Archive » August 2015 » Columns

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

In the mail from Oklahoma, Guilderland historian Alice Begley received, among other treasures, a rose rock, at lower left, a natural crystal of barite and sand; according to Cherokee legend, the crystal was formed by the blood and tears of a young Cherokee woman on the Trail of Tears, a forced relocation following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

A very interesting message from a telephone correspondent near Kiowa, Oklahoma caught this historian's attention this week with a call from that state. A 45-minute conversation was filled with surprising connections of Guilderland and Kiowa.

Sherrill Wilkins, born in California, has lived in Oklahoma for about 25 years and is married to a Chickasaw Indian.  She notes that Oklahoma was "Indian Territory" before statehood in 1907. 

Sherrill is a former schoolteacher. She has no computer service in her home because the nearest hookup for service is 30 miles away.  She is seven-and-a-half miles from the nearest store, called a "Double Quick" like a 7-11 store here.

A pharmacy is 26 miles away.  Medicines are obtained by mail.   Their house and her husband's father's land total 250 acres.

Sherrill says proudly that an Indian family with children will not have to pay for college.   Many other benefits are available.  There are food benefits in the grocery store, and fuel for heating a home is free.  She said tribal members’ needs are met by the tribe

Our conversation covered names of early Kiowa residents like Veeder and Grote and Lainhart, which belong in both Kiowa and Guilderland history.   It is known that long ago Indians sometimes took the family name of English soldiers who had befriended them.

This historian informed Mrs. Wilkins of the Mohican Indians that lived near the Waldehaus Creek at Dunnsville in Guilderland.  Those Mohican Indians did the job of weaving basketry around demi-john bottles made in the glassworks factory in our town.

She also now knows that our town park has the Indian name of "Tawasentha," meaning "Hill of the Dead," and that Red Man's Wigwam on Route 20, an important  building in Guilderland's history, is now gone.

There is an Indian Cemetery near Sherrill Wilkins’s country home.  She has promised to climb a few fences to get pictures of the place.  She also mentioned the huge casino gambling places in the state that are owned by Indian tribes.

Four days after I first talked by phone to Sherrill Wilkins, a large white envelope from Oklahoma arrived in the mail; it held a July 2015 issue of the Chickasaw Times, the official publication of the Chickasaw Nation.

Front-page stories told of the Chickasaw Nation's 2015 Hall of Fame Ceremony to be held July 21, and another front-page story and picture revealed that a new van was to be used to deliver preventative health-care services to young Chickasaws in small-town and rural areas.

The 20-page large-size newspaper carried community and society news of the area. The paper wrote of how a Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Force had helped rescue eight people in a flooding incident in Pickett, Oklahoma.

The inside pages were filled with pictures of Chickasaw graduates from many local high schools and colleges, a remembrance of a Chickasaw Woman Aviatrix, agendas of the Chickasaw Nation Tribal Legislation, and a story about Chickasaw quarterback Bruce Petty who had been drafted by the New York Jets filled.  Petty had led his Baylor University Bears team to a conference championship last year.

An Indian arrowhead, a roserock from their soil, and pictures of Indian burial grounds were included in the mailing.  In addition, a book titled "Oklahoma Indian Country Guide: One State — Many Nations,” told about the 39 Indian Tribal Nations.

A handmade "dream catcher" was enclosed.  The legend tells that the air is filled with both good and bad dreams.  The good dreams will pass through the center hole to the sleeper while the bad dreams are trapped in the web and perish with the light of day. I do hope it works!

A great breath of history washed over the conversations with my new Oklahoma friend. I will  tell her of the Veeders and Grotes and Lainharts of Guilderland.

I hope to share more with you.


This is the second of a series on why people volunteer with Community Caregivers. What led them to pick up the phone and call Community Caregivers to make an appointment for an orientation?

Jerry Ostrander shares his story.

Jerry started with Community Caregivers in February 2010. Since then, he’s provided transportation for clients to various appointments.

When I asked him what the impetus was for him to contact the Caregivers, he said, “That’s a tough question.” After some thought, he said, “God has blessed me beyond measure during my lifetime, and I feel strongly about the need to give back whenever possible.”

He went on, “I’ve been blessed with a nice comfortable retirement, a nice vehicle, the physical ability to drive.” So he decided to provide transportation “…as requested and when convenient to my schedule.”

Jerry learned a lot about Caregivers when he walked the indoor track at the Guilderland Y with Tom Morrison. The “why” he joined resulted from the multiple conversations he and Tom had. Tom volunteers for the Caregivers, too.

“It is clearly a discussion and subsequent decision I am very happy about,” Jerry said. He believes volunteering is important because he feels “…a personal responsibility to help others.” He added, “Maybe more personally gratifying is the reality that my life is so enriched by serving others,” even when all he does is provide a ride to an appointment.

The assignments Jerry has allow him to develop friendships. For example, for three years he drove a client to visit his wife at a nursing home. He said you can’t drive someone for three years and not get to know them. “I have always received more than the service I provide,” he said.

Mary Morrison, Caregivers’ Transportation Coordinator, gets kudos because she knows Jerry likes a “regular, weekly assignment,”  since it allows him flexibility. When Mary calls for an additional assignment, he is very willing if his schedule permits.

Transportation continues to be the most requested service. In June, there were 249 requests for that service alone. Jerry took one client to visit his wife; he now has another client he takes to therapy two times a week.

Keeping folks in their homes and helping them maintain their independence is what Community Caregivers is about. Check out the website: Our number is 456-2898. Or talk to Jerry. Say happy birthday if you see him; it was Aug. 24.


The Pine Bush Preserve is inhabited by creatures great and small — like this grasshopper.

The Albany Pine Bush is one of the best remaining inland pitch-pine scrub oak barrens in the world. It is a truly unique place right here in the Capital District. Through this column, I hope to transport you for at least a short time to the Pine Bush to experience some of the seasonal happenings, active projects, and musings of this environmental educator.

