Archive » July 2021 » Columns

The world of pets has changed over the years. When I ask my father about his dogs growing up, he mentions guard dogs at his dad’s mechanic shop, who were only allowed outside or in the kitchen, and never on the couch. Flash forward to my childhood dog who slept in our bed every night and was fed gourmet pet food.

I believe pets are some of the best forms of companionship and they often become family members. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, pets were especially beneficial.

My mother was working from home alone for almost a year with her only officemate being my dog. Although it is unusual to have to walk and feed your “coworker,” having that “person” around kept her sane and I know many people also felt that way.

An Australian study showed that during the COVID-19 lockdown, owning a dog was protection against stress and depression during the isolation. One reason is that dogs encourage a routine.

For example, they require owners to wake up at 7 a.m. for a walk, feed them at multiple exact times of day, and of course, lots of cuddling. This allows socialization if you walk with neighbors and exercise, both of which improve mood. It also helped to keep life feeling normal, as our animals have no idea what a pandemic is, except that we are home more than usual.

Another study showed human-animal interactions with dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, hamsters, and even crickets lead to decreased depression, loneliness, anxiety, and improved social skills. As far as physical health, animals can lower blood pressure and lower the risk of complications for those with cardiovascular disease.

Pets have been shown to improve behavior in people with dementia, as well. Another study found that having a pet as a companion lowered the increase in both depression and loneliness.

There are also multiple benefits for children in caring for a pet such as helping them be calm, and teaching them responsibility. Even aquariums and watching fish can benefit our well-being by increasing relaxation and stress-reduction. So, furry friends not your thing? Maybe find a fish friend to watch swim around!


Community Caregivers Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides nonmedical services, including transportation and caregiver support, at no charge to residents of 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. Its funding is derived in part from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Office for the Aging, and the United Administration on Aging. Community Caregivers also provides services by phone in Rensselaer County to reduce isolation and make referrals for other needed services.

Editor’s note: Meghan Goddard is a Community Caregivers’ student volunteer, slated to graduate from Albany Medical College in 2024.

— From the Library of Congress

This early artist sketch of the Kushaqua paired with a panoramic view of Altamont illustrated the hotel when first opened. Helderberg Avenue is visible going up a steep incline, creating difficulties first in construction and after the hotel’s opening in shuttling guests and luggage from the D & H depot to the hotel.

Perhaps it was the influence of the comments of an 1881 Albany Evening Journal writer who claimed, “Tourists and summer boarders have flooded to the Helderbergs,” where local homes and hotels were “crowded to their utmost capacity.” It was a puzzle to him why no enterprising man had erected a summer hotel on such a “splendid site” in the hills, noting that wealthy Albanians had already begun building summer cottages in this beautiful, healthy location, easily reached by a short train ride from Albany.

Col. Walter S. Church, no stranger to the Helderbergs, seized the opportunity to be that man, taking on the project of erecting a fine resort hotel designed to appeal to an affluent crowd. In 1885, construction began on the crest of the escarpment overlooking the village of Knowersvillle, while below the hill curious locals followed periodic reports about what was initially referred to as “Colonel Church’s boarding house.”

His name had become linked to the area decades earlier when in 1853 he purchased leases to farms in the Hilltowns and surrounding area from the Van Rensselaer estate, planning to profit from dunning tenant farmers to pay both back and current rents. Over the next 32 years, through endless court cases and severe law enforcement by a succession of sheriffs and the New York State National Guard, he aroused the enmity of local farmers.

Anti-rent agitation ran high, but Church, a forerunner of the modern lobbyist, both forestalled any proposed anti-rent legislation at the Capitol and influenced the outcome of court cases by royally entertaining legislators and judges at his Albany home. Now he turned to creating a luxury resort to be called the Kushaqua, not only to be profitable, but probably to be his monument.


Building big

Construction of the hotel began in the autumn of 1885 when workmen began excavating the foundation on what had been farmland. Reports circulated that Church was building a three-story, 40-by-60-foot building. Excavation was complete by December and foundation work would begin, using the barrels of cement and carloads of sand that came through the D & H depot.

Hauling construction materials up steep Helderberg Avenue, the only road to the top at that time, was a major project in itself. By January 1886, the foundation was laid. Huge quantities of lumber had been shipped in and, as the structure neared rough completion, the windows arrived.

Spring brought Col. Church, accompanied by surveyors, to plot the location of a reservoir, using nearby streams and springs to supply hotel needs. Around this time, The Enterprise reported the colonel was expanding the size of the yet-unopened hotel an additional 84 feet because the original guest rooms were already booked. Within the walls of his new hotel, he had included parts of the original early 19th-Century farmhouse that had stood on the site.

Next Church secured an agreement with the Hudson River Telephone Company, paying the company to run a line out from Albany to his new hotel. At the time of the Enterprise report, the wire had already been strung out to Guilderland with the intention of running it out the turnpike to Dunnsville and then over to Knowersville.

Simultaneously, the two Knowersville hotels installed telephones as well. “Hello, hello!” was first heard in Knowersville when the Albany County Clerk called Church at his soon-to-be-opened hotel, according to a report in the Albany Argus.

Whatever amount Col. Church paid the phone company to run lines out to his hotel was repaid many times over three years later when fire was discovered in the hotel kitchen with smoke beginning to pour out the north wing windows. A hurried telephone message for help to Altamont (the village’s name changed in November 1887) brought a crowd of volunteers racing up Helderberg Avenue to man a bucket brigade from the hotel reservoir. Discovery that the fire’s location had started near a bakery oven and was beneath the floor brought it under control by ripping up the floorboards and saturating it.


Diverse attractions

Vacationers arriving on opening day in mid-June 1886 found reception and dining rooms on the first floor along with private parlors, card and supply rooms, and a barber shop. After registering, they would have been shown to one of the more than 50 guest bedrooms on the second and third floors, advertised to have “absolutely perfect sanitation conveniences.” The cuisine “would tempt the most exacting.”

In the basement level could be found a billiard room, children’s and servants’ dining rooms, kitchen, and storerooms. Available to guests were facilities for croquet, lawn tennis, and bowling. At the time of the Kushuqua’s opening, The Enterprise noted, “We have no doubt that Colonel Church is sparing no expense in the fitting up of this mammoth hostelry, and we have no doubt it will be well patronized the coming season.”

In addition to its newness, the main attraction of a stay at the hotel was its spectacular setting at almost 1,000 feet elevation. Bringing refreshing, cooling, healthy breezes, the site provided sweeping views over to the new capitol and church spires of Albany, east to Vermont’s Green Mountains and toward Schenectady where snatches of the Mohawk River could be seen.

Conveniently located only a half-hour train ride from Albany, The hotel welcomed arriving guests at the depot with conveyances to transfer them up to the hotel, their luggage hauled behind by wagon.

Rest and recreation were the key aspects of resort experience in the 1880s and ’90s. Strolling or lounging on the piazza to see and be seen took up time each day.

It was important to have reports seen in Albany newspapers that someone as important as Governor David Bennett Hill and his secretary, prominent Albanian Colonel Wiliam Gorham Rice, were walking on the piazza at the Kushaqua to attract future patrons. Landscaped grounds had paths for walking about, lawn tennis and croquet for the younger set, and “rambles” on local country roads.

Evenings at the hotel brought entertainment, often “hops,” the name given to informal dances in those days, when an orchestra was brought in. There were private parties such as the one given by the young woman who arranged to have a hop for 50 of her friends who then dined on an “elegant spread” afterward.

Guests seemed to greatly enjoy participating in entertaining themselves and were delighted to see their names reported in the Albany papers. One woman sang a selection of sacred music “most exquisitely rendered.”

Another evening, guests presented a series of “tableaux vivant” with people posing in costume to form a living picture such as the “bachelor’s reverie” displaying a “succession of really beautiful girls hovering in fascinating spirit form over a young man, presumably in a state of mental inertia;” while the “cabbage patch” proved to be a “galaxy of maidens peering through green paper tissue haloes,” etc. For this event, local people were invited up from the village.

An elocutionist gave readings and ladies performed charades, two more samples of the types of activities found at a resort hotel of the era. On occasion, an outside group such as the Knowersville Band was invited to perform. The Albany Evening Journal described life at the hotel one summer as “quite gay” with “entertainments of a high order.”

