(I was reading one of John Burroughs’ essays, and his description of the American Crow caught my eye, and made me think of my friend Tom Bushey, who loves to photograph them.  Thank you, Tom, for letting me post some of those images here.)

Hardy, happy outlaws, the crows, how I love them! Alert, social, republican, always able to look out for himself, not afraid of the cold and the snow, fishing when flesh is scarce, and stealing when other resources fail, the crow is a character I would not willingly miss from the landscape. I love to see his track in the snow or the mud, and his graceful pedestrianism about the brown fields. He is no interloper, but has the air and manner of being thoroughly at home, and in rightful possession of the land. He is no sentimentalist like some of the plaining, disconsolate song-birds, but apparently is always in good health and good spirits. No matter who is sick, or dejected, or unsatisfied, or what the weather is, or what the price of corn, the crow is well and finds life sweet. He is the dusky embodiment of worldly wisdom and prudence. Then he is one of Nature’s self-appointed constables and greatly magnifies his office. He would fain arrest every hawk or owl or grimalkin that ventures abroad. I have known a posse of them to beset the fox and cry “Thief!” till Reynard hid himself for shame.

— John Burroughs “Winter Sunshine,” 1875


Middletown, NY – Crows fly in front of clouds at sunset Nov. 18, 2016.  Tom Bushey Photography



Crows gather in tree branches at sunset, Middletown, NY, November 12, 2016.  Tom Bushey Photography


Crows gather in tree branches with the crescent moon in the background, Middletown, NY, November 3, 2016.  Tom Bushey Photography

Note:  during fall and winter months, crows roost together in the thousands, and even in some rare instances, in the millions.  They begin gathering together in late afternoon in  a location separate from the roost, then as darkness falls, they move to the location where they’ll spend the night.  Experts think this is a behavior that helps them defend against their primary predator, the Great Horned Owl, and possibly, too, a strategy for sharing information about food sources.

Visit Tom’s gallery of American Crow images



Searching for the Heart of the Southern Catskills

Slide Mountain is the Catskills’ highest peak, and one I’ve climbed many times, including both summer and winter, day and night — but always following the trail from Big Indian Valley.  One day I was rereading “In the Heart of the Southern Catskills,” John Burroughs’ account of his first ascent of Slide Mountain in 1885.  Burroughs had long been intrigued by Slide, but he wasn’t going to take a trail.  Rather, he chose the more remote Woodland Valley as his starting point and then made his way to the summit through unmarked forest.  Moving off trail like this is today called “bushwhacking,” and depending on the terrain, it can be exhilarating — or extremely challenging.

I put down the essay and thought for a moment.  As a member of the Catskill 3500 Club, I had climbed the 35 highest peaks in the Catskills, of which a dozen or so require bushwhacking because there is no trail.  But it had never occurred to me to seek a bushwhack route when an established trail was available.  Why would you do that?

Then a light bulb went off:  because it would be a totally new experience.

Pulling out the map, I measured a straight shot from the Woodland Valley Campground to Slide’s summit, about 2.5 miles in distance and 2,000 feet in elevation gain.  Towards the top, the grade got steep, I noticed, exceeding 40% in places.

Two weeks later, a little before 9:00 AM, I was pulling into the parking area at Woodland Valley Campground to meet my friend Alan.  Our goal:  to reenact Burroughs’ bushwhack ascent of 1885 …

Orange line indicates proposed bushwhack route

Continue reading “Searching for the Heart of the Southern Catskills”

Searching for the Heart of the Southern Catskills

My Autumnal Tints

I picked up a beech leaf and examined it:  the leaf was pale yellow in the center and dark brown around the edges.  I knew that soon these leaves would carpet the forest floor in layers of beige, but for now, the forest was sparkling in the late October sunlight, and the beech trees glowed like gold.

The scene brought to mind Henry David Thoreau’s 1860 essay “Autumnal Tints,” in which he wrote, “There is just as much beauty visible to us in the landscape as we are prepared to appreciate.”  He meant that by diligent study of nature we learn to appreciate its beauty.  He summed up the essay by encouraging readers to pay attention to nature:

When you come to observe faithfully the changes of each humblest plant, you find that each has, sooner or later, its peculiar autumnal tint; and if you undertake to make a complete list of the bright tints, it will be nearly as long as a catalogue of the plants in your vicinity.

— Henry David Thoreau, “Autumnal Tints”

And so, this fall, I tried to do as Thoreau suggested, that is, as I hiked, ran, and drove through the eye-shocking autumnal displays in upstate New York’s Shawangunk and Catskill mountains, I tried to  “observe faithfully.” Here is my list of the brightest tints….

Continue reading “My Autumnal Tints”

My Autumnal Tints

Long Path Race Series: Announcing the 2016 Disciples of the Long Brown Path

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2016Long Path Race Series! We call these winners Disciples in a nod to Raymond Torrey, Trail Conference founder and promoter of both the Appalachian Trail and the Long Path, whose memorial plaque on Long Mountain remembers him as a “Great Disciple of the Long Brown Path.”  The idea is that people who are humble enough to learn from nature can do great things.