Many people wonder what kinds of animals live in the Pine Bush. This is also a common topic that we discuss with visitors on our programs.

A few weeks back, I was out on a hike with a group of first-graders. I asked them what animals they thought lived in the Pine Bush.

One student raised her hand and very calmly said “unicorns,” as if she had seen five unicorns on her way to the Pine Bush that morning and expected to see more on her way home. I explained that unicorns do not live in the Pine Bush and so we would not see them on our hike that day.

If we polled elementary school students in the Capital Region, we would also have dinosaurs, lions, and monkeys roaming around in the Pine Bush. Perhaps it’s the element of excitement and mystery but for whatever reason these are the animals that come to mind when we are huddled on a sandy trail looking out into the sea of scrub oak, New Jersey tea, and pitch pine.

While we do have some big mammals in the Pine Bush — coyote, fox, deer, and fisher — it is highly unlikely that we would see them on a group hike. We more commonly see birds, big ones like hawks and vultures, and small ones like black-capped chickadees.

We also often see chipmunks and insects galore. These may not seem exciting but, if you can quiet the part of your brain that says, “I have seen a million chipmunks in my lifetime” and just watch the chipmunk scurry across the path into a scrub oak bush and quietly make its way to the top to grab an acorn, you might find yourself thinking, “Wow, that is amazing!”

Stop and just stare at the beautiful orange butterfly milkweed flowers and watch the insects that come to visit. Don’t think about them creeping into your house or onto your skin but just watch them as they crawl across one flower and fly on to the next without reacting to your presence.

A habitat for wildlife in the midst of the Capital Region, the Pine Bush Preserve is full of these small wildlife discoveries.

Wildlife, from the common to the rare and everything in between, is difficult to predict. Recently, another educator and I led a nighttime bat program in the preserve.

As soon as we got out of our cars, we noticed bats diving over our heads. We had timed this walk right!

We hadn’t even left the parking area and we had already seen bats. We turned on our bat-detecting devices and heard even more. We enjoyed watching these roadside bats for a bit before we headed down the trail.

Along the first field, we heard a few more bats and saw them too. They were big brown bats zooming over our heads, feasting on insects. Bat numbers in New York have decreased dramatically in recent years but on this night we enjoyed watching these flying mammals dart back and forth over our heads.

Whether you are seeing your one-millionth chipmunk or your first endangered Karner blue butterfly, reflect on the fact that you are catching a glimpse of a wild animal in its habitat. In a world of schedules, appointments, and lists, just enjoy that you are catching this animal in the middle of its daily routine.

The next time you are out for a walk, keep your eyes open for all types of wildlife. You might be surprised at what you find.

If you want more information about the Albany Pine Bush Preserve or the Discovery Center, go to our website, call 456-0655, or visit the Discovery Center at 195 New Karner Road in Albany.


The Old Men of the Mountain recently met at the Country Café on Main Street in Schoharie. It was a warm Tuesday morning on Aug. 18 and many of the OFs were at the Café before seven — probably couldn’t sleep, or the wives gave them the boot so they could get their work done in the cool of the morning without the OF in the way.

Last week, the OFs discussed the many ways of reaching the southern climes of the country. Tuesday morning, an OF was relating his trials and tribulations on Route 95.  He was attempting to head to Route 17 and cross over to Route 81 to come up to Albany.

This OF said it took over four hours to get through Richmond and Fredericksburg, Virginia to get to Route 17 and then onto Route 66 and then Route 81. This OF apparently missed last week’s conversation.

Then another OF mentioned that his stepson made it to the Daytona area in just 19 hours a couple of days ago. This scribe checked Google (what else) and found that Google reports it is approximately 1,200 miles and driving straight through is roughly 17-and-a-half hours. Allowing for true departure and arrival points, the 19 hours is not bad.

Rotten tomatoes and sinister snakes

The gardener’s report is that their garden produce is coming along nicely, except for their tomatoes. According to the OFs, the tomatoes are ripening very slowly, and they are having blight, and rot problems. So much for that.

Quite often, the OFs talk about snakes, and how the OFs handle them. Some don’t like them at all, and others consider them quite helpful.

There are a few OFs who place even rattlesnakes and copperheads in the “they are helpful” category. Other OFs think differently when it comes to those that are a tad on the nasty side and can make you sick if they happen to get their fangs into you.

This was brought up again by an OF who said one of his kids caught a coral snake at their place in Florida and had it in a bucket. This OF said it was a coral snake but some of the OFs were skeptical because there is a snake that mimics a coral snake.

This OF should know the difference though because he has been in Florida quite some time.  There is a rhyme that goes: Red touches black, safe for Jack. Red touches yellow, kills a fellow. (Let alone the rhyme, don’t mess with either one).

Also, with the coral snake, the round-eye allegory is out the window. This scribe was taught, at least up in the Northeast, if a snake has a round eye, it is harmless but, if a snake has a flat eye, leave it alone.  Who is going to get down and look a snake in the eye to check that one out?

Mystery drink

The OFs began an unusual conversation about the drink Mathusalem. No OF knew how to spell it and what was in it.

The OFs sent this scribe to Google once more. (“Google” is now a verb.) The scribe found there is such a drink and it is champagne and is very expensive. In 2012, at auction, a bottle of 1996 Don Peron Rose Gold Mathusalem went for $500,000 to a buyer in Hong Kong.

This champagne is made from well-ripened nectarines and “wild” strawberries. The OFs should get a case of this drink and give it out as Christmas presents.

Road edges

The OFs observed how many people have time on their hands (and an expensive lawn mower). Just traveling around this area, the OFs wonder who has the money for gas to mow the edges of the road so they look like manicured lawns for thousands of feet. Not that the OFs are complaining because it makes the highway look like the OF is driving through a park, but it is also safer, especially on turns.

This year, the sweet clover grew like trees and at times does hamper the OFs’ vision. The asters, like everything else in the plant world this year, are prolific and taller than usual. These plants grow along the side of the highway and are tough.

