing.

The main engineering task was to level off the trail and extend it out into the stream so that hikers will be able to take a single, short step down onto the stone. Since the edge of the stream was very muddy, this meant constructing a platform. Steve told us what size rocks we needed and sent us to gather them from the soon-to-be-ex-crossing. I started hauling buckets of these rocks up the trail while Steve went to work with his chainsaw.

By the time I'd formed a decent pile of rocks downstream of the crossing, Steve had returned with two sawed-off pine logs about six feet long and eight inches in diameter. He placed the logs about three feet apart on one end of a sheet of Eco-plastic fabric. He and Mike began carefully placing the rocks onto the fabric between the logs, fitting them together to form a solid foundation. I, Grace and Kathy kept hauling rocks while the platform slowly took shape. Soon Steve folded over the Eco-plastic and tucked it in, making a sort of rock sandwich.

Before we could start piling on the dirt, we had to have a dirt supply. Fortunately there was one forthcoming: the switchback trail we were about to carve into the slope. Steve spotted an adorable little salamander, and I got some shots of it while he explained about digging the trail. I also got some shots of a harvestman that was very anxious to be part of a photo op.

Per Steve's instructions, we used the mattocks to chop and slough off the top layer of organic material and roots, and then went to work with the shovels and rakes. The idea was to make a trail with a consistently gentle slope, and a slight outward slant so that rain wouldn't collect on it. We cut the upward edge with the mattocks, pulled back the organic layer, shoveled the underlying dirt downward, collected the dirt in buckets, and shuttled it down to the platform. Pretty soon we couldn't see where the trail ended and platform started: we were building a level terminus to the crossing. As we were finishing up, we met a pair of hikers with their dog. They were the last hikers to travel down the old trail.

The new trail was taking shape, so we branched out into new jobs. Grace and Carrol took hammers and went to work removing old blazes and nailing up new ones. The rest of us piled branches onto the trail just beyond the new bend so that people would know to take a left. I spied a medium-sized pine tree lying uprooted about forty feet north of the old path, so I grabbed a bow saw, cut if off at the base, and wrestled it back through the woods. This would have been a lot easier if the base hadn't been pointing away from the trail to begin with; I had to turn it around before I could start dragging. By the time I'd hauled it onto the newly closed section of trail, I felt very close to my father. I'd had an excuse to do something egregiously manly, which was just his style.

By the time I got this done, everyone but Kathy was at the other end of the new section, clearing trail and blocking off the old stream crossing. Steve was just about ready to wrap things up when Grace and I said our goodbyes a little before 1:00. We had a date with my nephew for another Link Trail hike!

As we walked back through the woods to the car we marveled at the dramatic change we'd wrought in just a few hours. I agreed with Grace that it was a shame to close off such a beautiful section of trail, but I pointed out that people will still make their way around our little jumble of brush to have a quiet lunch off the trail. And besides, the new, improved trail looks fantastic!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Letter to the Editor

This is the letter I'll be sending to all the local papers. I'm happy with it, although I think it may need some trimming before it sees print.

When I was a kid I could walk along Fairview Avenue for a mile without seeing a car. I could wander through woods where my father took me to swing on vines, pastures where I knew tasty woodchucks were living, and farmer's fields where I learned that corn leaves could cut like knives. My father told me about tadpoles turning into frogs. There was transformation in nature, and that knowledge brought a new magic into my world.

I can't go back to the frog pond where my father first showed me those tadpoles. I can't take you to the vines. The land is all posted. And when I walk with my five-year-old nephew along that same stretch of road that I first walked alone when I was his age, twenty cars race by before we can walk a mile. No one in their right mind would let him do it alone. The world has changed.

Ever since my earliest wanderings I've loved secret places. Isolated forest glades carry a touch of the mystical, but it's those hidden spots that lie just steps off the beaten path that make me feel like I've entered another world. Last summer I found a doozy. It's called the Link Trail, and you could walk twenty feet from it and never know it was there. If you step inside, you may feel what I felt: some of that old magic returning.

Maybe you're not as emotional as I am. Fine. But I defy you to see your enthusiasm reflected in the face of a five-year-old and describe the experience as anything but magic. And that magic is exactly what you get when you share nature with a child. So take the kid out onto the trail. If he likes construction, tell him about all the people and expertise and equipment that it took to build a trail over a ravine, or the long staircase near Canastota Creek. If she likes fantasy, show her the fairy dust sprinkled beneath the old log from countless larvae chewing into it. If you're religious, bring him to God's cathedral and read him Job 12:7-10. If you're into history, show him the patches of bloodroot and tell him about the Native Americans who used them for dyeing, and if you're a conservationist tell him why you're not allowed to pick them. If she's obsessed with death, show her the rabbit fur in the coyote droppings and the saplings growing on dead trunks--show her that you don't get death without rebirth.