Newspaper reports told of nothing but success for the hotel. After the Kushaqua’s first season, The Enterprise claimed it was a “decided hit” certain to be one of the “most frequented resorts in the country in the future.”

The Albany Evening Journal reported in 1888 that the hotel had “unprecedented success the whole season.” A year later, a cool, wet summer didn’t seem to affect the visitors to the Kushaqua, which had its most successful season. Things always seemed to be going well at the Kushaqua.


Money pit

Yet in December 1890, after a short illness, Col. Church died, bankrupted by the overwhelming expenses of constructing and running the huge hotel. Resorts such as Saratoga, Lake George, and even Round Lake received much more coverage in the Albany newspapers and provided many more attractions than the Kushaqua.

Leased the next year by the Church estate to two New York City hotel keepers, additional money was invested in the building when steam heat was installed. In spite of the improvement, their venture failed and in 1892 the hotel was sold at a huge loss.

Unfortunately, Church underestimated the financial drain when, back in 1885, he was quoted as saying to a friend, “I don’t know I have gone in too strong, but I guess I can make a go of it.”

The hotel’s purchaser was Dr. F.J.H. Merrill of Albany who intended to use the building and surrounding grounds as his summer cottage. He paid $15,250 for the hotel, outbuildings, and property that had cost Col. Church between $60,000 and $75,000 (estimates ranged as high as $100,000). The hotel furniture was removed and shipped to Albany for auction.

Dr. Merrill, the director of the New York State Museum, was a geologist who shortly after was named State Geologist. Immediately, Merrill began making improvements to transform the hotel into a comfortable country home.

Employing almost 25 men at one point to make repairs, he added a new kitchen and laundry while the interior was rearranged for a reception room or hall through the center. Most of the old house that Church had kept within the hotel walls was removed.

At the same time, the large addition Church had added for the accommodation of hotel workers and a laundry was torn down. Merrill also ran the farm that was part of the property, even entering animals at the Altamont Fair.

Additional purchases of land were added to the property and cottages built with plans to rent them out to summer vacationers. The Merrills retained the former name Kushaqua for their summer “cottage.”

Similar to other residents of Altamont’s summer colony, the Merrills sometimes entertained on a scale unlike the locals. On one occasion, a trainload of Albanians arrived in Altamont, were transported up to Merrill’s cottage for a tea party. Most of the guests returned to the city after the refreshments, but a select group remained on for dancing to an orchestra. Governor Benjamin Barker and his wife were guests on another occasion.

Professor Merrill’s ownership of the Kushaqua suffered the same fate as Col. Church’s — their wonderful summer home and estate had become a money pit. The autumn of 1902 brought the announcement that it had been leased by H.J. Smith to be operated in the future as the Helderberg Inn.

Editor’s note: The saga of the Kushaqua will be continued in Mary Ellen Johnson’s next column.

Working from home has some advantages, mainly omitting the commuting time and saving wear and tear on your vehicle. It also has one big disadvantage, that being having easy access to food all day

Back in February, I was having trouble putting my pants on, ouch, so I decided to lose some weight. As I write this in June, I’ve lost 20 pounds and now weigh under 200 for the first time in many years. I feel great! Before I share how I did it, let me give you a big warning.

All of us have different physiologies. What works for some may not work for others.

For example, I heard on the radio about an obese 18-year-old girl who needed bariatric weight-loss surgery. Clearly, she needed more than what I’m about to describe.

So it is vitally important, before making any changes to your diet or exercise routine, to talk to a medical professional. It’s so important to do this. Getting in better shape by losing weight should be good for you, not dangerous.

Our distant relatives had a “hunter – gatherer” lifestyle. What this means is they never knew when their next meal would come. The adaption they made was to store excess energy from food — let’s call this calories — as body fat.

This allowed them to fatten up when the food was plenty, and then have reserves for when it was scarce. Great for them, when they were running around all day looking for prey. Not so great for us, when we spend so much time in front of screens or sitting on the couch.

To lose weight then, when our bodies are predisposed to store excess calories as fat, we need to do a combination of two things: eat less and exercise more. Let’s talk first about eating less.

What I did to clean up my diet was actually very simple. I eat three meals and two snacks a day. The thing is, I still eat anything I want, but I don’t “pig out” anymore.

That means having one and only one plate of whatever it is at dinner, and making the snacks healthy, like yogurt, fruit, or vegetables. This is really not a drastic change from what I was doing before but, unless you are constantly thinking about it, it’s so easy to eat an entire can of Pringles or a bunch of cookies. I call this kind of diet eating sensibly, and it has worked very well for me.

Now don’t get me wrong; we all need a “cheat day” now and then, and there is not a day that goes by when I don’t think of hopping on my motorcycle, riding down to Nanuet where the nearest White Castle is, and gulping down 5,000 calories of sliders, onion rings, fries, and shakes.

The good news is, when you start eating right, you really don’t want to eat that much at any one sitting any more. Still, “the crave,” as White Castle truthfully advertises, is always there, so you just have to be aware of and watch out for it.

Now for the exercise part. Truly, as long as you are doing anything except sitting on the couch, you are ahead of the game. My in-laws did not do any formal exercise for many years, but they gardened like crazy and were always lean and fit.

Any kind of movement is great, really, but if you have a desk job like me you have to add some exercise to counteract the deleterious effects of sitting on your butt all day. So here’s what I came up with.

For many years, I’ve walked and jogged outdoors, all year long. As you can imagine, this was not fun in the winter. The cold really doesn’t bother me, but the chilling wind and pitch black darkness in the early morning, combined with frequent ice and snow, are no fun at all.

That’s why I finally broke down and bought a treadmill. This is not something to do without a lot of thoughtful consideration. Treadmills are big, heavy, and expensive, yet now that I finally have one, I wish I’d gotten it years ago.

I’m using it three days a week and it’s great. I put on my music playlist and then have at it, with no regard to weather or anything. Depending on how fast and far I go, I can easily start the day, before having eaten anything, with a calorie deficit of 200 to 300 or more. How great is that?

Three other days a week I do calisthenics: back stretches, crunches, push-ups, chin-ups, dips, deep knee bends, and heel raises. If you don’t think body weight exercises can get you into shape, check out our gymnasts when the Olympics starts soon. Your muscles don’t care where the resistance comes from.

Also, don’t get hung up on how many repetitions of a particular exercise to do. It’s more important to just do what you can. Some days I have a lot of energy and do a lot of reps; other days I have less energy or am fighting a cold and don’t do as many. Doesn’t matter. Doing any amount is way better than doing nothing at all.

If you are interested in overall health and fitness, or especially if you are curious about your own body, then run, don’t walk, to your bookstore or library and get “The Body” by Bill Bryson. If he doesn’t win a Pulitzer for this, it’s a crying shame.

This book is like an owner’s manual for that bag of bones we all have to live in. It just blew me away.

Here’s one useful takeaway from it: The single best thing you can do to stay healthy is to wash your hands often. Simple, effective, and it really works

I also learned this: The saliva from her baby will cause a nursing mother’s milk to change based on what antibodies, microbes, and nutrients the baby needs. How amazing is that?

This is just a fascinating, interesting, and practical book on so many levels. Thoroughly recommended.

Having pants that don’t fit anymore is not fun but, with a little thought, effort, and commitment, you really can lose weight. If you want to get started, start by repeating this over and over throughout the day: “Nothing tastes as good as losing 20 pounds.”

Trust me, repeating this all day will really help you stop “pigging out.” Good luck and good health to you.

A hot summer is always a treat after a long New York winter. However, with the heat comes serious health risks.

The most at risk for heat-related illnesses are infants, young children, and people over 50 years old, especially those with other medical conditions.

Heat stroke, or “sun-stroke,” is when someone’s body has difficulty controlling their temperature. Their body temperature rises rapidly and cannot be recovered from sweating. This is a medical emergency!

Signs of heat stroke include fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher; skin that is hot, red, and dry but not sweaty; a rapid and strong pulse; throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and/or unconsciousness

If you think you or a loved one is experiencing heat stroke, call 9-1-1 for immediate help or go to a hospital emergency room. While waiting for an ambulance, move to a shaded area, cool down with a cool cloth, cold shower, spray bottle, or sponge. Apply ice packs to the armpit, groin, neck, and back for quick cooling.