If only grass could take the weather changes like these two plants. This year, the OFs commented that the sides of the roads not mowed are like driving down the aisles in a florist shop — more so than previous years.

Chains recalled

With the temperature 90 degrees outside, the OFs were talking about the winter and how the roads are maintained differently now than they were in the 1950s and ’60s or even the ’70s. Back then, most cars, trucks, and buses carried chains, and used them.

Today, many young drivers don’t even know what chains are. (They think “chains” are something you wear around your neck.)

One OF attributed this to the over-use of salt on highways, which the OFs maintain ruins the roads.  Not only does the initial price of salt cost the taxpayers tons of money, but so does repairing the roads and filling potholes because of using so much salt.

One OF mentioned that he thought, up north, especially at the Tug Hill Plateau, they use mostly sand and let the snow pack down and these areas seem to get along very well without using a lot of salt. The OF also added, “Up there, they get snow.”

Those OFs who made it to the Country Café in Schoharie without having to put on chains to get there, were: Miner Stevens, Dave Williams, Bill Bartholomew, Chuck Aelesio, Mark Traver, Glenn Patterson, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Harold Guest, Frank Pauli, Jim Heiser, Duncan Bellinger, Roger Shafer, Lou Schenck, Gerry Irwin, Jack Norray, Art Frament, Jay Taylor, Bob Benninger, Bob Fink, Roger Fairchild, Bob Benac, Joe Ketzeko, Mark Hollobaugh, Duane Wagenbaugh, Rich Donnelly, Ted Willsey, Bob Lassome, Bill Krause, Mike Willsey, Harold Grippen, Elwood Vanderbilt, Gerry Chartier, and me.


You read about earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornados and you wonder what it would be like to experience them firsthand. You see footage of extreme weather on TV, and you can't help but empathize with the poor folks who had to suffer through it.

The thing is, until you experience it for yourself, you really have no idea what it's like. My lovely wife, Charlotte, and I just had such an experience, and I sure hope we never have to repeat it.

We were driving my mini-van on I-88 East, about a half-hour east of Binghamton, on a recent rainy summer Sunday. We were towing an enclosed trailer with a couple of motorcycles in it, so our speed was really slow, between 55 and 60 miles per hour at the most.

Soon the rain began coming down in buckets. It was so bad several cars had pulled off to the shoulder to wait it out. I try to always have good tires and good wipers on my cars, so I continued going slowly, dealing with it as best I could. Not a great situation but nothing we haven't seen before. Just being extra careful usually works fine.

Then we noticed some thunder and lightning appear in the distance. It seemed to me like it was far off. I wasn't too worried but my wife was getting nervous.

The next thing you know there was a humongous explosion, and at the same time a bright, blinding light. When I say explosion, I mean there was a very loud KABOOOOM. A split second later, the van shook as all the warning lights on the dash came on and the engine shut off. Holy cow.

This was in the right lane, on a slight uphill, in a blinding downpour. Somehow I kept my wits about me and got the entire rig, including the trailer, completely onto the narrow shoulder before the forward momentum stopped. Whew. I'm surprised my underwear stayed clean after that.

So now we're on the side of I-88 East with a dead mini-van and trailer. In total, we would be there for four hours, and, in that entire time, not even one State Trooper passed in either direction.

Isn't it amazing that when you're speeding they're so plentiful? I mean, four hours is a long time to be stuck on the shoulder. Let me tell you, when a semi-trailer passes right next to you at 70 miles per hour, you really, really feel it; the wind blows and the ground shakes. It's truly frightening.

My wife and I had no choice but to work the cell phones, trying to find any help or assistance. I have a road-towing plan, but get this — they wouldn't come because they only give you a tow if you have a breakdown. Getting hit by lightning is, according to them, an "accident" and therefore not eligible for breakdown service.

Does this sound right to you? It doesn't to me — I mean, when you're stuck your stuck, but that's what we were told. Fortunately, our insurance company came through, and eventually we got towed, thought it wasn't cheap — $150 each for the van and the trailer, ouch.

This is the mini-van I wrote about a while ago. I purchased it used from a well-known local dealer, and it came with a terrific warrantee — as long as I let them do all the oil changes. I've been changing my own oil since I was 16 and I enjoy doing it, but I had to give this up due to the warrantee.

So, from the side of the road, I call them. I tell them what happened, figuring I'll get the van towed to them and use my warrantee coverage, when I hear on the phone that we had just experienced an "act of God" and as such would have no coverage. Hmm

I asked where in the manual it said I couldn't drive in rain storms. They said it didn't say that, but still it's an "act of God" and no warrantee coverage of any kind would be provided.

The guy on the phone must have said “act of God” five times before I hung up in frustration. I mean, at least say something like, “Bring it to us and we'll look at it and see what we can do.” You know, try to be helpful. Try to make it seem like you care about your customer.

This is why I will never shop at that dealer again. I never from day one felt like they were on my side. Quite frankly, I don't know how they stay in business. Even if getting hit by lightning is considered an act of God, at least show some kind of compassion for your very stressed out customers in their time of need.

My lovely wife did some research, and it seems like, when a car gets hit by lightning, the insurance company has no choice but to total it. Amazingly, there were no burn marks or any other visible damage on the car or trailer, so my insurance company wanted to try to have the car fixed. As if I'd want to drive or even be able to sell a car that had been totally disabled by lightning.

Over a two-week period, they had the shop where I'd had the van towed try a new computer, a new alternator, and many other electrical parts. We spoke to the mechanic doing the work — he said it was like trying to plug up a leaky garden hose, where you plug up one hole and another opens up.

They finally had him give up when there were serious problems with the air bags. Good thing I had full comprehensive coverage on this vehicle.

I do some work on cars, and I have the tool to read the on-board diagnostic system. For example, you plug the code reader into a connector under the steering wheel, and it might read something like this: P0301 Cylinder 1 Misfire Detected

Pretty straightforward — check the plug, wire, and coil for number-one cylinder and go from there.