But whatever you do, unstick that kid from the glowing rectangle du jour and get him out onto the Link Trail. And remember, nothing you do for a child is ever wasted. Don't believe me? Take a look at See the beauty I've seen. See the magic I've shared with my nephew.

And get that kid out there.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Work Hike Video

It may take me a while to prepare my entry for the July 4th work hike; there was a lot of great strategy and leadership and hard work, not to mention fungus and flowers and arachnids and a beautiful little orange salamander. But for now, here's the video I took. It shows the results of about eighteen person-hours of work.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


I was talking to Al Larmann the other day, and he was telling me that most of the people who subscribe to the NCTA Newsletter are older folks. The more I thought about this the more it bugged me, because of all the great joys I get from the Link Trail, seeing my nephew embrace my enthusiasm for it is the greatest. I think that the Link Trail is a jewel that should be shared with young people most of all! So I started mulling over potential ways to attract younger people to the trail.

The first idea I came up with was geocaching. Wikepedia has a good summary of what that is.
Geocaching is an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called "geocaches" or "caches") anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container (usually a tupperware or ammo box) containing a logbook and "treasure," usually toys or trinkets of little value.

Geocaches are currently placed in over 100 countries around the world and on all seven continents, including Antarctica.[1] There are over 820,000 active geocaches in the world right now.
The idea of geocaching is simple enough. I have a good idea of how to do it. What I'd like help with is what to put in the caches. I mentor a young boy in New Jersey, and I know what he'd say: Bakugan cards! But New Jersy isn't Cazenovia. I don't know what young people around this particular area would most like to find in a geocache. So please, comment on this post with your ideas, or e-mail them to me. I'd like to start geocaching on the Link Trail soon.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

National Trails Day: Hike

For many more pictures, see the Picasa web album for this hike.

Some people from the morning visit to the Canal Town Museum gathered at the trailhead near the graveyard for a short hike. The trail was beautifully sun-dappled, and there was a new flower blooming around every turn. I lingered at each one, wondering if I should break out the camera yet, and began falling back before we'd even hit the reservoir trail.

I managed not to get too far behind - for about ten minutes. Then I saw a bug on a plant just north of the old reservoir, and it was all over. Later I used BugGuide to find out that this is a female Panorpa. Judging from the Wing Guide of Ontario, I'd say it's a Panorpa acuta. It's definitely a female, because the information page tells us that the males have an appendage on the rear of the abdomen that looks frighteningly like a scorpion's stinger. They don't sting, though, so you can relax. I know I did.

I caught up with the rest of the folks just as they were entering the woods. Then came the depressing part of the trail: the procession of broken birdhouses. It turns out that Kathy Disque had just put them up this spring, and as we passed through the woods to the tall staircase, we saw that they'd all been vandalized.

Looking at the sad bundle of birdhouse slats that Mary collected, I thought again of my old theory to explain why people seem hard-wired to engage in vandalism. I think that it's a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics. In attempting to gain a reproductive advantage over its peers, an organism has two basic choices: work to build up its own resources, or work to destroy the resources of others. Since the entropy of any system always increases, it's always far easier to reduce order than to increase it by the same amount; tearing something down is much easier than building it up. It seems clear to me that an evolutionary process could select for vandalism, enraging though the results may be. Thoughts like this help me cope.

We crossed the big bridge over Canastota Creek and the little one over the tributary just upstream, climbed the slope to the old railroad bed, and gathered around while Al told us some of the history of the railroad. Then we turned back, stopping on the bridge for the shot at the top of the page.

While Mary, Kathy and others fished some garbage out of the creek, I noticed a spider hanging from its web a few feet away. I took the opportunity to snap a few hundred shots as it devoured a fly it had caught. Later I referenced BugGuide and found that it was Mangora placida, or tuftlegged orb weaver. There was something strange about this one, though, because orb weavers are, by definition, supposed to weave orb webs. This one instead had a simple, thick, horizontal tangle web. It also had a bum leg, as you'll see if you look closely at shots in the Picasa web album. I wonder if that had anything to do with its aberrant, slipshod approach to web-building. Check out these gorgeous shots of the same species.

At the top of the stairs Mary paused to see if anything could be done for the bench, also recently vandalized. Apparently not.