It is important to monitor body temperature and continue cooling down until body temperature decreases to 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are concerned and an ambulance has not arrived, you can call the local hospital emergency room for helpful advice.

If untreated, heat stroke can lead to death or serious permanent injury so it is important to seek help as soon as possible.

A milder form of heat-related illness is heat exhaustion. This can occur with prolonged exposure to heat and dehydration.

The people most at risk are the elderly, individuals with high blood pressure, and people working outside in the heat. Signs to look for include extreme sweating, paleness, muscle aches, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea/vomiting, weak and fast pulse, fast shallow breathing, and/or fainting.

If untreated, this can progress to heat stroke; therefore it is important to seek medical help if symptoms worsen or last more than one hour. Similar precautions should be taken to cool yourself or the person suffering from heat exhaustion, including: drinking cool, nonalcoholic drinks; resting; taking cool showers; sitting in the shade or air-conditioning; and wearing cool clothing.

To avoid all heat-related illnesses (heat muscle cramps, heat rash, heat stroke, etc.), try to keep cool. It is important to drink more fluids than usual.

Eight glasses of water per day is key, but also supplement with drinks with electrolytes and minerals (sport drinks, lemonade, iced tea, fruit or vegetable juice).

Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink! Keep hydrated throughout the day all summer long.

Do not sit in a hot car without air-conditioning, even if it is parked in the shade or has windows open. Wear sunscreen (Sun Protection Factor 30 or higher) and appropriate clothing — made of light-colored, breathable, and loose-fitting material.

Also avoid long hours outdoors in the heat. Go outside with a friend, and keep cool indoors with air-conditioning or fans. Be aware, certain medications can also increase your chances of heat-related illnesses.

For any more questions or concerns, contact your doctor and remember to be safe while enjoying this beautiful warm weather!

Editor’s note: Meghan Goddard, a Community Caregivers’ intern, is slated to graduate from Albany Medical College in 2024.

Community Caregivers is a not-for-profit agency supported by community donations, and grants from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Department of Health and Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging.

Do you ever play that mental game when you buy a lottery ticket? What would you do if you actually won?

It’s a fun game, and probably the leading reason why people buy lottery tickets despite the astronomical odds against winning. They even used to use a tagline that read, “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” But what about playing that game with stakes that are closer to home and easier to realize?

What if you were elected mayor of Altamont? Now there’s an interesting game.

The reason I mention it is because several people have suggested, over the almost 30 years I’ve lived here, that I should run for mayor. It’s very flattering, but the truth is, I know myself well enough to know that I would be terrible at the job.

I hate attending meetings of any sort, especially ones that last more than 10 minutes. I’m not the most diplomatic of folks, as I tend to speak my mind with few if any filters. I consider being dressed up wearing a clean T-shirt. I’m not into public speaking and mostly, I loathe politics and politicians.

Having said all that, if, in some strange universe, I did get the job, I do have some ideas on how to make our little village a better place to live for all of us.

At the top of my list would be to suspend all new housing development in and around the village. When I first moved here, they were just building Kushaqua Estates and people were mad. Then came Brandle Meadows, which then-Mayor Ken Runion assured me would never be that big and it ended up with 80 units.

Then along came the 10 McMansions along Bozenkill that were originally supposed to be on land that was forever wild, but ended up getting sold somehow or other. Now I hear rumors of another 13-acre parcel that is going to be developed and I see ground being broken on Schoharie Plank for yet another new house.

I don’t get it. We live in Altamont because it’s a village, not another endless Guilderland suburb.

We have a real community here, and one of the things that keeps us special is the green space that surrounds the village.

If certain developers just keep on being allowed to throw up houses on any open plot of land, even if it falls within zoning rules, then we’re not going to be a village for much longer.

I have a sneaky suspicion that even the fairgrounds is on some land-grab wish list with plans for a condo community called Fairgrounds Estates. And don’t tell me how we need a bigger tax base. Every new development costs us more to hook up and service than it ever pays in taxes.

Next, I would hold a public referendum on the Altamont Police Department. Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend wherein younger people don’t see a need for the APD and older, more conservative or frightened people want to keep it.

Ask many of the teenage and 20-something citizens here and you’ll find a pretty consistent antipathy. For a department that costs $185,800 per year but generates around $20,000 in fines, the math is less than ideal.

That’s not to take anything away from the hard work and dedication of the fine men and women of the APD. But the question remains: Why does a village of 1,700 people need its own police force when larger places like Voorheesville don’t?

Guilderland, with a population of 35,000, needs a police force, though it appears much of its energy goes into looking after Crossgates Mall. My feeling is to put that question to the public and let the chips fall where they may.

Next on my agenda would be to do far more for the teenage residents of our fair village. Altamont has always been a great place to raise a family. That is, until your children reach the age of 13.

Then, you’re expected to find something useful for them to do, and very little exists in the village itself.

The playgrounds are mostly aimed at small children. The Bozenkill park has one tennis court, one basketball court, a couple of empty fields, a pool that’s open roughly two months per year, and some hiking trails that need some love and attention due to having been washed out repeatedly. The fairgrounds are fun to walk on but most teens are now routinely accused of vandalism as soon as they show up, even though only a small number are actually responsible for the damage.

Altamont needs to offer a few more options for teens, including a police department that doesn’t routinely harass them (this has almost led to several lawsuits over the years). Perhaps improve and update the Bozenkill trails to encourage some MTB or BMX riding. Add a skateboard park to part of the park (liability is not an issue, despite what public officials say).

Follow the example of the Altamont Free Library, which has done a great job with teen-centric programming. And finally, just encourage teens to come out into the daylight and away from their screens.

Another issue that has been covered in the news pages of The Enterprise is the rather high (astronomical) amounts residents pay for sewer and water services compared to what residents in the town of Guilderland pay. Now, yes, having a base of 35,000 residents versus around 1,700 means that each home has to shoulder a much higher percentage of the costs.

But if the APD were dissolved via public referendum, then we’d have almost $200,000 per year to pour into the debt load on our aging water plant. We could also look into some sort of debt restructuring and explore the possibility of grants from the federal or state governments that could aid a small village like ours.

I claim no expertise in this area but, when you see the sort of pork barrel money that some pols seem quite good at getting, you’d think our elected officials might be able to step in and help us beyond just showing up for ribbon-cuttings and photo ops.

And my final thought would be a 20-percent raise for the hardworking folks at the Altamont Public Works Department. Larry and his crew work year-round to keep our little village looking clean, trimmed, plowed, updated, and beautiful, and I think they deserve to be compensated.

I am always amazed at the depth and breadth of what they manage to accomplish year after year: from dealing with backed-up sewer pipes, plowing the sidewalks, and picking up lawn waste and leaves. These are the sorts of public employees I am very proud to support, and I think we should reward their efforts.

Well, that’s it. Please don’t ever vote for me (no write-ins either). But maybe think about what I’ve said when the next election comes up. Maybe it’s time for a new vision that doesn’t begin and end with more building, more politics, and most of all, maintenance of a status quo that doesn’t work for many people.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he is a registered Democrat leaning towards anarchist Buddhism; he hopes to never hold public office but to be a problem for those who do.

On July 13, 2021, the Old Men of the Mountain met at Mrs. K’s restaurant in Middleburgh. The OMOTM thought “here we go again” as the streets of Middleburgh were cleared from the latest go-round with high water.

If anyone has dealt with the mud after a flood, they know how slippery it is. The OFs who helped with the clean-up after Tropical Storm Irene are familiar with this slippery condition; the mud is more slippery than wet ice.

Fortunately, Mrs. K’s was open and the OFs who showed up tread very carefully getting out of their vehicles on the street side; otherwise the other OFs would be dragging the OFs from under the car after they slipped on the mud.

Once the OFs were inside the restaurant, guess what they talked about? You are right: It was the weather!

In this discussion, the OFs at this scribe’s end of the table shared a lot of their experiences of living on the Hill and in the valleys of either side of the mountain. Together the OFs arrived at a good reason for the weather in our area, quite often defeating the weather people.