Can you imagine what the code says on a car that was hit by lightning?

ZZZZZ — Are you serious? You're hosed! Better get to the bank and get a new car loan.

All kidding aside, the explosion from the lightning strike was so loud, powerful, violent, and scary, I hope I never have to experience anything like that ever again. I'm told the next time it happens, just pull over and sit with your hands in your lap (don't touch any metal) and wait it out. Extreme weather is better when you read about it or see it on TV, trust me.


Philosophy, the Queen, is at the center of the circle, surrounded by the seven liberal arts — grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy — in “Philosophia et septem artes liberales,” Latin for “Philosophy and the seven liberal arts.” The artwork is from the illuminated encyclopedia, “Hortus deliciarum,” meaning “Garden of Delights,” compiled by Herrad of Landsberg, 12th-Century abbess of Hohenburg Abbey in the French region of Alsace. The encyclopedia was used by young novices at the abbey and is thought to be the first written by a woman.

I would like to make a case for the study of the liberal arts in higher education but the deck is stacked against me.

The Internet is full of sites warning against academic money-losers and the arts and their literary entourage sit atop the list. Championing the liberal arts to bottom-line thinkers is like waving a red flag in front of a bull or more correctly watching the bull walk away with disinterest.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce issued a report this year, “The Economic Value of College Majors,” and among the disciplines resting safely in the food-stamp bin are: drama and theatrical arts; art and music; theology; studio arts, human services; language and drama education; and social work — never mind Greek and Latin (they died with Caesar) — in short, all the disciplines that feed the soul and help aspiring students frame a holistic vision of life.

Ranked at the top of the big-ticket diplomas in the report are: petroleum engineering ($135,000); pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences ($112,519); metallurgical engineering ($97,743); mining and mineral engineering ($97,372); chemical engineering ($96,156); and electrical engineering ($93,215).

It’s a riff on the old “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” joke and the answer is: engineering, engineering, engineering, and making the pills to dull the aches that living in a drum breeds.

The Georgetown report says early-childhood education majors — prepped to guide (not “lead” as their professional protocol asserts) kids 2 to 5 with the Piaget or alternate instructional methods — average $39,000 a year, which is little more than the presently-suggested upgrade in the minimum wage of $15 per hour.

This is not to say that early-childhood education is a liberal arts discipline but it can be when education is studied historically and in context where questions are asked like: How would Socrates handle a classroom in the city of Albany’s high school today? Would he reach for the hemlock once the kids saw his toga?

The majors that continue to remain popular among students are: business management and administration; accounting; general business; and nursing which means, QED, that Truth and Beauty, to cite Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect much less Truth and Beauty’s love child, Justice.

Is it not a sad irony that gold mined in the soil of the Earth is more highly prized than the gold sitting in classroom seats, never mind that seated behind the desk, those who guide or direct or teach or prime — pick your term — the kiddos for adolescence and adulthood.

The politically conservative columnist for The New York Times, David Brooks, has spoken with fervor in favor of the liberal arts — of self-reflective study that nourishes the soul — but a conflicted Brooks seems unable to shake himself free from a political-economic ideology that refuses to give the liberal arts equal footing in the marketplace.

He says he admires the saintliness of the modern social justice gadfly Dorothy Day — the pacifist anarchist who started the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933 — but refuses to accept, no, will not acknowledge, Day’s political economic stance on justice that caused civil and religious authorities much consternation. He stacks the deck against a holistic view of thinking (and living) that his beloved liberal arts are said to foster.

When the earnest student peruses Aeschylus, Arthur Miller, Dante, James Joyce, Dostoevsky, Emily Dickinson, or experiences the music compositions of John Cage and the dance sequences of Merce Cunningham, she sees the dangers of living a schizoid life and how such a life grates on well-being — though the liberal arts have never been guarantors of happiness.

And yet the liberal arts remain as contemporary as any course of study even when reflected in the lives of the ancients. The insights of sages east and west serve as a sword for cutting through the insulating jibber-jabber of any age. The aforementioned Socrates said that: No person desires evil; and no person errs or does wrong willingly or knowingly. Very intriguing postulates.

Whether one agrees with their assumptions or not, they can serve as an analytical sword for piercing the motives of, say, the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump when he says that women are “slobs,” “dogs,” “pigs,” “bimbos” and then avers “I cherish women.”

This is a different kind of divide from which Brooks suffers but it shows a person in conflict over the value of Truth. The curse of the House of Atreus shows there is a price to be paid for trying to inhabit two worlds simultaneously and making believe you’re whole.

And this curse can be seen spilling over into the modern family as an exasperated, despairing Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) tells his brother Charlie (Rod Steiger) in “On The Waterfront” that it was he, Charlie, his brother — not some ruthless mobster — who destroyed his career, indicating that familial death-like treachery persists among us.

How does a brother respond to: “You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley [my brother, who destroyed me].”

The art of cinema as well as dance and music and literature exposes the student to Truth, Beauty, and Justice with bold and ineluctable lessons and helps the true aspirant develop a well-thought-out and meaningful “philosophy of life,” which is more essential these days than ever.

Since 1966, the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles has asked in its survey of first-year college students about the importance of school in developing a sound philosophy of life.

As Fareed Zakaria points out in his recent “In Defense of a Liberal Education,” in 1967, eighty-six percent of the first-year students said college was important for “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” but a year ago, in 2014, only 45 percent of students thought it was.

Has the “American mind” officially closed down as Allan Bloom asserted in his controversial 1987 best-seller, “The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students.” It has (but not for the reasons Bloom asserted).

Wellesley College, one of the bastions of liberal arts education since its inception in 1875, has not backed off of but doubled-down on its commitment to the liberal arts in the 21st Century.