Memorial Plaque on Long Mountain

The Long Path is a 358-mile hiking trail that reaches from New York City to the outskirts of Albany, along the way traversing some of New York’s most beautiful parks and preserves, including the New Jersey Palisades, Harriman State Park, Schunemunk Mountain, the Shawangunk Mountains, the Catskills, and the Helderberg Escarpment.  Created and maintained by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, the Long Path is a labor of love for some 250 volunteers.

The Long Path Race Series is a series of running events that take place at various points along the Long Path.  The purpose of the series is to build awareness for the Long Path and the work of the Trail Conference and its volunteers and to get more people running and hiking on New York’s beautiful trails.  Points are accrued for the distance of each event and the finishing time relative to event leaders.  Series winners (or “disciples”) are recognized in four categories: male, male master (40 and over), female, and female master.  The Long Path Race Series is organized by Shawangunk Adventures LLC and includes events managed by other organizations as well.  Stay tuned announcements about the 2017 series.


Disciple of the Long Brown Path — Male Division:  Alan Davidson, 31, New York City

Alan recovering after the Great Schunemunk Traverse

Alan turned in a remarkable performance during 2016, accumulating 229 points, the highest ever point total achieved in the history of the Long Path Race Series, and more than double the points of the runner-up.

How did Alan earn so many points?  First, he participated in every single event in the series.  Second, he ran extremely competitively, finishing 1st in the Phoenicia 1/2 marathon, and earning 2nd place in each of the Catskill Mountain Road Race 100k, Hambletonian Marathon, Wurtsboro 30k, and Satan’s Tar 10-miler.  Finally, when he encountered obstacles, he persevered.  During the SRT 70-mile race, Alan developed stomach issues early on and was unable to eat, yet he declined to withdraw, even when the race director offered him a ride back to the start, and ended up finishing in a respectable 23 hours, collecting 65 out of 72 available points.  Also, he refused to stop moving during the Great Schunemunk Traverse, even after rolling an ankle.

Congratulations, Alan, let that ankle heal, and we have no doubt you’ll do great things in 2017.

It has been a pleasure to run along scenic roads and trails with so many diverse people that share the common goal of enjoying the outdoors by struggling through demanding adventures. Living in Manhattan, I find that a necessary component of balancing my own life is to escape the manicured concrete paths of the city in search of the meandering paths of dirt and rocks that make up the Long Path. The Long Path Race series has provided me with a bunch of these wild adventures and has introduced me to a bunch of people that value what the natural land has to offer.

— Alan Davidson, 2015 Disciple of the Long Brown Path – Male Division

We also recognize Chris Regan, who won the 2015 male division, for accumulating an impressive 111 points, up from his winning total of 75 in the prior year.  Chris participated in every event in the series except for the SRT and the Hambletonian.  Also of note, Ivan Milan completed three of the series events.


Disciple of the Long Brown Path — Female Master Division:  Roni Belcheva, 44, New York City


Roni Belcheva secured the title of “Disciple of the Long Brown Path” by winning a single event, the Catskill Mountain Road Race 100k, which she completed in 12 hours 58 minutes, edging out Julie Lyness by a little over 90 minutes.  As she points out below, this race was a redemption for her, and she appreciated the beauty of the course, which winds through the southern Catskills on quiet country roads.  Congratulations, Roni, and we hope you’ll come back next year and run with us in more events.

CMRR was a run which was not only the longest distance I had done up to date. But I was also celebrating my son’s 2nd birthday. This race meant the world to me. In short,  I attempted my 1st 100 mile at the San Diego 100 in June in which I fell at mile 47. And missed my cut off by 5 minutes. So this day in August was to be my redemption, to be my celebration for what I do and most of all having become a stronger runner after my child. He has empowered me beyond words. And I share with mothers that your life path does not have to end but can be revived. By setting one foot in front of the other and taking in the time to do the work you can make your dreams happen. I am beyond humbled by the experience. The beauty is beyond words. And the friendships along the way will be placed in my heart forever.

— Roni Belcheva, 2016 Disciple of the Long Brown Path – Female Master Division

2015 female master division winner Anna Pettersson was gunning for a second consecutive victory and ended up accumulating points at Satan’s Tar, the Hambletonian Marathon, and the Great Schunemunk Traverse, but victory slipped from her fingers when she withdrew from the SRT at mile 55.  We known this was a big disappointment for Anna, but we salute her for making a prudent decision and for her steady spirits and positive attitude. We also recognize Dana Spano and Lorraine Anderson for completing three of the series’ events.


