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By Jana Seitz

Am I more in love with the idea of adventure than with adventure itself? I think to myself as I try to break free of my house and domestic responsibilities to catch the tide under the bridge that divides me from my plan. My brain tries to change its mind: wait ‘til you know it’s safe, catch up around here. I text a river friend to see if I can get in the marsh if I miss low tide, then I just make myself leave.

I can finally make the drive to the Hudson River without relying on GPS and wondering why the Taconic & Sprain are interchangeable and which 9 to take. I’m going against morning traffic like a salmon swimming upstream. I still get butterflies in my stomach when heading out alone to places unknown. My response pings in: “U can swim under. Watch your feet. There’s a bit of old fence under. U can always lay on top and hand paddle under.” Game on.

Destination: Constitution Marsh in Cold Spring, a basecamp for Hudson Highland adventure. I park at the train station, throw my gear in my kayak and the race is on. It’s a short paddle to the trestle, and I’m in and under with no swim necessary. I’m now free for five glorious hours: 75 degrees, sunny blue skies, light breeze, and stunningly beautiful. It’s as if I’ve paddled into a scratch ‘n’ sniff Bierstadt painting of the big, open West.

My mind bristles with the need to capture and share the beauty. I snap photos which can’t contain it and fight the urge to text them. I finally understand people’s addiction to Facebook, but I let it go. With great effort I turn off my phone and immerse myself in the reality of the here and now.

Constitution Marsh is a 270-acre tidal wetland, separated from the Hudson River by Constitution Island, on a 90-degree bend called World’s End. West Point is directly across, and its gothic spires peak through incongruously as if I popped into the Scottish rather than the Hudson Highlands. I’m the only person in the marsh today, but not the only creature. Thousands of slimy thingys scatter as I pass, some jumping in my boat in their mad dash to avoid it. I later learn they’re small bottom-of-the-food chain fish called “mummichogs.”

I scream when HUGE striped bass breach beside me, hopefully at the top of said chain. I’m thankful there are no snakes or gators as in my native Louisiana. It does remind me of home, of navigating similar channels through flooded rice fields with my dad, racing to the duck blind before the break of dawn. The main channel is well marked with buoys to the Audubon Center, but today I remain off their grid in search of the illusive waterfall.

The marsh is thick with invasive water chestnut. I pick up some floating seedpods (“devil’s heads”), hard round cases with three sharp prongs, to store on my bow in case of fish attack.

I am jolted by the sound of an air raid warning, high and clear, then twelve bells from Cadet Chapel and twelve chimes from the north. Noon has arrived, announced in stereo — magical and otherworldly. I heed its call and break for a quick lunch as the water begins its pull toward the sea. I realize that the recommended two-hour window before and after high tide isn’t just for getting in and out, but for navigating the marsh as well. I break the river’s hold, and scoot along the tree line to find where Philips Brook dumps in, hoping there’s enough water to fuel the fabled falls.

The sun warms my body as the breeze cools it. I move with ease from shade to sun as I hug the shore, and with one stroke spring turns to summer. Osprey fight over a fish, casting a shadow on my boat. One turn to the right and I hear it, then left and I see it: Philipstown Park Waterfall, the centerpiece of a lush copse sheltered by age-old trees.

I jump out to explore, knowing my time is ruled by tide. A rope swing hangs from a huge tree, a cold clear pool catches the water from above, and a path and guide rope lead to the top of the falls. I run up and down the path, jump in the pool, dry off on the swing, then lie on my back and just listen to the breeze.

But tide and time wait for no woman. I tarry too long, so have to walk my boat to deeper water. I click into autopilot and plow past the tug of the tide, taking two hours of strong, steady paddling to exit this magical kingdom, again a salmon swimming upstream.

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Box:

Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary

www.constitutionmarsh.audubon.org

Guided canoe trips late April through early September

Boardwalk for landlubbers

Parking very limited

Hudson River Expeditions

www.hudsonriverexpeditions.com

Kayak rentals and guided tours May through October

Captions

View of the Hudson Highlands from Constitution Marsh

The author was glad to have made it to the fabled Philipstown Park Waterfall.

West Point in the distance

By Bill Lawyer

Here in Rye we have some of the best public access to Long Island Sound beaches — from the rocky beach at Edith Read Sanctuary, through Playland’s beaches, all the way to the Rye Town Park beach at Dearborn Avenue.

The Nor’easter storms that drenched us in March may have caused some damage and taken away some of our sand, but they swept a lot of interesting marine life up above the normal tide level as well.