Its website says Wellesley is addressing the current challenge to the liberal arts “not by abandoning its belief in a liberal arts curriculum, but by working to ensure that students themselves understand — in the course of every learning challenge — that the disciplined thinking, refined judgment, creative synthesis, and collaborative dynamic [of the liberal arts]...are not only crucial to developing their leadership abilities, but are habits of mind that will serve them well throughout their lives, and be primary contributors to their success.”

Though such a commitment one can become Secretary of State, a screenwriter, president of a college, indeed a nationally-recognized editor of an award-winning newspaper — even its publisher some day — prying back open the American mind, weekly edition after weekly edition.

The other day, my wife and I were out driving and, as has become our habit, the passenger checks one direction while the driver checks the other before moving through an intersection. Normal? I guess.

But I recall the old days when either of us could manage the feat without help from the other. In fact, we still manage it on days when we drive solo. But nowadays, we find more and more, that we need help just driving safely and I’m wondering if it’s us, or them.

Every time I take my car or (deity forbid) my motorcycle out on the road, I am reminded that I’m not in Kansas anymore. To be more specific, things on the road have changed since I got my license in 1981.

There are more vehicles on the road than ever. There are bigger vehicles than ever. And, it seems, more bad drivers than ever.

Thus, the problems I’ve observed. Experts (anyone in front of a camera) are all talking about distracted driving as being the root cause of this. They say there are too many people doing too many things while behind the wheel that have nothing to do with driving. Judging by what I see every day, I think that’s definitely a piece of the issue.

Take the average working mom in the morning. She’s usually piloting a “safe” vehicle. That means she’s driving a large SUV with the same physical dimensions and weight of a World War II Sherman tank.

She is juggling the baby in the car seat, the dog in the dog seat, the navigation system, her cell phone, her makeup, the baby’s bottle, the dog’s snack, the car’s entertainment system and breakfast. I’m amazed she makes it out of the driveway in one piece.

The teen driver on the way to school each morning is equally hamstrung as he/she/they (usually groups) pilot their second-hand/sporty/barely running vehicles to the crowded, chaotic high school parking lot. Along the way, they have to finish their homework; answer 20 texts, three phone calls; and update their Facebook page, all while swallowing breakfast, picking an outfit, doing makeup, and having multiple conversations.

That may have something to do with their insurance rates being roughly equivalent to a mortgage payment.

Then there are the drivers who find current traffic laws to be more guidelines than laws. The seven people who blow through a red light just as it changes from yellow to red are all my favorite examples of this phenomenon.

In many intersections, I literally count to three or five after the light changes just to makes sure there are no stragglers before I proceed. This usually results in someone across the intersection taking a quick left in front of me, usually with a pissed-off expression because I didn’t gun the car the second the light went green like some drag racer on amphetamines.

Then there are the folks who no longer see stop signs. Those red signs now indicate a need to slowly roll the car though a turn, simply assuming anyone already in the road you’re turning onto will watch out for you. How does that work in their minds?

“Oh look, a stop sign. Umm, but stopping is so inconvenient. I hate stopping. Stopping depresses me and my doctor said I should avoid things that depress me. So I have my doctor’s OK to ignore stop signs. I feel better already!”

Till they get T-boned.

Back in the dark ages when I took drivers ed, I learned a number of things. Just after they taught us how to crank start the Model T, they taught us about something we used to call defensive driving.

The basic idea was that you were constantly looking around as you drove in order to anticipate, and thus avoid, potential problems. Were kids playing in a yard up ahead? Was the driver behind you getting too close? Was the driver ahead of you acting oddly? Were road conditions or visibility bad? Was anyone moving into your blind spot?

It seems like today’s drivers skipped that whole concept in favor of the current model: offensive driving. Those are the folks who drive so badly at all times that you’re constantly wondering how and where they got their license.

You also wonder why there’s never a police officer around when they go down a 30-mile-per-hour street at 50 or blow through a stop sign or a red light narrowly avoiding an accident and leaving “offended” drivers in their wake. They drive like they own the road and make the rest of us have to drive almost hyper-defensively.

Thus the need for a wingman(woman) these days. The driver controls the car and scans for dangers while the lookout scans more aggressively and reports. It’s sort of like the radar officer in the rear seat of a fighter jet who keeps an eye on the sky while the pilot flies the plane. Only the fighter guys are way safer over Iraq than we are on the Northway.

While distracted driving may be part of the issue, I still think plain old everyday selfishness is the real issue. People need to realize that, for everyone on the road to make it safely every day, they all need to acknowledge that we need to work together.

Everyone (this means you) needs to follow all traffic laws. Everyone (yes, you too), needs to focus on driving, not everything else. And, finally, everyone needs to slow it down and drive in a pleasant, friendly and positive manner. I watch out for you and you watch out for me and we all get where we’re trying to go.

Think of it this way. What would happen if you were in a grocery store and people were piloting their carts the way they drive? Crashes in produce! Pile-ups in frozen foods! Lawsuits in the cereal aisle! There will be smashed watermelons everywhere from collisions, EMTs rushing through the bakery goods, and cops cuffing people at the checkout before they can escape. In other words, rush hour on 787 moves indoors.

Please, for everyone’s sake. Think of the watermelons and drive more safely.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg and his wingwoman have a combined driving career of around 74 years and probably over 500,000 miles. They report that it’s never been scarier to go out to the movies.



On a wet, and rainy (is that really a word) Tuesday, Aug. 11, the Old Men of the Mountain met at Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh.

This scribe must report that he was not there. This scribe was called by someone higher to be someplace else.

However, this scribe took a few notes at previous breakfasts concerning what the OFs are talking about, what they have done, what they plan on doing, and their opinions on this and that. Many times, there are too many topics to include in this OF report.

This scribe tries to keep it to five typed pages, but this scribe’s wife says that is too many; she maintains that two paragraphs is all that is needed to say anything these OGs have to say.

What this scribe is getting at is that, in this report, it will cover a few of the topics that did not make other reports. Also, while the scribe is making a confession of sorts, some of the notes jotted down are not suitable for a family paper.