The hills! Therein lies the problem. Many times, the hills change the direction of the low winds and alter the directions of many storms. This latest storm was one of those storms. One OF said a lot has to do with the altitude and the winds bumping into these hills that makes a big difference.


Fulminating over phones

The OFs then started talking about these new phones. To the young people, even though these phones are new they can understand them, while to us OFs much of the phone technology is a mystery.

The OFs don’t have a clue as to what is going on. All the OFs want it to do is have it ring and the OFs answer, dial a number, and someone on the other end answers. That is all a phone has to do.

It does not have to deliver our kids, shine our shoes, start our cars, wash our faces, or pick our noses! Just ring and be answered

The OFs say they have complained about this before, but the problem is getting worse. It is like carrying a TV in the OF’s pocket.

As one OF put it, “The next thing you know these phones will come with a lanyard so they can be carried around our necks.”


Canes are no joke

This Tuesday, we almost had the battle of the canes. The OFs were in a quandary of where to put their canes when they sat down.

These assisted walking devices can be a nuisance at times when trying to park them. Such was the case on Tuesday morning.

The challenge: Finding a place where the canes could be placed and not fall to the floor, causing the waitress to trip over them, or worse yet, the OF would have to bend over and pick it up. At a certain age, bending over is not the easiest maneuver the OFs can make.

These assistants to walking are not really a joke; they are very necessary for some of the OFs to get around and not be a burden to anybody. They take some time to get used to for those who wield these walking sticks, and they have to be rugged.

Some OFs (and also other people) require the cane to support all their weight at times and that cane had better not snap or fold or it will take 10 OFs to pick the one OF up from the ground and get his legs under him.


Belly of the beast

We all think we have belly buttons and for some reason that bit of information was discussed at the breakfast table, eh-wot?

(The scribe did not make this term up; it was checked out on Google (phew). This term was typically uttered by pompous, posh men; “eh, wot?” was the Regency-era equivalent to “you know” or “right?")

One OF commented that all the paintings of Adam and Eve are wrong because they show Adam and Eve with belly buttons. Of course why would they? Adam and Eve did not need belly buttons, but the rest of us do.

Except one OF piped up, “I don’t have a belly button.”

That got a lot of attention. Come to find out, the OF doesn’t have a belly button. So the conversation continued.

One OF said his belly button is so large, it is possible to park a Mack truck in there. The question arose: What kind of tube must that have been?

Another OF commented that his belly button is shaped like a question mark. Goodness

It is a good thing the OFs were not talking about noses or ears; the column would fill up a whole page.

One OF muttered, “Boy, we are sure made up from a lot of parts.”


Lazy lakeside picnic

An OF offered the use of his place for a picnic on July 15, and this OF will provide the hot dogs, hamburgers, rolls, and that type of extras so the OFs could have a summer gathering with their better halves (and that’s not hard to do). Originally the date was July 14 but that date was changed to the following day due to the weather reports.

Smart move! The weather was perfect and there was a good crowd of OFs with their wives and lady friends. The OFs all sat around under a big cedar tree, had musical interludes, laughed, ate, and talked. A breeze came in off the lake, and the host took those who wanted out for a ride around the lake in his pontoon boat.

It did not seem like a Thursday afternoon. Then again most were old (a word not an age) and retired so every day can be a Sunday afternoon.

Those Old Men of the Mountain who made it through the mud and mire to Mrs. K’s Restaurant and were lucky enough not to need a boat were: Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Roger Chapman, Roger Shafer, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Joe Rack, Kenny Parks, Rich LaGrange, Jake Lederman, Pete Whitbeck, Bill Lichliter, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, Russ Pokorny, Gerry Chartier, Otis Lawyer, Jake Herzog, Elwood Vanderbilt, Rich Vanderbilt, Bob Donnelly, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Marty Herzog, John Dabravalskas, Duncan Bellinger, and me.

— Photo from National Park Service
Boxwork, at Wind Cave in South Dakota, is called cratework when it is this large.

A recurrent problem in geology is the sudden appearance of what researchers term a “leave-it.”

Surrounded by his grad students, a professor has examined a site; rock outcrops and sediments, and erosional or tectonic phenomena have been observed, and, following appropriate consideration of all of the facts, the professor proposes a theory to explain the site. 

Then someone — one of his grad students, or worse, someone with no geologic training whatsoever who just happens to be accompanying the researchers on their field excursion — picks up a rock, shows it to the professor, and says, “What’s this?”

It happens that “this” is the proverbial monkey-wrench in the works, the very presence of which undercuts the entire carefully-constructed theory of the site’s origin and history. After careful examination, the professor may toss the sample in hand once or twice and then give it a mighty heave, while mouthing the words — “Leave it!”

While there are undoubtedly more “leave-its” in New York State than many scientists would want to admit — and they are by no means confined to the geologic sciences — there are two in particular, one in Albany County and the other in the Adirondacks, worthy of consideration.

Interesting mysteries in themselves, they are also reminders of the fact that nature has many secrets, and human abilities to decipher them in the end are not without limits and should inspire humility in all science researchers.


The “Boxwork” rocks of the Clarksville Gorge

On the edge of the village of Clarksville is a gorge through which flows the Onesquethaw Creek. Cut millennia ago when the great glaciers were melting and the Onesquethaw was vastly more voluminous and powerful than it is today, the gorge features small caves and springs in rugged limestone cliffs towering over terraces pockmarked with potholes along with mounds of sediment carried down by the Onesquethaw from bedrock layers higher in elevation in the Helderbergs.

There are also pebbles and cobbles scraped from the bedrock and transported from the Adirondacks and regions above the Canadian border and then left in great deposits of sediments as the glaciers retreated. Such rocks are called “glacial erratics” and identifying their sources allows geologists to map the paths of advancing glaciers. The gorge is a veritable textbook of geologic processes.

Yet, among the chaos of sediments, a patient observer can find some curious rocks that are wildly out of place in this part of New York State and whose ultimate bedrock source is a mystery. The rusty-red sandstone rocks are found as jagged samples, their color revealing the presence of quantities of iron — the same element responsible for the color of the landscapes of Utah and the planet Mars.

But what makes the samples unusual is the fact that they are highly fractured, and the intersecting fractures are filled sheets of white quartz, formed from the silica that makes up much of the sandstone matrix and forced into the fractures under immense pressure.  Known to geologists as “boxwork,” structures such as this are sometimes found in caves such as Jewel Cave and Wind Cave in South Dakota.

But these caves are dissolved out of limestone — made largely from calcium carbonate — and the sheets that make up the boxwork are pure calcite, which is more resistant to weathering and erosion than the limestone and the “boxes” therefore tend to project from surfaces.

And the question arises: Where did these rocks come from? There are no rock layers in Albany County or the lands to the north in New York State whose bedrock is known to contain structures such as the boxwork in these samples.

Glacially-transported rocks are usually somewhat rounded off, their sharp corners abraded by slow grinding against other hard sediments within the ice.  Some of these rocks are partially rounded but many are jagged — though the presence of the angular “boxes” would likely result in fracturing rather than rounding.

And then there is the question of why these rocks are found in the Clarksville gorge of the Onesquethaw but are not reported from other sites in the Helderberg area or elsewhere in the state. “Leave-its” indeed!


The “Tafoni” of Snowy Mountain

Above Indian Lake in the Adirondacks looms Snowy Mountain. Rising to 3 898 feet above sea level, Snowy falls 102 feet short of being a true New York State “high peak.”

But it offers sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and lakes and its location west of many of the other soaring summits crowned by Mount Marcy make it less likely to be the goal of “peak baggers,” especially on weekdays. Snowy’s bedrock is a mélange of the rock types shared by most of the mountains of the Adirondack region: igneous and metamorphic rocks such as granite, gneiss, schist, gabbro, and anorthosite.

On a slope of Snowy Mountain and not far from a meandering highway is a collection of enormous boulders known as “tafoni.” The term is obscure; my dictionary of geologic terms published by the American Geological Institute does not even list it. According to Wikipedia, the word may be of Sicilian or Corsican origin and simply means “rocks with holes.”