Disciple of the Long Brown Path — Female Division:  Melissa McCutcheon, 35, Towaco, NJ

Photo credit:  Larry Gindoff

Melissa McCutcheon won the female division by accumulating points in the Phoenicia 1/2 marathon, Hambletonian Marathon, Catskill Mountain Road Race 100k, and the Wurtsboro 30k.  This was a very strong season for Melissa, during which she set personal records at 50k and 100k races, as well as running back to back 100ks.  She reports having a “blast” on the Phoenicia trail 1/2 marathon downhill, and running the CMRR for the third time “felt fantastic!”

Nice work, Melissa!

Many thanks to the RDs whose talent and vision have put so many feet on these beautiful volunteer-maintained trails. There’s few people I’d rather see at a finish line, except with maybe the addition of Brian Cavanagh, creator of the CMRR route of which I’m so enamored. I’ve also had the great privilege of learning from and laughing with the incredibly accomplished Trishul Cherns, my ultra coach and confidante, and I’m also indebted to his beautiful wife Kaaren and her magical kefir. Sweaty celebratory hugs as well to my local running partner Stefanie Azzari, who slays in a wig and a tutu. Most of all, I’m grateful for my husband Tom, my crew for life, who loves me so much that he didn’t use air conditioning all summer so I could heat train. Last but not least, my best running buddy and ultra-dog-in-training, puppy Ryder: may we all howl with joy to go run!

— Melissa McCutcheon, 2016 Disciple of the Long Brown Path – Female Division


Disciples of the Long Brown Path — Male Master Division: Marcin Mrowka, 46, New York


Marcin Mrowka won the male master division with 119 points, edging out Ian Erne who accumulated 89 points, thanks to a very strong performance at the SRT 70-mile race, where he finished 2nd, as well as completing the Phoenicia 1/2 marathon, the Thacher Running Festival Marathon, and the Great Schunemunk Traverse, where he paced his wife to a solid finish.  Of note, Marcin improved his SRT time from from 24:14 in 2015 to 21:32 in 2016.  Also, Marcin returned the male master title to New York: in 2015, the title was shared by David Herring and Bernard Pesjak of Virginia.

There are plenty of contenders in this division, and we expect 2017 to see a lot of competition.  Marcin, you ran really well this year, and we hope you’ll come back and run with us next year, too.

My goal this season was to run as much as I can on the Long Path.
It is ours, a local and beautiful trail.
I am happy that we have it and even more happy to run it!

— Marcin Mrowka, 2016 Disciple of the Long Brown Path – Male Master Division


Long Path Race Series: Announcing the 2016 Disciples of the Long Brown Path

What’s a Totoro?

The acclaimed Japanese animated filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s 1988 classic My Neighbor Totoro tells the story of two young sisters who encounter friendly forest spirits in postwar rural Japan.  The film has won numerous awards, and the Totoro has been ranked among the most popular animated characters.

There are many reasons for the film’s success, including the carefully crafted animation, the endearing portrayal of the two sisters, the lush watercolor backgrounds, and the pastoral simplicity of the setting.  After watching the movie recently, I asked myself, what is a Totoro?  And what was Miyazaki’s purpose in creating this movie?

Continue reading “What’s a Totoro?”

What’s a Totoro?

Hiking the SRT 1/2 Marathon Course

SRT 1/2 Marathon Start

As race director for the SRT Run/Hike, I’m interested in encouraging participation in the event and seeing more people experience the Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT), which is one of my favorite trails in New York.  To be fair, the full 70-mile division isn’t for everyone:  not only does it require significant endurance to cover such a long distance, but also you’ve got to be mindful about navigation, nutrition, and hydration, since we don’t provide aid stations or course markings.  This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

But the half-marathon division should be accessible to a lot of people, and with a start-time of 10:30 AM and the final cut-off at midnight, you have 13.5 hours to complete the course, which requires moving at barely a 1 MPH average pace.  To demonstrate just how generous this time limit is, I chose a beautiful fall day recently to see if I could complete the 1/2 marathon course within the time limit, without food, water,* or even shoes.

As a novice barefooter, I knew the going would be slow, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day than experiencing the sights, sounds, and textures of New York’s most magical trail.

Continue reading “Hiking the SRT 1/2 Marathon Course”

Hiking the SRT 1/2 Marathon Course


I’m reblogging this excellent post on lichens with great pictures and very helpful tips to identification

New Hampshire Garden Solutions


As flowers start to fade and leaves begin to fall my thoughts often turn to lichens, mosses and all of the other beautiful things you can still find in nature in the winter. We’ve had two or three days of drizzle; nothing drought busting but enough to perk up the lichens. Lichens like plenty of moisture, and when it doesn’t rain they will simply dry up and wait. Many change color and shape when they dry out and this can cause problems with identification, so serious lichen hunters wait until after a soaking rain to find them. This is when they show their true color and form. The pink fruiting bodies of the pink earth lichen in the above photo for example, might have been shriveled and pale before the rain.


Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences…

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