Maybe the notes would be suitable for the National Enquirer, but not The Altamont Enterprise. OK!  Now for some past topics which will bring us up to date.

Far-flung travels

The good ole U.S. of A. is a large country with some of our states being larger than many countries.  For instance, the country of Italy is just slightly larger than the state of Arizona, yet the OFs talk of traveling to parts of our country as if they were day trips.

It is common to be talking about running to Florida like it is just traveling to Cobleskill for a cup of coffee. Jaunting off to Maine is like running to the post office, or some OFs just hop in the car and pop up to Montreal to go to a ball game.

To take some of the trips in other parts of the world, the OFs would need a pocket full of passports, and a fist full of funny money just to travel from one city to another. In last week’s column, the OFs were talking about this very same phenomenon by discussing the various ways of getting from the Hilltowns to spot “A” in Florida.

Vexing visitors

Another conversation awhile back was on visitors. Some of the OFs are of the type that people just drop in on.

What draws them to a certain OF’s domicile is not really known. Are the dropper-inners, actually freeloaders because the OF always has cold beer in a refrigerator in the garage, or is it just the OF’s karma?

Other OFs said their wives raise quite a fuss if people drop in unannounced and they can’t get the house looking like a page out of Better Homes and Gardens. One OF admitted he was not the type that people dropped in on, saying, “Even my kids are rare visitors.”

Some OFs, though, are just stay-at-home type of guys and don’t care either way.  The OFs were not sure what generated the category a particular OF will fit in, but it is noticeable that this is some kind of observable fact and all the OFs maintain they do have the proper hygiene. 

“A gathering of misfits”

Then the discussion centered on organizations like churches, social clubs, Parent Teacher Associations, ball teams, or whatever, and it was noted these groups all have their own little cliques within the main body of the basic group.

One OF said it is a good idea to join any group with a group of your friends rather than trying to join alone. Another OF likened it to square dancing, saying that it is a good idea to show up at a dance with your own square rather than to show up alone.

This OF said, even if it is just you and another couple, somehow it seems to work better.

One OF added, “This advice works for those from other clubs coming to your dance.”

To this OF, it was OK to show up alone at your own club’s dance.

An OF asked a question out of the blue wondering if “square dancing is now as popular as it once was.”

One OF said that, if any organization becomes too “cliquey” and gets to the point where newcomers really feel unwanted, the whole organization might just fold up.

But another OF said, “Did you ever notice that some people have the type of personality that they will fit in anywhere?”

Then one OF said he understands, and sometime wonders what he is doing “hanging out with all you OFs.

 To which another OFs said, “It is because nobody else wants you, you OG; we are the only ones that will put up with you.”

“I guess you are right,” the OF said. “This whole group is a gathering of misfits.”

To which another OF added, “If this is a gathering of misfits, that’s fine with me; I like this group of misfits who do not prejudge anybody.”

Those OFs who made it to Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh and chatted about who knows what on Aug. 11 — because this scribe was not there to eavesdrop — were: (according to the appointed Chief Assistant Scribe) Harold Guest, Frank Pauli, Roger Chapman, Roger Shafer, Duncan Bellinger, Dave Williams, Chuck Aelesio, Glenn Patterson, Jim Heiser, Otis Lawyer, Steve Kelly, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, Bill Bartholomew, Bob Benninger, Bob Fink, Jay Taylor, Herb Sawotka, Art Frament, Bob Lassome, Bob Benac, Jack Benac, Joe Ketzeko, Ted Willsey, Duane Wagenbaugh, Rich Donnelly, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Gerry Irwin, Lou Schenck, Mike Willsey, Gerry Chartier, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, but not me.


Logo logic: The Minnesota Twins baseball team has a TC logo, which stands for Twin Cities — St. Paul and Minneapolis — and was adopted by the Washington Senators in 1961 when the team moved to Minnesota. It’s the same logo as Twin City tractor, which was built by the Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Company until 1929.

The Old Men of the Mountain decided to gather at the Middleburgh Diner, in Middleburgh, on Tuesday, Aug. 4, and already there are a few trees changing color. The OFs think that this is noted every year, and there is nothing unusual about it.

It is a little disheartening, though, to see it and realize, with the shorter days and the beginning of the colors of autumn touching the leaves, that summer is on the wane. Many OFs have not caught up with the wear of last winter’s repairs yet. 

Tuesday’s breakfast was catching-up-time with people the OFs remembered from school and work.

One OF would say, “Have you heard how so and so is doing?  I haven’t seen or heard anything about him for years.”

Some other OF might know and fill in the blanks, or maybe all the OFs were in the same boat and the person in question, as far as this discussion goes, could be either dead or alive. If none of the OFs knew, then the one in question just seemed to have evaporated.

Still others were on the “where are they now list,” and an OF might say that they just saw them a little while ago, and would proceed to mention how they were doing.

The OF who inquired would say something like, “Have you got his number?  I would like to get in touch with this OF.”

This scribe noticed, after checking his notes, and trying to recall the conversations (and that is a challenge), that all the inquiries were about men, no requests were made to find where or how the distaff side was doing.

Apt analogy

As the OFs get older, they find out they are more like a machine than first thought. The OFs started putting things together like a tractor.

First the OFs need fuel — that is why the OFs come to a restaurant; it is the body’s gas station. Next thing, we have to do is get started — ah, the battery.

The OFs considered the brain and nervous system the battery and electronics. The stomach is the gas tank, and the heart is the fuel pump, and so it went.

Now the OFs added age to this machine and then things start to wear out ─ like knees, hips, back, eyes, shoulders etc. etc.            

The OFs soon equated doctors to mechanics, and hospitals to garages. The OFs don’t know how fair this is but it seems to them that the analogy was right on the money.