On the other hand, the similar phenomenon known as “honeycomb weathering” is well known to geologists and found fairly commonly in the states of the “Four Corners” area in the Southwest. I recently photographed a textbook example along the highway known as the “Turquoise Trail” that runs southeast from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Honeycomb weathering generally occurs in rock that contains or consists mainly of calcium carbonate — limestone and calcareous sandstone — and forms when the slight acidity of rainwater chemically dissolves the mineral randomly over centuries, producing the pockmarks.

Some igneous or metamorphic rocks also contain calcium carbonate or other minerals that may dissolve very slowly in natural acids but it is believed that sandblasting can also create honeycomb weathering. A combination of chemical weathering and sandblasting may well explain the tafoni of the Turquoise Trail outcrop and that of other sites in the Four Corners states.

New York’s tafoni lie in a heavily-wooded area on a fairly steep section of Snowy Mountain’s western slope: enormous boulders covered in mosses and fern gardens, pocked with pits of varying depth, some only a couple of inches in diameter, others big enough to walk into.

The larger hollows frequently have smaller pocks within them. Chalk markings and abrasions show that some of the largest have been climbed by boulderers and one has a rickety old ladder, allowing a precarious ascent to its top.

But the enormous tafoni of Snowy Mountain present a puzzling case. For one thing, the boulders do not contain calcium carbonate or any other mineral that dissolves readily, even when doused in hydrochloric acid.

They also are clearly not “in situ” — in other words, they are not weathered remnants of the slope on which they are located. They are somewhat rounded and they are not attached to the ground, clearly having been transported there either by tumbling from a higher location on the mountain or dumped there by glacial action.

But none of the cliffs and other exposures of the bedrock of Snowy Mountain show honeycomb weathering and there are no expanses of bedrock north of the mountain in the Adirondacks that are known to yield boulders that have weathered into tafoni.

Moreover, they are surrounded by thick forest, which would seem to preclude sandblasting as the cause of the pits, although in millennia past, in the wake of the glaciers, the slope would have been barren of protecting forest cover. In any case, the question arises — as with the boxwork rocks of the Clarksville gorge — where did the tafoni come from and how did the pits form?

Perhaps the solutions lie in the future in the research of graduate students completing theses for degrees.

In the film “Jurassic Park,” a biologist, contemplating the ingenuity of the dinosaurs, utters the famous line, “Life will find a way.”

And Earth’s restless crust and the great forces that churn beneath it also frequently confound science. Two-hundred years ago, most scientists and scholars believed that our planet was 6,000 years old and that all the great changes that had shaped its surface were divinely directed. 

A hundred years ago, before the theory of plate tectonics was backed with irrefutable evidence and accepted as the cornerstone of modern geology, Alfred Wegener was almost universally derided for the notion that the Earth’s continents and seafloors moved around its surface like giant rafts.

And, among many other mysteries in modern science, geologists and biologists alike are intrigued by the source of the methane being detected emanating from the surfaces of Mars and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Mother Nature clearly does not play by our established “rules” and has many more mysteries — and surprises — in store for us yet.

The summer (to the OFs) just goes by, and this summer seems to have the pedal to the metal. This week, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Middleburgh Diner in, of course, Middleburgh, New York.

This breakfast had a very young server, serving the coffee. It is interesting to observe the customers who frequent these local restaurants. Most are of the silver-hair varieties who are up and about at that time of day. However, the young ones are probably on the job already. The OFs guess that, in the long run, this doesn’t mean much.

Getting up early and getting out of the house brought up an interesting point. This scribe has always maintained the making up of the bed may make the bedroom look pretty, but it is not good science.

The scribe this a.m. asked the question of the OFs. Making the bed is a morning ritual.

This scribe argues that making up the bed traps all the night’s body smells, skin scales, mites, and night farts underneath a layer of sheets, blankets, and quilts. There they lie in wait for the coming night’s collection of the same things, only to be trapped in the dark and damp of the coverings along with the others.

This scribe mentioned to the OFs that the covers should not be returned to covering the bed but left at the foot of the bed. The science does not match the action. Looking nice and proper seems to better the practical.

Doing this would allow the bed to air out (so to speak) and the sunlight would do in some of the little buggers. One OF mentioned, if we are going this far, the foot of the bed should be made like a long clothes rack so the bed covers could also be aired out so those who sleep on the tummy could have their night farts aired out also. Not to mention the new industry that would be created in manufacturing the new type of beds.

How about those people who pile pillow on top of pillow on the bed? “Yeah,” an OF commented, “there are more pillows than bed. I think I would be more comfortable sleeping on the pillows.”

My wife (who makes the bed every day) insists I inject her thoughts on this subject for the ladies.

She asked me, “What does it mean when a man is in your bed, calling your name and gasping for breath?”

The answer: “You didn’t hold down the pillow long enough.”

She thinks she’s funny.



The OFs started talking about inflation and, for lack of a better word, deflation. Most of the time, either one of these economic situations crept up on us, but now, as one OF put it, it is darn easy to spend money.

The OFs have complained about this before, but, as another OF put it, in the recent past, our wallets are either much thicker to carry around so much more cash, or we are carrying larger denomination bills. One OG said some of these ATMs now let us draw out 50-dollar bills. Is this a sign of the times or what?

The OFs remember when it was a big deal to have a fifty in the wallet. Now it is possible to have a fifty in the wallet just to pay for a meal in a restaurant, and that fifty won’t even be enough to cover paying for a pair of jeans. One fellow suggested hundred-dollar bills will have to make a comeback.


Fashion or common sense?

After last week’s gathering at the Chuck Wagon, a few of the OFs were planning on leaving the restaurant and taking one of the OF’s boats out on the Hudson and going for a boat ride. This sounds like fun and, according to the OFs who went for the ride, they had a good time, but finding a place to pull in and have something to eat was a chore.

Apparently, they did not plan this trip for very long — it was more a spur-of-the-moment trip. If those who still have memories that can remember last Tuesday, it was sunny and hot, so these were courageous OGs to be out on the open water with conditions like that.

Sunscreen must have been at a premium or at least wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves. The skin on the ages of OFs is prime for skin cancers of all sorts.

Remembering back when the OFs were throwing hay, no matter how hot it was, is not like what it is today when the OFs are in their late seventies or eighties, and have lots to drink. Around 1960 is when sunscreen was beginning to be used regularly; before that, in the fifties, it was suntan lotion used by lifeguards with white noses.

It is OFs like us keeping dermatologists busy with skin cancer today because the OFs really didn’t know the sun was so harmful. The OFs actually thought that sun was good for us; only our parents somehow knew it wasn’t. The OFs noticed but paid no attention to their parents in long sleeves and wide-brimmed hats when they were out in the summer.

Look at old pictures: All the men had on hats, and so did the ladies. Was it a fashion statement, or common sense?

Those Old Men of the Mountain who were at the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh didn’t just wander in; they were there by design, and they were: Miner Stevens, and guest Bradley McLaughlin, Roger Chapman, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Glenn Patterson, Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Pete Whitbeck, Bill Lichliter, George Washburn, Jake Herzog, Rev. Jay Francis, Russ Pokorny, Otis Lawyer, Lou Schenck, Gerry Chartier, Jack Norray, Herb Bahrmann, and me.

— Photo from Jesse Sommer

Salutatorian Brendan Shields and Prom Queen Nicole McMahon on Graduation Day, 2001. Nicole currently lives just down the street from Jesse Sommer in North Carolina, while Brendan is about to be Jesse’s neighbor when they both move back to the Capital District in the fall.

Just over 20 years ago, a little past 7 p.m. on June 22, 2001 — after Brendan had concluded his salutatorian speech — I delivered a commencement address as the Class of 2001’s “student speaker” at my Voorheesville high school graduation. I presumed its text lost to history until I came across a wrinkled copy while cleaning out my parents’ attic the summer before last.

And here in the Altamont Enterprise’s “Keepsake Graduation Edition,” I’m letting this artifact from the twilight of my adolescence see the light of day once more. Because while I wouldn’t expect the Class of 2021 to heed whatever advice I might dispense now, maybe insights from back when I was cool will have some value.

Or maybe not. Back then, I had urged my fellow graduates to live each day like it was their last; now I wish I’d begged them to live each day like they’re about to be 40. Life hits different when you reach your late thirties, and it turns out that aging entails going to sleep each night healthy and sober only to wake up each morning inexplicably injured and progressively more hungover.