Between the stairs and the trail I got some shots of a yellow wood-sorrel, but unfortunately my shots don't show the angle of the seed pod stalks, which would tell me what species it was.

On the way out of the woods I snapped some shots of herb robert, a constant - one might say unavoidable - companion in these parts.

We passed back out of the woods and along the path over the old reservoir, and as I reentered the woods northwest of the cemetery I made a point to get some shots of the delightful blue-eyed grass I'd seen on the way in. They're not what you'd call rare, but they're also not something I see every day, and that little blast of saturated blue with a brilliant yellow center always makes me smile.

Nearing the end of the trail, we passed through a plentiful copse of dame's rocket, an old favorite of mine from back when I was traipsing up and down Fairview Avenue with my Peterson's Guide to Wildflowers.

I certainly couldn't end the hike without grabbing some shots of the first burst of color I'd seen that day: some forget-me-nots growing in the stream just a few feet from the trailhead.

National Trails Day: Canal Town Museum

For more pictures from the museum, see the Picasa web album for this visit.

Among the people gathering in the office next door to the Canastota Canal Town Museum were a bunch of Link Trail folks. We watched a video presentation about the museum, and then went next door for a tour. I got talking to Mary and Kathy about Link Trail stuff, so I fell behind the main group before it got past the first room.

When I walked into the second room I got that pleasant shock of making an unexpected connection. The air vent on the front of the old wood stove shown above had lost its cover, and I immediately realized that the radiation hazard symbol came from that shape.

I got a big kick out of the assortment of Weed Tire Chains advertisements from the early 1900s. They used hard-sell FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) techniques; it looks like they sold their product by scaring the heck out of people.

As I passed on, down the stairs into the basement level, through into the next room, back up the stairs, and on through the rest of the upstairs rooms, I became more and more impressed. This little museum packs a lot of New York State's history into a very small space. I regret not going in before, and plan to come back. On the way out, I spent the $10 for a yearly membership.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Urti-WHO now???

The following incident did not take place on the Link Trail, but rather a few miles away in Oneida. It is relevant to this journal because your child may encounter a cocoon from the same species of caterpillar on the trail.

Grace and I babysat Dylan and Abby for a few hours while their parents went out to celebrate their anniversary. While the kids played on the lawn I spent some time snapping pictures of spiders. In order to steady my hand, I grabbed a block of wood to prop up my arm. There happened to be a cocoon on this block of wood, and Dylan noticed it. The kids poked at it, which I though harmless enough. Little did I know what perils awaited our young charges. (CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC)

Well before his parents got back, Dylan was complaining about discomfort in his hand. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but he asked me to take a picture of his thumb soon after he touched the cocoon. I had forgotten all about this until weeks later, when I was going through my pictures from that day. There was a series of shots of the hairs embedded in his thumb - hairs I didn't even know were there when I took the shots!

Grace took a close look and noticed tiny hairs sticking out of both of the children's fingers and palms. I was shocked. The only time I'd heard of something like this was when, visiting Arizona in 2003, I was warned about the hairs of the teddy bear cholla. But I had no idea that hairs from a soft-looking cocoon could get stuck in the skin! I remembered that the best way to remove teddy bear cholla hairs is to apply Elmer's glue or duct tape and then peel it off, so I went and found some tape.

Thankfully the hairs from the cocoon don't burn like those from the teddy bear cholla; they seemed to cause the kids considerable itching, but not what you'd call pain. So they were patient and relatively fidget-free while we pressed the tape onto their little piggies again and again. It took a long time, but eventually we got most if not all of them out.

I thought that was the end of it, but no such luck. Two days later I was back at the office and I got a call from my sister. Dylan's hand had gotten worse! The discomfort had increased, and there were little red bumps on his hand. I called Madison County Cooperative Extension and posted a request for expertise on the BugGuide forum. Then I did a whole lot of furious Googling.

Among other things, I found this thread on, in which the general consensus was that no one quite knows whether the hairs cause irritation via purely mechanical means, or whether they contain a poison like the urushiol in poison ivy. I think that was where I first saw the term "urticating hairs". It seems that tarantulas and some caterpillars have them, and that the cocoons of those caterpillars retain the hairs!

I called my sister back, conveying to her the general sense I got from skimming a number of sources: an injection may not do anything, so don't let the doctor stick the kid unless he can show you a good reason to do so. The best thing to do in these cases is to apply a topical steroid, which is exactly what the doctor ended up prescribing.