If you really want to see what’s going on with beach marine life, you have to look carefully and get down close to the sand. Bringing small children along is one way to do it.

Instead of counting and identifying beach critters, you can enjoy the walk and just stop every once in a while when something interesting catches your eye.

That’s what happened to me recently when combing Rye Town Park’s beaches to collect litter and recyclable debris. Among all the broken clam and scallop shells I came upon an object that I was not able to identify right away. It was a long chain made up of many links that almost looked like they had been somehow been “manufactured,” sort of a plastic bicycle chain.

Somewhere in the back reaches of my brain I knew that I had seen this sort of thing before, and might have studied it as well but I wasn’t sure where. Maybe it had something to do with egg casings.

When you can’t remember the name of something, it’s hard to know how to find it. But I typed in “egg chain” on Google search, and low and behold I found the answer on the first try. It was the egg casing, produced to store the eggs of a whelk.

The whelk itself is a gastropod in the same general category as land and sea snails. Some species have beautiful colors; most are gray or brown but have developed some special features. They also come in all sizes and shapes.

Whelks can be appreciated as examples of nature’s beauty, as well as amazing outcomes of natural selection. They are carnivores that possess a “tool” to drill through the shell of their prey. Whelk egg casings are produced in long chains, with each section holding thousands of eggs. Fishermen call them “mermaid necklaces.”

They grow by adding onto their shells — producing turns and whorls in its shell around a central axis. Females lay a string of eggs in deep water twice a year, usually from September to October and again April to May.

Soon after my beach walk I recalled that I had learned a lot about whelks from Anthony Doerr’s “All The Light We Cannot See.” Marie-Laure, the central character of the novel, takes on the code name “Whelk” for use in the French resistance during World War II in the coastal city of St. Malo. Despite being blind, she has the ability to identify whelks by touch. She chooses that name because of the strength and toughness these creatures have developed to protect them from seagulls’ attempts to pull them off rocks and devour them.

Humans have been eating whelks for thousands of years. They’re a common menu item at restaurants in British Cornwall and French Brittany, but Americans are only just coming around to enjoying them, having held them in the “ugh” category, like snails, previously.

In recent years, commercial whelk harvesting has become very profitable in in the coastal waters of New England.

The University of Rhode Island Sea Grant program provides a detailed description of how whelks are trapped.

“They are caught using rectangular wire or wooden traps that are baited with horseshoe crabs, quahogs, or fish parts. The traps are smaller and simpler in design than lobster traps.

The traps’ sides are lined with rubber, plastic, or wood strips that make it easier for the whelks to climb up to the top. Once there, they fall through a large square opening. A wire rim around the opening prevents them from getting out.

Traps are pulled every two to three days, depending on weather conditions.”

Whelk “feet” are processed and shipped to China, where they are very popular. Some end up in New York City’s Chinatown.

If whelk fishermen have their way, we may find these snails from the sea on the menus of Rye restaurants — harvested from the shorelines of Long Island Sound.

Egg casing chain on the beach

A knobbed whelk

 

By Jana Seitz

It’s hard to fully describe the thrill of finding the Garden of Eden right smack in the middle of Yonkers, you just have to trust me and go find it yourself. The man-made miracle of Samuel Untermyer awaits you, a classic Indo-Persian garden as soothing as a balm in Gilead.

On a recent dreary morning, I corralled a group of ladies — pulling them away from Pilates and pickups — to drag them to sights unseen. I worried they’d not be as enamored as I, but watching their faces light up as the fog burned away to reveal the mystery was as much fun as seeing it for the first time myself. It’s a true time warp: one minute you’re on Broadway, the next in Eden. It’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen.

Untermyer’s Walled Garden is very likely the greatest Persian garden in the Western Hemisphere, hiding in plain sight. You may never make it to the Taj Mahal or the Alhambra, but you’ve no excuse for not getting here.

Successful attorney Samuel Untermyer began his homestead’s private gardens in 1916, managed by a staff of 60 gardeners and supplied by 60 greenhouses. He opened them to the public the following year. Thirty thousand people visited “America’s Most Spectacular Garden” on a single day in 1939. Untermyer’s death in 1940 ushered in a slow dance of decline, as neither New York City nor Westchester County was interested in (or could afford) the upkeep. The property became a Yonkers municipal park, the mansion was torn down soon after World War II, and the earth began its reclamation.