Yet if “be kind to your knees and liver” is insufficiently inspiring, then the speech I gave before any of you 2021 graduates were even alive is probably a better fit. At the very least, what follows might equip you to extrapolate a bit — to discern a snapshot of future selves that have been similarly ground through the gears of time.

A few preliminary admin notes, as facets of my two-decade-old remarks warrant disclaimer:

First, certain sentiments in my address suggest either that the censors were asleep at the switch, or that our diplomas had already been distributed. Take my nuggets of wisdom with a grain of salt. You wouldn’t heed life advice from the attention-seeking miscreant who sat behind you in math class, and that guy is a lot like the 18-year-old who wrote this speech. Periodt, no cap.

Second, rather than indict the cringey privilege that my speech radiates as a function of its pre-social media ignorance of other people and places, celebrate how unwittingly insulated from life’s most dire struggles my classmates and I were within our cocoon of woods and wildlife, friends and family, and a caring community.

Yes, I’ve met fascinating people and learned so much since my moment at that podium, but there’s also a lot about the world beyond New Scotland that I’ll never unsee, try as I might. So graduates, before you set off to greener pastures, organize your photos and journals to more efficiently look back at what you may yet come to realize was the unparalleled blessing of a youth in New Scotland.

Finally, my speech betrays signs of a creeping chronophobia that now cements every facet of my personality. But consider how justified was that anxiety about time’s passage. My speech was delivered in a world just after Columbine but just before September 11th, in a world after Challenger but before Columbia, after AOL but before Google, after pagers but before any device denoted with a lowercase “i.”  All those dates and devices materialized before your Class of 2021 identity came into being, as so much trivial grist for your U.S. History homework assignments.

But it was all real to me, once. And so, too, will you Gen Zetas conceive, experience, devise, and reinvent a reality that exists between now and your own address to the Class of 2041. The reality you inhabit now will someday seem only distantly familiar — an ephemeral moment in time memorialized only on dusty old wrinkled papers in your parents’ attic.  

Assuming, of course, that paper is even still a thing. Without further ado:


One of the tragedies of life is that time doesn’t stop. It’s hard to believe that once, a long time ago, I stood shoulder to shoulder with the very people now behind me, a kazoo in my mouth, eyes staring intently at Mrs. Fiddler, as I joined the newly designated Class of 2001 in singing “Mairzy Doats” and “Zip Up Your Zipper” at our kindergarten graduation.

Back then, I must not have realized that one day I would be leaving the people with whom over that past year I had become friends, and with whom over the next decade I would share my greatest childhood experiences. Back then, learning Mr. M’s theme song was the most important thing to me. Sometimes, I wish it still were.

I can’t remember why I wanted to grow up so fast. The world didn’t look so bleak when I was younger. I watch the news, I listen to my parents talk, I discuss current events with my teachers, and I realize that this is not the world I want to be a part of. I don’t understand school shootings, price wars, political correctness, economic concerns, or the AIDS virus. I never want to understand these things. I’d do high school all over again, exactly the same, if it meant I could be carefree and without the responsibility of making serious decisions just one more time.

Here we are, the Class of 2001, graduating again, before the very people who watched us take our first steps towards the big yellow limousine on that first day of school, and who must now watch us take our first steps towards the real world, and all that lies ahead. My kindergarten graduation was filled with a sense of anticipation, serving as a stepping stone for all that I would learn in the Voorheesville school district. Time passed at breakneck speed, and now, here I am today, at my high school graduation, watching one of the most significant chapters in the book of life come to a close.

Look to the sunrise with anticipation, look to the sunset with a sense of reflection, but don’t look at the midday sun; bright light is damaging to the retina. In other words, between the beginning and the end, think of neither; just enjoy all that the middle of your journey has to offer.

And that is my message today to all the underclassmen who’ve heard over and over that high school will be over before you know it. Although true, I won’t repeat the message, since it did nothing for me when I first heard it. The end will come soon enough, and when it does, you’ll realize that high school was just four years out of a life that may last 20 times as long. On the contrary, I urge you not to heed the ending of high school, for if you live [grades] 9 through 12 anxiously awaiting this final day, you’ll miss the countless beginnings that characterize every second of your life.

High school isn’t just your teachers, your books, your sports teams, your clubs, your family, or your friends. High school is you, at a certain point in time, when the world was still new to you, and every September brought a change in faces and a score of new questions waiting to be answered. Your schoolwork is not the aspect of high school you’ll remember when you’re behind the counter, or building someone’s house, or cramped in your office staring at paperwork. It is that age you will remember, and all the defining moments that went with it. Your first kiss, your senior prank, the independence that came with a driver’s license, the special friends you were with when trying to buy booze illegally for Friday’s party, and the discussions about a world that you had yet to fully understand around the cafeteria lunch table.

Underclassmen, here’s what little insight I can offer with some authority: Voorheesville is a great place to grow up if you know how to take advantage of the benefits. You have a sheltered community surrounding you, and parents who, ideally, will support you as you journey through adolescence. This is your time to make mistakes. This is the time to experience what being a teen is all about, while you still have people to care for you right around the corner if you get in too far over your head. At this age, you’re not only allowed to be stupid and ignorant, it’s expected! You have precious little time to enjoy this age, so I beg of you not to sweat the small stuff, to take the risks today that you might not tomorrow, to go after the things that bring you joy, and to not get hooked on any one source of pleasure since, when you’re young, there’s something new and magical at every turn.

Do the right thing. The right thing may not always be the popular thing, the legal thing, or the accepted thing, but it is the moral thing, the important thing, the thing you’ll smile about at the reunions when the only thing all you old people share is the common bond of prior youth. Please be safe, and relatively smart. Otherwise, you might not make it to that reunion at all. Parents, be understanding, but kids, give your parents a break. While you’re deciding what shirt goes with which shoes, they’re paying the bills and wistfully remembering their own childhood exploits that, let’s face it, are probably twice as “heroic” as yours.

Now, fellow graduates, we’re about to be those nagging, bill-paying parents. I have no idea how I’m going to cope with that. Here’s some advice that at least sounds right.

Every time you think life couldn’t get any better, take a moment to reflect that you’re being watched as you enjoy yourself, by the future you that longs again to be carefree and rebellious in a manner that’s wonderfully innocent and pure. Live for the moments you’ll carry with you into a future you can worry about tomorrow. Have something to look back on when you’re thrust into this odd world. If you have fun in the present, you’ll have fun in the future, reliving the past through memories that bring you joy.

High school was nothing but a quest to find out who we were. Whether we discovered the answer was not as important as the voyage itself. And to the students here today who will walk across this very stage in years to come, don’t ever close your eyes to yourself or all that’s around you. Except when you’re sleeping. Definitely get enough rest. Life passes you by when you can’t stay awake. Savor the fact that, for just a couple more years, 99 percent of the time there won’t be anything so important that we should lose sleep over it.

Today we see black and white. We know everything. We may be dead wrong about our assertions, but at least we’ve taken a stand about something. Along that road of life, we’ll begin to see gray, and understand less and less about the world and the 6 billion people with whom we share it. We must embrace this uncertainty. However, now is a time when the most stressful inquiry about our existence could be answered with a “whatever.” Let’s enjoy that. It’s fleeting.

If you look at the future in any way but as a dream, you’re taking your life for granted. What if there is no tomorrow? Life is a commodity, and every day you wake up, you should say to yourself: “I’ve been given another chance to live life to the fullest, and so I’ll live today as though it were my last day on Earth.” Unlike your parents and teachers, you have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t rush it. You’ll be in their shoes before you know it. Think about how fast high school went. The years will really start flying when we get older, when we don’t progress to the next grade level, when there are no summers off, when every day feels like the day before it.

If you live your life for the future, you’ll never live at all. You’ll only be a teen once, but may the experience you extract from this age be one you enjoy so much that you’d live it all over again. Once and forever: a teen.


I finished my address with a flourish, throwing two roses into the audience, one in honor of a beloved teacher, the other in honor of an adolescent crush. As I returned to my seat, I remember taking a second to feel my future self looking back at me. Here I am now, doing precisely that.