I spoke to my sister a few days later, and Dylan's hand was fine. The strange thing was that Dylan suffered much more than Abby, despite the fact that she got more hairs in her hand than he did. This might be because Dylan had been exposed to something similar before. If you read the thread, you'll learn that the poison in urticating hairs effects people like the urushiol in poison ivy: most folks show no reaction the first time they're exposed, a moderate reaction the second time, and so on.

The irritation comes at least in part from the mechanical properties of the hairs, but it seems likely that the allergic reaction comes from a poison. This morning, nearly a month later, I read an article* about a moth with poisoned urticating hairs that I printed out from JSTOR**. It seemed to show conclusively that, although the initial skin reaction is due to the hairs' mechanical properties, there is a separate allergic reaction caused by poison.

OOH OOH!! I just went to Google the article so that I could see if it was available outside JSTOR, and look what I found: "Investigative Studies of Skin Irritations From Caterpillars"***. Note that you can download the entire .pdf file!

...pauses to read the article...

Interesting! And by "interesting", I mean the fraction that was not so densely technical that I had no clue what the authors were going on about. Here's a summary of the germane bits.
In clinical practice, skin exposure has been usually accidental in the woods or in the forest. In the home, caterpillars or cocoons or moths may get into sheets, pillows, etc. and irritate the skin even after prolonged periods of drying of the arthropod. In one area of Texas, according to Bishopp (8), schools had to close until the larva were under control. Katzenellenbogen (22), has described caterpillar dermatitis as an occupational disease in plantation workers. Ziprkowski, Hofshi and Tahori (23) report 600 cases of caterpillar dermatitis among 3000 soldiers encamped in a pine grove. Occasionally the irritant material may be even dustborne. The airborne factor is more important in the development of the irritation from the hairs of moths. "Yellow tail moth dermatitis" is well known among merchant marine personnel who use ports of Central and South America (24, 25, 26). Also well known among the troops in Korea is the papular dermatitis from the "Yellow Korean Moth".


When setae were immersed in water, saline alcohol, etc., and dried out, although they were very brittle, the insertion of these into the skin did not produce any reactions. It was not possible on microscopic section to see a definite foreign body reaction around the inserted setae. Therefore,the seta itself produced no significant foreign body reactions. However, setae removed freshly from the caterpillar or left by the caterpillar were found to contain the irritant material. This is again additional proof for the basic idea that the setae, themselves, in spite of their barbed appearance serve merely as a tube to carry the irritant substance.


Although the caterpillar has been studied for some time, the exact nature of its irritant principle is still not known definitely. Its polypeptide nature is suspected; 5-hydroxytryptamine may be present. We, however, could not find this important material in our extracts. The poison glands of the caterpillar appear similar to the salivary glands of the other arthropods of dermatologic interest. The skin reactions vary according to the sensitivity of the individual. ...
So, in summary: lots of live or caterpillars or their cocoons or even their remains can cause skin reactions of varying severity. The immediate reactions may be caused to a greater or lesser degree by the mechanical properties of the urticating hairs, but the more serious, and the more long-term, reactions are due to a toxin of unknown nature. So don't go nuzzling any caterpillars.

*The Poison and Poison Apparatus of the White-Marked Tussock Moth Hemerocampa leucostigma Smith and Abbot
Paul M. Gilmer

The Journal of Parasitology, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Dec., 1923), pp. 80-86

**Helping put Grace through the School of Physical Therapy at Columbia has its perks, foremost among which is that I get access, through her, to pretty much any research article I want. JSTOR, an online library of many research periodicals, is the best of the sources.

***Investigative Studies of Skin Irritations From Caterpillars
Leon Goldman, M.D., Faye Sawyer, Ann Levine, John Goldman, Steven Goldman and Joan Spinianger, B.S.
Presented at the Twentieth Annual Meeting of The Society for Investigative Dermatology, Inc., Atlantic City, N. J., June 7, 1959.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Look at the big spider!

For many more pictures from this hike, see the Picasa Web album.

I had promised Dylan that I’d take him on a hike this weekend, so it was the highest-priority item on my list of things to do before I left town on Sunday. I had been wanting to fill in my trail maps with pictures from the Canastota end, but Dylan’s mom had said that he wanted to go to back the quarry. So I engaged in a bit of subversive redirection. I asked him if he remembered the bridge over the stream where we threw sticks in and watched them float downstream, and asked him if he wanted to go back there. Thankfully he was excited about that prospect.