In 2011, the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy began the Herculean effort to dig out and restore the site to its former glory. (An earlier attempt in the 1970s failed, but is credited with preventing a teardown of the entire property.) The gardens re-opened last spring and are yours for exploring. On “mini adventure” time, weekdays between 8 and 3, you’re likely to have the place all to yourself.

After exploring the Walled Garden, be certain to see the rest of the story (grab a brochure/map of the park at the Walled Garden entrance). There are some 43 acres on which to hunt for “treasures,” with features in various forms of decay and repair strewn all over. Find the 2,000-year-old Roman marble columns on the Vista Overlook. Explore the remains of the Color Gardens, now flanked by a hospital parking lot. Stroll down the hillside trails to the Temple of Love where Isadora Duncan performed. Continue downhill to the crumbling Gate House guarded by its lion and unicorn sculptures and out on the Old Croton Aqueduct trail.

The Walled Garden

The Aqueduct is yet another marvel of antiquity, linking Hudson River villages for more than 150 years by bringing much-needed water from the Croton Reservoir to New York City. The old masonry tunnel lies just beneath the surface, and the 26-mile trail winds through Westchester County, all but forgotten.

Head north on the trail for a half-mile stroll, crossing Odell Avenue (with pedestrian crosswalk) until you come to a set of concrete steps on your right. This is the back entrance to Lenoir Preserve, a 40-acre nature preserve, formerly the home of two Hudson River estates, the Lenoir and Alder mansions. The trail is a bit steep, but is a series of switchbacks. There are markers for two separate paths leading up to the preserve. You can’t get lost. There is a seasonal butterfly garden and a nature center up top, but the pièce de résistance is Alder Manor itself, which remains intact with a gallant effort underway to preserve it. I was lucky enough to happen upon a film shoot in progress and walked in as if I were just another production assistant to wander the empty rooms, some of which have gorgeous draperies still hanging and decaying in place.

From Lenoir, walk the short distance by road back to your car at Untermyer and type in 71 Water Grant Street in your GPS (but don’t do what it says). Take a left out of the parking lot onto North Broadway, left on Odell, left on Warburton. This is the prettier drive where you can well imagine the former glory of the Victorian houses now hemmed in by bad zoning and modern construction. Have lunch at X2O: Xaviers on the Hudson, the Dolphin, or Café Hudson, all located on the Yonkers waterfront on the charming Alfred B. DelBello Riverwalk.

The emerald ash borer (EAB) is on its way to Rye and the effects could be ugly. First discovered in the United States in 2001, this tree-eating pest arrived accidentally in wood crates from Asia. Since then it has spread to nearly every state and is estimated to have already decimated 50 million ash trees. This could have a devastating effect on the trees of our area, as white, blue, and black ash trees comprise 13%-20% of the tree canopy of Westchester County. The emerald ash borer has been detected in Greenwich, so it is time we in Rye take action to protect our trees.

Frazer Pehmoeller, an arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts, is concerned. Known by many in Rye, he has been caring for Westchester trees for the past 28 years and leads Bartlett’s collaboration with the Friends of Rye Town Park. Earlier this year he donated services to prune the trees and shrubs surrounding the Rye Free Reading Room.

In a program co-sponsored by the Rye Garden Club and the Rye Sustainability Committee on February 2 at the Rye Free Reading Room, Pehmoeller addressed the threats to trees in Westchester and how we can protect them.

The evening began with the film “Trees in Trouble,” a short documentary about the devastating effect of the emerald ash borer on the city of Cincinnati. What funds were put to the problem went to removing dead trees, with very little budgeted to protective measures. Some streets lost every single tree lining the roadway. Homeowners lost countless trees on their properties.

One of the difficulties with the EAB is that by the time you see the damage to the tree and/or see the insects, it is too late to save the tree. The EAB female lays eggs beneath the bark. The larvae feed under the bark in the cambial tissue of the tree. Their burrowing disrupts the tree’s ability to absorb and transfer nutrients and water. By the time this larvae hatches into the bugs one can see, the tree is dying. Preventative measures are a must.

In a lively and informative discussion that followed the film, Pehmoeller detailed what we can do to protect the trees of Rye.