Tinderbox landscape

One OF’s brother was here on a visit from Seattle, Washington and a weather comparison between the Northeast and the far West was a natural. That area of the country has seen “about a quarter inch of rain, if even that much,” the guest said, “since April, and the air is dry.”

No wonder that section of the country is such a tinderbox, the OFs commented.

One OF was told by someone who lived close by to where many of these fires are, that in situations like what is happening now, the pine trees are loaded with “sap” and they become superheated. The weather is bone dry, the fire, as it approaches these trees, heats the trees up more; the closer the fire edges toward a tree or trees, all the heat brings the sap to its flash point then all it takes is one spark or ember and the tree explodes.

The OF said that a firefighter can be in close proximity to one of these trees ready to go and just like a bomb the tree erupts in flames. An OF remarked, “I will take my 10- to 15-below-zero any day rather than go through fire like that.”

Slow-time travel

The Seattle visitor prompted some discussion on the best way to get to Florida. The OFs will have to make their own maps.

The consensus was that they should take the less-traveled road and avoid the stress of the well-used highways. It may take longer — but not much.

The OFs also talked about how they used to make the trip down south by driving straight through. Not now. The OFs take their time and a few more days and stay over.

Now the OFs don’t have a bunch of fussy kids in the car, and some have accrued more money and do not have to make the trip by sustaining themselves on orange juice and crackers.

Twin logos

As most people who read this little gossip piece are aware, some of the OFs collect and restore old tractors. Some of these tractors are really old and the OFs get them cranking and going, brought to life by some tender, loving, care — thrown in among a bevy of colorful cuss words when things don’t go right.

One OF has quite a collection of toy tractors and this OF noticed that the logo for the Twin City tractor, which was produced in the early 1900s had a TC logo. The New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins were recently playing baseball and the toy collector noticed that the Minnesota Twins’ logo and the Twin City tractor logo were identical.

Now there is a bit of information that is totally useless to anybody but the OFs.

For more useless information. the OFs that made it to the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh and again chased all the waitresses away so there was only one left, were: Bill Bartholomew, Dave Williams, Art Williams, George Washburn, John Rossmann, Frank Pauli, Harold Guest, Jim Guest, Glenn Patterson, Miner Stevens, Duncan Bellinger, Robie Osterman, Roger Shafer, Chuck Aelesio, Art Frament, Bob Benac, Joe Ketzeko, Don Wood, Bob Fink, Bob Benninger, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Gerry Irwin, Mace Porter, Herb Sawotka, Roger Fairchild, Elwood Vanderbilt, Ted Willsey, Rich  Donnelly, Bob Lassome, Bill Krause, Duane Wagenbaugh, and me.               


Interest in the “village movement” for aging in the community continues to spread across the country and state.  A new village called Love Living at Home was recently incorporated in the Ithaca area.  Rhinebeck at Home in the Hudson Valley also is a relatively new village.

In Albany, Livingston Village is being developed by Senior Services of Albany in a public school recently converted into senior apartments. There are a number of villages in Westchester County and they are working with the Center for Aging in Place Services there, which provides support.  There are also villages in New York City, in Long Island, and in the western part of the state.  

The Albany Guardian Society has hosted two meetings this year to provide information about how to develop villages.  Community Caregivers is interested in discussing and supporting the village concept with other local seniors interested in setting up villages in Albany County.

The Village Movement became a national organization, which is based in St. Louis.  Its national website can be reached at this link to get a look at the various organizations around the state and nation that have identified themselves as either formed or interested in forming a village:

The village movement began several years ago in Boston when Beacon Hill Village was formed by neighbors who wanted to join to help each other stay in their homes or community.  Dues were charged to provide a staff and some services though the models in each community are different and reflect the desires of the local group.

In addition to the services provided, the connection to an organization run by the members builds a sense of community and support and reduces isolation and the feeling of not being able to manage the challenges of living at home and aging.

Since the first village, the movement has taken off because of the local connection and hands-on participation.  However, maintaining a village is difficult and many face issues related to ongoing financing to support staffing and the usual turnover and “aging out” of older activists who were the original founders.

Increasingly, villages are being organized by existing not-for-profits that can provide some ongoing support, though many still spring up as local efforts of community volunteers.

Of course, New York State has many other aging-in-place communities like the NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities) that are funded by the State Office for the Aging and the New York City Department for the Aging. NORCs in these government programs have definitions that were in legislation so they are not as open-ended as a local village might be.

Villages and NORCs complement the formal health-care system and the formal aging network, providing services based on income and eligibility for the most part.  It is critical to support and engage self-help community groups as well as caregivers and volunteers.  It is also important that the state continue to nurture and support the movement.

Community Caregivers, Inc. is a non-profit organization that provides non-medical services and caregiver support at no charge to residents in Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New Scotland, Berne, Knox, and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors. To find out more about our services or volunteering, please visit or call 456-2898.

Editor’s note: Michael Burgess serves as a consultant to Community Caregivers; he formerly headed the New York State Office for the Aging.


Summer is a great time to be outdoors in Albany County. Whether you are gardening, visiting a farmers’ market, going to the fair, or are off to the races, it’s also a time to be vigilant about the risks of excessive heat and sun.  While too much heat is unsafe for everyone, the risks increase for anyone who is older or has health problems.

In upstate New York, most of us have heard of “hypothermia” caused by exposure to cold weather. But the risk in hot weather, which we may not be aware of, is “hyperthermia.”

Hyperthermia is caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms of the body. Hyperthermia includes: heat fatigue, heat syncope — sudden dizziness after prolonged exposure to the heat, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

While older adults are generally at risk for these conditions, this risk can increase with the combination of higher temperature, individual lifestyle, and general health. Lifestyle factors include not drinking enough fluids, a home without air-conditioning, lack of mobility or access to transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places, and not understanding how to respond to hot weather conditions.

It’s recommended that older individuals, particularly those with chronic medical conditions, stay indoors in cooler spaces on hot and humid days. People without air-conditioning may find relief in air-conditioned spaces like senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters, and libraries during the hottest hours of the day.