Either Dylan remembered me rubbing alcohol on his legs after last summer’s hike through a section with lots of poison ivy, or his mother reminded him to avoid it, because on the trail through the woods near the cemetery he kept pointing to plants and asking me “Is that poison ivy?” I assured him that I’d tell him if I saw any.

After passing under the tree trunk growing horizontally over the trail near the cemetery, Dylan turned around and watched me make my way under it. Laughing, he pointed out how he didn't even have to duck his head. Oh, kid, it’s not lost on me. The years are flying by so fast that I fear you’ll double in size if I blink once, and lose all interest in what I have to share with you if I blink twice. So believe me, I’m savoring the moment.

Before reaching the path back to the old reservoir we saw the first white trillium of the day, and the first of several cute and colorful birdhouses that someone put up since last fall.

On the path we enjoyed seeing the violets that were popping up everywhere. I pointed out the massive poplars to the left of the trail and, when Dylan asked what the concrete structure was, told him that it used to be a reservoir. That, of course, led to the question “What’s a reservoir?” I love it when kids ask questions. As we mounted the staircase he asked about the notches in the log steps, so I explained about traction.

As soon as we reentered the woods I encountered an excellent photo opportunity: a beetle on a trout lily blossom. Unfortunately my holding still and snapping shots also represented an opportunity for insects to land on me and start sucking my blood.

We continued on through scads of mayapples and white, pink and black trillium. There were also a lot of what I think was false Solomon's seal, but I didn't think to get any shots of it.

I also started to notice a curious plant within the leaf litter: shiny pale stems that seemed to have sprouted from the earth and plunged right back in again. later, after I got home and talked to Grace about it, she indicated that these sprouts are quite common. They must be one of those things that I never noticed before, but I'm sure my eye will catch them from now on.

We descended the staircase amid a slope sprinkled liberally with trillium. As we walked along the path of 4x4s that skirt the stream, Dylan asked why the crosswise slats were there. As I got some more shots of trillium I explained again about the importance of traction on otherwise slippery wood.

Just as we reached the bridge, Dylan said “Look at the big spider” and I said “Where?!” He pointed, and there was a large brownish grey spider clinging to the Canastota Creek sign on the side of the bridge! While Dylan threw sticks into the stream I got a few hundred shots of this beautiful specimen*. See the “boxing gloves”? Those are pedipalps, and the fact that they’re swollen means that it’s a male. Believe it or not, they’re copulatory organs. Check this out.**

At some point while Dylan was playing around on the bridge and gathering sticks to throw in the water, he got a sliver in his finger. He was rather distressed but agreed to let me dig it out. I thought of my knife, but then remembered the teardrop corsage pins I'd put in my camera case as size reference for photographs. Their first use turned out to have nothing to do with photography. I poked and teased at the sliver as Dylan's distress intensified, manifesting itself as a high keening noise. I have to give him credit, though: he endured it with minimal squirming. Eventually I got it out, and the keening subsided.

We headed back through the ravine and up the stairs amid the blanket of gentle green sprinkled liberally with white and pink trillium blossoms. Dylan did a bit of tree-climbing while I snapped shots of violets.

The sun came out and I got some very satisfying shots of shiny young poison ivy. I showed Dylan how the leaves grow in clusters of three, and told him that the waxy shine comes from the oils that rub off on your skin and give you rashes and blisters. I believe I took the opportunity to drill into him the old mnemonic "leaves of three, let it be". I also reminded him that Virginia creeper is shiny but not poisonous, and that older poison ivy leaves are not very shiny but they are still poisonous. The point is that poison ivy is best identified by its clusters of three leaves.

One of the joys of macro photography is getting the pictures home and seeing things that you had no idea were there when you shot them. And in my experience, spider webs are number one in that category of retrospective joys. Those little suckers are spinning their webs everyhwere, and this is never more apparent than when I examine shots that I thought were just of plants and insects. Click on the photo above and look at the top. See the web leading down to the broadleaf toothwort next to the poison ivy?

Likewise, I never saw the webs strung between these two poison ivy plants (look on the left)...

... or the delicate strands on this garlic mustard plant.

*I looked up the spider later and found out that it belongs to the genus Dolomedes, also known as fishing spiders. I had no idea that fishing spiders were so widespread! I believe this one to be a Dolomedes scriptus.

**If you're really interested in the subject of spider mating, find a copy of the following article.

Studies on the Habits of Spiders, Particularly Those of the Mating Period
by Montgomery, T. H., Jr.
Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Vol. 55 (1903), pp. 59- 149
Published by: Academy of Natural Sciences