Yet as I write this, I’m suddenly less interested in what “future me” has to say, and instead listening to that “past me.” Life isn’t as certain as I thought it would be; hearing past me’s passionate insistence that I live for the present and surrender any entitlement to some unpromised future is phenomenal advice that, along the way, I somehow forgot to take.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2021, take a second to meet the gaze of “2041 you.”  Do you recognize what you see? He or she boasts the lingering influence of classmates who will very soon recede into your past, but who were nonetheless instrumental in shaping the 38-year-old you’ll soon become. Yet rather than straining to hear what he or she has to say, maybe now is the time to whisper the innate guidance that, someday, you’ll finally be wise enough to take.

Go forth and find out where you belong. For me, a wild 20-year odyssey is finally taking me back to Albany County. Word to Dorothy: What I set out in search of was right where I left it, back home. Sometimes it be like that. No cap.


Getting a good night’s sleep leaves us feeling energized, focused and improves both mental and physical health. As we get older, there are various changes to our sleep cycle that can cause difficulty sleeping at night, leading to daytime drowsiness.

Being awake or asleep is controlled by the circadian rhythm and the homeostatic sleep drive. While the circadian rhythm controls the overall sleep-wake cycle, the homeostatic sleep drive is a daily build-up of hormones and metabolites that make us tired.

It’s been found that, as we age, our circadian rhythm will naturally shift “one phase.” This leads to us sleeping and waking up earlier.

As we age, there are also normal hormonal changes that impact our sleep. These changes cause us to sleep less, wake up more easily and often during the night, have difficulty falling asleep and have less slow-wave and REM [rapid eye movement] sleep.

These natural sleep changes can be further exacerbated by medical conditions. In addition, we all may have developed some bad sleep hygiene, or habits that lead to bad sleeping conditions.

How can we reduce daytime drowsiness and sleep better at night? Here are some non-pharmacological sleep hygiene methods found to possibly help improve sleep quality and wakefulness during the day.

Blue light, which can come from LED [light-emitting diode] televisions, computers, or smartphones, can lower the amount of melatonin we release. Melatonin is a hormone involved in the circadian rhythm that helps us fall asleep. Harvard Medical School recommends avoiding any screens for two to three hours before sleeping to reduce the amount of blue light exposure to help improve sleep.

Calming music for 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime has been found to also improve sleep quality and daytime energy. A study in Taiwan found that its subjects who listened to music fell asleep faster for much longer hours with fewer disruptions and overall, felt like they slept much better.

As much as we all love that heavenly cup of Joe, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, it may be best to avoid any coffee at least six hours before bedtime. This tip also includes avoiding any caffeine products like teas or energy drinks.

Caffeine taken six hours or less prior to bedtime can delay sleep since it blocks adenosine, a key player in our homeostatic sleep drive. Adenosine is important for helping us relax and feel sleepy at those bedtime hours.

On the other hand, a hot cup of chamomile tea may lower the amount of disruptions during sleep and improve daytime wakefulness. If chamomile is not your cup of tea, aromatherapy with chamomile extract with lavender essential oil has also been shown to also improve sleep.

And finally, exercise! Exercise has been found to not only improve daytime wakefulness and sleep quality but also mental health. Exercise can range from an evening stroll to high-intensity physical resistance strength training in the afternoon.

It’s dependent on your own mobility. Some studies have found that, in order to improve sleep, it may be necessary to pair exercise with a short 30-minute midafternoon nap or social activity.


This article is not medical advice and should not substitute medical judgement.

Community Caregivers is a noto-for-profit agency supported by community donations, and grants from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Department of Health and Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging.

Editor’s note: Hyun Ah Michelle Yoon is a Community Caregivers’ intern and an Albany Medical College student, scheduled to graduate in 2024.

Well, we tumbled outta bed and stumbled to the Your Way Café in Schoharie to get a cup of ambition along with a bunch of other Old Men of the Mountain on June 22. Ole Dolly wasn’t there to sing to us, just a group of OMOTMs gathering to discuss their aches and pains as a greeting.

However, misery enjoys company, and for some reason the talk seems to lessen the aches and pains. Nothing like sharing misery, 9 to 5. Great movie, by the way.

Young people at some time have to admit that they will grow old. Right now, as that happens, many parts of the body have a tendency to let us down as we become OFs.

The OFs discussed at breakfast how it now takes two people to make one. Just going for a ride, it is a good idea to have two people in the front seat, not as radical as Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet, from the British sitcom, “Keeping Up Appearances”) but similar. We need someone to advise when traffic is ready on the right, even though both the driver and the passenger looked that way.

Someone to spot deer, or pedestrians, always helps too. Even at a party, four sets of eyes are better than two.

Going to the doctor is another good example of two going in for one ailment. This time it is for the ears.

The OFs talked about how much help it is to have that extra pair of ears when the doctor is talking. The doctors at times will explain how to take certain meds. Quite often, to the OF with the affliction, it sounds like so much gobbledygook.

Even though the patient hears the words, the words don’t seem to make sense. The person going in with the OF hears the same words and part of the conversation sounds the same to her, but in a different way, so when the couple get home the two of them can make sense about the outcome of the visit.

“Still,” one OF said, “they might call the pharmacist and the little girl at the pharmacy makes more sense about what the meds do, and how to take them, than the physician.”

Names! The OFs commented on what appears to be a common occurrence as the OF gets older and older. The OF bumps into old people the OF used to know 40 or 50 years ago but circumstances caused these friends to leave the area.

For some reason, they have returned and for the life of the OF he knows the face and can’t remember the name. This will especially happen at reunions, weddings, or funerals; that is when it is best to have the better half close at hand.

Quite often though, that does not help because both minds might draw a blank. The worst part is when the party you are trying to identify has called you by name from behind your back.

One OF suggested that he thinks that, at some reunions, the ones who pull this stunt have taken the yearbook and studied it so that they would be able to recall everyone’s name.

It is fun to watch OFs in a gathering like this breakfast with the OMOTM and one OF is trying to remember a name from some chance meeting or tad of gossip and is unable to put a name with a face that they all know. The wrinkled brow and smell of acrid smoke as OFs’ brains try to work to come up with someone we should all know.

The OFs have been told over and over not to worry about this lack of memory because it is quite common. The reasoning is: As we get older, our brains store up a lot more information, so it takes longer to retrieve it because it has more to sort through.

One OF said that is not the case with him. This OF claims his brain is, and he always had, what is now called a “trash” section. And, if he thinks something is a bunch of bologna, it goes into the trash section and every now and then he dumps it.

Another OF doesn’t have that trash section, but he always has been told he uses “selective hearing.” He said, “My wife tells me I have that turned on every time she speaks.”

All this talk never solved the problem of the guy’s name we were previously mentioning, or who he was married to.

As Will Rogers once said, “When you are dissatisfied and want to go back to your youth, think of algebra.”


Knock on wood

Like most conversations among the OFs at this time of year, we hear dialogue like: “How is your garden coming, is it all in, or are you taking any trips this year?” This is typical banter heard at any gathering, like the Legion, or church, or the local book club.

At the OMOTM breakfasts, there is one topic that crops up this time of year that may be a little different. We say things like, “Have you got all your wood cut or in for next year?”

And in Tuesday morning’s conversation on having wood in, for some reason, the north side of the hill came up. One OF came up with a piece of useless information that pertained to nothing at all.

That was, “Did you guys know wood for wooden ladders is harvested only on the north side of the hill”?

Whatever that had to do with anything made no sense at all to the conversation.

Those Old Men of the Mountain (who could remember each other) met at the Your Way Café in Schoharie and they were, as the scribe can remember: Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Joe Rack, Wally Guest, Harold Guest, Pete Whitbeck, Bill Lichliter, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Duncan Bellinger, Gerry Chartier, Otis Lawyer, Russ Pokorny, Jake Herzog, Elwood Vanderbilt, Bob Donnelly, Dave Hodgetts, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Herb Bahrmann, Rich LaGrange, and me.

I noticed a short but amusing discussion the other day on the Altamont Facebook page. It seems somebody was flying a drone around the village and some folks got a bit flustered about the possible invasion of privacy from above.

I guess our local nude backyard sunbathers, recently legal pot growers, or maybe just the normal folks burying the odd body in the backyard got a little paranoid. Understandable I suppose.

But step back a moment and think about your privacy in our little village of 1,700 people. What really poses a threat to you? A random drone that some kid was noodling around with, that may not even have had a camera? Or maybe you should look a little more carefully.