During stretches of hot weather, consider making a daily call or visit to an older relative, friend, or neighbor.

The National Institute on Aging, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, has valuable advice to help all of us avoid the hazards of hot weather. Awareness of factors that increase the risk of hyperthermia may help with prevention. They include:

— Dehydration;

— High blood pressure or other health conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at increased risk. However, salt pills should not be used without first consulting a doctor;

— Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever;

— Use of multiple medications. Please note that it is important to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician;

— Reduced sweating, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure drugs;

— Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands;

— Being substantially overweight or underweight; and

— Alcohol use.

Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include a significant increase in body temperature (generally above 104 degrees Fahrenheit), changes in mental status (like confusion), strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, feeling faint, and staggering or coma.

Seek immediate emergency medical attention for a person with heat-stroke symptoms, especially an older adult.

To keep heat-related illnesses from becoming a dangerous heat stroke, you can:

— Get out of the sun and into a cool place;

— Drink fluids, but avoid alcohol or caffeine. Water or juices are recommended;

— Shower, bathe, or sponge off with cool water; and

— Lie down and rest in a cool place and, importantly, get medical assistance if you don’t cool down quickly.

Safety precautions in the heat will help keep our memories of Summer 2015 happy ones. If you would like more information about health and aging from the National Institute on Aging, go to

Community Caregivers Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides non-medical services and caregiver support at no charge to residents in Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New Scotland, Berne, Knox, and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors. To find out more about our services or volunteering, please visit or call 456-2898.

Editor’s note: Linda Miller is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for community Caregivers.


The Old Men of the Mountain column most generally is one week behind. This week, the Old Men of the Mountain met on Tuesday, July, 28, at the Hilltown Café in Rensselaerville and the group filled the place up — not completely filled up with OFs, but close.

The OFs do appreciate the restaurants that put up with us. It must be like waiting on a collection of people from The Home.

City traffic

A topic that is broached on occasion is traffic in the city. This topic is not the cities of Albany, Schenectady, or Troy but real cities — not sample cities. One OF compared it to the common remark when seeing someone walking a miniature schnauzer or a Cairn terrier or Chihuahua, the coarse person may blurt out, “Why don’t you get a real dog instead of a sample dog?” or something uncouth like that.

When approaching cities of a million people or more — now that is getting to be a real city and traffic is to be expected.

The OFs know now there is going to be traffic, and it is a good idea to have a full tank of gas because the OFs said traffic jams are common and do not untangle right away.

One OF’s grandson has a girlfriend that lives just outside the City. To those of the uninitiated, the OFs are supposed to know what city is being spoken of. To these people, there is only one city and its abbreviation is NYC.

The grandson of the OF had to explain to the girlfriend the difference in traffic. “In the City, traffic is traffic by the numbers,” the grandson told the girlfriend. “And the traffic where I live is a tractor on the road.” 

One OF, who traveled a lot when he was still working, said that the city of Albany and other cities around us are neat. The OF said he could be in downtown Albany and in a 15- to 20-minute drive, he realizes that he is counting cows.

The OF said, “Even going through the cities of Troy and Albany combined, from one end to the other, it is only about a 40-minute ride.” Plus the OF noted, “That is a lot of geography covered in 40 minutes.”

Another OF added, “Most of us who live in the country do not encounter much traffic, but those that live in Clifton Park and work in Schenectady or Albany might disagree with us that there is not traffic.”

“Try going to Saratoga in August,” was another reply and there is always the “yeah but”: One OF said, “Yeah, but that is just a few days out of the year — how about twice a day every day.”

“Touché,” the first OF answered.

That is one thing we didn’t have to worry about on the farm; it was a short walk from the house to the barn and you were at work, and the machinery shed was just as close.

One OF said he even had a place to sleep in the manger because it was warmer in the winter than his bedroom in the house. The OF said all he did was splash some water on his face in the milk house, grab a class of milk from a can in the cooler, and he was at work.

“What is traffic?” he asked.

Green thumbs prevail

The OFs continued their garden talk, and they are still speaking about how well their gardens are doing. One OG said his tomato plants were like trees; another raved about his celery.

Those OFs that “can” better purchase some more jars. This scribe thought they call it canning, when actually it is jarring. This scribe does not know any OF that cans anything.

Weighty topic

The OFs talked about the solar panels that are being placed on the roofs of homes, and wonder what those panels do to the roof. What about the added weight, and then add the snow that collects on the collector.

The OFs have seen people sweeping the snow off the panels so it does adhere to them.

How about the expansion and contraction of the fasteners that hold the panels in place?  Are they going to create holes for water to get in under the shingles, or even leak and rot the roof from underneath?

What about the space between the panel and the roof?  Won’t that be damp most of the time and generate mold?

“Yeah,” one OF said, “wouldn’t that space be an ideal area for birds to build nests, or for other insects like wasps or ants that find it a great place to hang out?  What happens to the warranty on the shingles if a leak happens — who is responsible?”

An OF surmised many of these questions must be covered on the contract when anyone has one of these collectors installed.

“I’m sure,” the OF continued, “we are not the only ones to think of these problems that may occur.”

Those OFs who gathered at the Hilltown Café (and it is called that because it is a neat little restaurant nestled in the village of Rensselaerville, which is located among the hills of the    Helderbergs) were:  Frank Pauli, John Rossmann, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Harold GUEST, Alvin Latham, Bob Snyder, Karl Remmers, Art Frament, Jay Taylor, Joe Loubier, Bob Benac, Herb Sawotka, Roger Chapman, Dave Williams (with his son Bill), Miner Stevens, Jim Heiser, Glenn Patterson, Chuck Aelesio, Otis Lawyer, Mark Traver, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Bill Krause, Ted Willsey, Bob Lassome, Joe Ketzeko, Roger Fairchild, Bob Donnelly, Bill Rice, Henry Whipple, Rich Donnelly, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.