  • Get a tree inventory. Have an arborist help you map the trees on your property so you know what you have. This is important for the city to do for civic properties.
  • Develop a long-term care plan for your trees, as the Friends of Rye Town Park have done. This means pruning them, keeping in mind the pests and diseases that can harm different types of trees and treating trees that are susceptible to diseases and pests. You can spread the work you need to do over time.
  • If you have ash trees, it is time to protect them so they can ward off the EAB. Trees can be inoculated with pesticides that prevent the emerald ash borer from feeding. There is a chemical option and an organic option.
  • Plant trees and keep biodiversity in mind. Planting a diverse variety of trees will not only create a healthy ecosystem on your property, but will ensure that some trees remain even when a pest or disease attacks.
  • Plant native trees whenever possible. Fraser recommends oaks, sugar maples, red maples if you have wet property, beech trees (but make sure to invest in their care), and the white birch. The ash is a wonderful tree to plant but will need inoculations over time.

Pehmoeller concluded the evening with a reminder of the value of trees. Along with their essential roles as habitat and food for animals in a healthy ecosystem, we often take trees for granted and forget they provide so much for human health. They are necessary for clean air, storm water management, and keeping our communities shaded and cool. Time in nature and among trees contributes to human wellbeing. Trees deserve our care and give back to us in so many ways.

The Rye Sustainability Committee has created a Tree Fund for the City of Rye. Contributions will be put towards planting and caring for the trees of Rye. Learn more at http://www.ryesustainability.com/rye-tree-fund.

Caption

Arborist Frazer Pehmoeller flanked by Rye Garden Club President Julia Burke and Rye Sustainability Committee President Sara Goddard

 

By Paul Hicks

 

“Did you see anything interesting?” I called to a guy at Edith Read Wildlife Sanctuary, who had an impressive-looking camera. “No interesting birds,” he answered, “but I did see a seal.” My fellow birder showed me photos on his camera of a seal that he had spotted lying on a rock in Long Island Sound.

 

Following his directions, I hurried to the northern end of the Playland shoreline, but by the time I reached my destination the tide had risen, covering the rock, and my sought-after seal had departed. However, my quest for a seal sighting had just begun. I will share what I found so far to improve my odds.

 

Chances of finding one or more seals appear to be quite good, as there is evidence that in recent years an increasing number of seals have been spending winters in Long Island Sound. They migrate from their breeding grounds in Canada and Maine, arrive along our shores around December, and remain into March so there is still time left before the spring migration begins.

 

Most of them are Harbor seals, which can grow to about 5 or 6 feet long, and weigh from 175 to 225 pounds, the males being slightly larger. Their fur is gray, brown or silver with dark spots. They feed mainly on fish, squid, crabs and lobster, and can stay underwater for as long as 28 minutes. A growing number of much larger Gray seals have also been seen in the western waters of the Sound.

 

Seals will haul out onto exposed rocks at low tide, lounging about individually or in groups. If you spot seals in Long Island Sound this winter, enjoy them from a distance. Since they are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, it is illegal for anyone to harass them, and only licensed experts are allowed to handle them. 

To improve the odds of spotting some seals, the best choice is probably to take one of the cruises offered by the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk on weekends in February and March. The cruises seek out the harbor seals and gray seals that often can be seen near the Norwalk islands on rocks exposed at low tide. Aquarium educators point out these marine mammals and talk about their natural histories. And they’ll also generally discuss what happens to the Sound’s marine population during the winter: who stays, who migrates out, and who migrates in (besides the seals). 

The Seal-Spotting & Birding Cruises take place aboard the Aquarium’s R/V Spirit of the Sound, a new 64-foot catamaran that has a heated cabin where you can warm up after being out on deck. Binoculars are available. These cruises also give birders unique “on-the-water” access to see and photograph visiting winter waterfowl, such as buffleheads, mergansers, Brant geese, and long-tailed ducks. Plus, cruise participants can help Aquarium educators with plankton samplings. Data collected during the cruises is added to the Long Island Sound Biodiversity Project, which is an ongoing census of the Sound’s animal species.

The Aquarium advertises that, “These 2½ hour cruises offer memorable family fun,” but please note that all passengers must be at least 42 inches tall. Tickets for a Seal-Spotting & Birding Cruise are $24.95, $19.95 for Aquarium members. Capacity is limited, so advance reservations are strongly recommended. Walk-up tickets will be sold, space permitting. Reserve your spot by calling 203-852-0700, ext. 2206, or by going online to http://www.maritimeaquarium.org. Times of departure depend on low tides.”

For more information about seals in Long Island Sound, check out the Riverhead Foundation for Research and Preservation website (riverheadfoundation.org), especially the section on Pinnipeds, the family that includes seals, walruses, and sea lions. When you see the many photos of the different seal species with their soulful eyes, you are bound to begin your own quest.

 

 

Photo of Harbor seal courtesy of William J. Hall Wildlife Photography

 

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