Category Archives: Natural History

A Century Ago: New York’s War on Animals


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Vermin01 BlackList1919Beware! Pictured here are your adversaries – the official enemies of the state. Don’t be distracted by the pretty colors, lovely feathers, or furry critters. These are vermin, and citizens are urged to kill them at every opportunity. The poster, by the way, represents only the top nine targets from a group of notorious killers, presented here alphabetically: bobcat, Cooper’s hawk, crow, English sparrow, goshawk, gray fox, great gray owl, great horned owl, house rat, “hunting” house cat, lynx, porcupine, red fox, red squirrel, sharp-shinned hawk, snowy owl, starling, weasel, and woodchuck. Kingfishers and a number of snakes were later added, and osprey were fair game as well.

While some of the phrases used above – “official enemies … kill them at every opportunity … new job requirement” – might sound like exaggerations, they were, in fact, official conservation policies of New York State a century ago. Continue reading

Greene Smith: Peterboro’s Avid Outdoorsman


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Smith BirdhouseThe important contributions to the field of ornithology of citizen-scientist Greene Smith have been obscured by the Underground Railroad and abolition fame of Smith’s father Gerrit Smith. As important and well-known as are the Underground Railroad sites on the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark in Peterboro NY, it is Greene’s Ornithon that most piques visitors’ curiosity about the builder and collector of that bird museum.

This public fascination prompted Norm Dann to turn the focus of his Smith research to Greene Smith and his Birdhouse. Dann’s study of family letters, military records, Greene’s personal Catalogue of Birds, the pursuit of Greene’s hunting apparatus, and the ownership and investigation of the Birdhouse site, have culminated in the March printing of Greene Smith and the WildLife: The Story of Peterboro’s Avid Outdoorsman – the first publication on this absorbing story. Continue reading

Roosevelt-Vanderbilt Site Seeks Garden Volunteers


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Val-Kill garden volunteersThe Roosevelt Vanderbilt National Historic Site seeks volunteer gardeners to assist with the restoration and maintenance of the landscape at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (Val-Kill). Volunteers will work under the direction of the national parks’ horticulturist on projects throughout the landscape and gardens. The volunteer gardening program takes place on Wednesdays from 9 am – 12 pm. Continue reading

Birds in History: New York’s Snoring Eagles?


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Bald EaglegovFrom a lifetime of experiences, and reading nature books since childhood, it’s true that I should know a little more about wildlife than the average Joe, but I lay no claim to being an expert. Learning something new is a principal reason for reading books, and of late, I’ve had occasion to indulge in several excellent Adirondack-related titles written between 1840 and 1920.

In one of them, a particular passage caused me to stop, backtrack, read it again, and then one more time in disbelief. Since other animal behavior described in the book held true, I supposed this one should as well, but I had reservations. Above all, one thing was certain: confirmation would be hilarious, at least to my thinking. The claim was that bald eagles snore. And not only that: they snore LOUDLY. Experienced guides and hunters claimed it to be true. Continue reading

The Albany-Montréal Fur Trade, 1700-1754


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ben_franklins_worldThe smuggling trade between Albany and Montréal presented a large problem for the imperial governments of Great Britain and France between 1700 and 1754.

In this episode of the “Ben Franklin’s World” podcast, Dr. Eugene Tesdahl, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, joins us to discuss the infamous Albany-Montréal Trade and the business of smuggling in colonial North America. You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/021

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A New History Of Trees, Woods and Forests


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Trees Woods and Forests BookForests – and the trees within them – have always been a central resource for the development of technology, culture, and the expansion of humans as a species.

Examining and challenging our historical and modern attitudes toward wooded environments from a European perspective, Charles Watkins’ Trees, Woods and Forest: A Social and Cultural History (Reaktion Books, 2014)  explores how our understanding of forests has transformed in recent years and how it fits in our continuing anxiety about our impact on the natural world. Continue reading

The Diaries of Theodore Roosevelt 1877-1886


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Theodore Roosevelt DiariesA Most Glorious Ride: The Diaries of Theodore Roosevelt 1877-1886 (SUNY Press, 2015) covers the formative years of TR’s life, and show the transformation of a sickly and solitary Harvard freshman into a confident and increasingly robust young adult. He writes about his grief over the premature death of his father, his courtship and marriage to his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, and later the death of Alice and his mother on the same day.

The diaries also chronicle his burgeoning political career in New York City and his election to the New York State Assembly. With his descriptions of balls, dinner parties, and nights at the opera, they offer a glimpse into life among the Gilded Age elite in Boston and New York. Continue reading

Shoveling and Plowing in the Good Ol’ Days


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ShovelingSnow01Earlier this winter, our forecast in Clinton County was light rain and temps in the upper 30s, conditions that were expected to last a couple of days. Forty-eight hours later, 23 inches of the heaviest, wettest snow imaginable covered everything in sight. Tree collapsed, power outages were frequent, and roads were a slushy mess. Removal of the stuff from driveways was best done by machine, but for some of us, manual effort was the only way to go. As I toiled, my mind wandered to similar jobs I’ve endured in decades past. Continue reading

The Woodlands Historic Site of Philadelphia


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ben_franklins_worldWilliam Hamilton built The Woodlands mansion in Philadelphia in the 1760s. The estate stands as a tribute to the significant architectural and botanical contributions Hamilton made to Philadelphia and the young United States, including a part in the Lewis and Clark expedition.

This week on the “Ben Franklin’s World” podcast we speak with Jessica Baumert, the Executive Director of The Woodlands Historic Site in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/011 Continue reading