For instance, what about the fact that almost every person in this village is carrying a cell phone that is camera equipped, and can be tracked by law enforcement or commercial interests with access to cell location data?

What about the comically common home-security cameras that everyone is throwing up on their houses to protect against the hordes of porch pirates, roving gangs, wild bands of feral teenagers, and packs of dangerous free-range Chihuahuas? Those cameras are Wi-Fi based and feed into corporate data banks that can be hacked or tapped by law-enforcement or government agents if they so choose.

How about the built-in cameras on your laptops?

How about the video security systems that consist of six to 12 cameras linked to a central recording unit that you can pick up at BJs for a few hundred dollars? Folks can point those cameras anywhere they like, and you’ll never know it. That footage can be easily downloaded and shared, uploaded to the web, or turned into a TikTok if one is so inclined.

Beyond the home-based technical spying that’s going on every hour of every day, what about the professionals in our midst?

As we all know, our little village is probably the most policed area in the Capital Region. At any given moment, we have the fine officers of the Altamont Police Department cruising about, the folks from the Guilderland Police Department backing them up, the New York State Troopers making a regular foray through, and even officers of the Department of Environmental Conservation stopping by when the friendly deputies from the Albany County Sheriff’s Office aren’t having a look-see.

That’s a lot of police presence for 1,700 people. And they’re all trained observers, taking notes.

Keep in mind that those patrol units, in some cases, also sport license-plate scanners that, if they’re turned on, record every plate they pass by. So, you have law enforcement knowing the location of your car anytime it’s out in public.

Granted, it really doesn’t matter for most people who take care of their cars, keep up on inspections, have current registrations and licenses. But still, do you really want to be tracked that often? What if you just happen to have a body in the trunk or are smuggling arms on an international basis?

But you know the worst spies of all? They’re hidden in your phones, computers, and digital speakers.

The tech bros behind Amazon, Facebook, and other social-media companies literally spy on every post you make or read, every request you voice, every search, and every order you place. Facebook in particular, is a data-mining company, not a communications company.

Facebook exists to collect every shred of our lives and then sell that data to the highest bidder so we can be targeted by marketers and advertisers. Hackers keep a close eye on Facebook too, seeing it as a wonderful source of personal information that’s very useful for cracking passwords and in creating phishing scams.

Privacy in our modern world is pretty much under assault from all sides, and we’re not helping by buying ever more cameras and entering endless data into the great wild west that is the Internet. If you really want to remain anonymous, skip the cell phone, toss the security cameras, log off the Internet, and get ahold of one of those Harry Potter invisibility cloaks. Oh yes, don’t own or drive a car either; stick to public transport (paid in cash) or a bicycle.

Too extreme? For most folks, that probably is.

The basic truth is that, to be a functional part of modern society in this country currently, is to give up a certain amount of privacy. How much you give up is entirely up to you.

But I wouldn’t worry about the odd drone buzzing overhead. Unless of course, it’s a Predator carrying several Hellfire missiles, like the ones we have flying over various world hotspots as you sit and read this.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg notes he is a very big fan of privacy and works to guard it where it makes sense; he owns no drones.

— From the Guilderland Historical Society

This photo of the rear of the Freeman House was taken as part of the 1930s Historic American Buildings Survey. The original Dutch door remains on the front and the house has been carefully preserved. Once a Dutch barn stood nearby, but it burned in the early 20th Century.

Contemporary Guilderland’s familiar landscape is for the most part suburban developments, strip malls, shopping centers, paved roads and parking lots, and apartment complexes. From our vantage point in time, it’s almost impossible to visualize our hometown 200 or 250 years ago, covered in virgin forest or pine bush, broken here and there by streams and swamps.
Once part of New Netherland, the colony established along the Hudson in the early 1600s by the Dutch West India Company, the area was taken over by the English in 1664 and renamed New York.

Evert Bancker of Albany, reputed to be the town’s earliest settler traveled up the Normanskill by canoe, establishing a farm in the area near today’s Tawasentha Park. Followed by other Dutch settlers and a few Germans, farms began to be scattered about in what is now Guilderland. All were tenants on the West Manor of Rensselaerwyck, expected to pay an annual rent in crops to the Van Rensselaer family.

While it is difficult to picture Guilderland’s physical surroundings in the 18th Century, the people themselves are so distant from us as to challenge our imagination. Looking back to this period, what can we reconstruct of the lives of these early settlers?



Dutch and German were their first languages and their early church records were in those languages. Dutch settlers, members of the Dutch Reformed religion, and German settlers, adherents of the Lutheran religion, were each visited sporadically by circuit-riding ministers. The Dutch Reformed Church had its formal beginnings in 1767 when the first church building was erected, but even earlier there had been a log meeting house used. Services were in Dutch until 1788 and their written records were kept in Dutch until 1796.

St. James Lutheran Church officially began as St. Jacobus in 1787 by the town’s German settlers with the erection of a small church building. Within a few years, the name was anglicized to St. James. Previously, when the minister came to our area, he held services in local homes. Pastor Sommer noted (the original in German) in August 1762, “I preached below the Helleberg in Michael Friederichs’s house and administered the Lord’s Supper.”

The earliest written records from St. James were in German as well. An indenture written for Patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer with the Minister and Deacons of the Reformed Protestant Dutch 
Church of the Helleberg mentions Low Dutch and German language services.



Although some of the early settlers here were German, they originated in that part of Germany that is adjacent to the Netherlands, and shared much material culture. Few of their early homes survive in Guilderland, unlike some other areas in the Hudson Valley, but fortunately a few photographs survive showing the Dutch influence on one early farmhouse.

Built of locally made brick and laid in the traditional Dutch style, a house photographed in the 1930s has been covered with stucco, but a later picture shows the stucco removed and the bricks clearly showing. Possibly built around 1700, it is the oldest house in Guilderland. But, since the 1930s photograph, owners did extensive remodeling, changing the character of the house.

Another early Dutch house was the Wemple house, taken down when Watervliet Reservoir flooded its location.

The oldest frame house in town is the Freeman House in Guilderland Center, reputed to have been built in 1734. In a 1966 interview, Mrs. Robert Davis, who with her husband were then owners of the house, mentioned the original Dutch door and that they had uncovered Delft tiles in the fireplace when they uncovered it. The Dutch typically had jambless fireplaces, having no mantel or sides, decorated with Dutch tiles.

A 1930s photo showed that the house still had its front stoop, another characteristic of Dutch houses.

The gambrel roofs on two of them reflect English influence, however. It’s possible there are other old houses in Guilderland that have some evidence of Dutch influence, but it has often been obliterated by later additions or remodeling.



Beginning with Evert Bancker, farmers needed barns to store crops and keep their animals. Early farmhouses were small, but nearby there would have been a large Dutch barn, the predominant barn style in our area as late as the 1820s.

These barns had a framework of beams that was a series of H’s supporting the roof. No nails were used, only wooden pegs. At the gable ends were wide doors to allow wagons to enter and exit. Small doors on each side of the front corners let animals in and out.

The side walls were low and the barn had a boxy shape. At the gable peak were holes called martin holes to allow swallows to fly in and out.

In the interior, a wide center aisle ran the length of the Dutch barn, a space where wagons could be unloaded and grain could be threshed using a flail or with horses dragging a length of wood over the wheat in a circular direction. On each side of the center aisle was a space for equipment storage or to house livestock. By laying saplings across the beams, farmers could lay sheaves of grain or hay for storage.

These barns were extremely well built using the virgin timber available at that time and, if maintained, have lasted until the present day, including several in the town of Guilderland.

Near the barn would have been a hay barrack, a structure with five upright poles and a roof that could be raised and lowered depending on the amount of hay to be stored and kept dry. This storage method was typical in the Netherlands and was copied over here, often being mentioned in descriptions by travelers.

Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm traveled through the Albany area in 1748, mentioning that everywhere he could see that type of “haystacks with moveable roofs.”



Mixed farming was the rule, with wheat the predominant crop needed to pay rent to Van Rensselaer for the farm. In addition to wheat, farmers raised garden produce, herbs, fruit, corn, oats, “pease,” and barley.

Kalm noted that around Albany local farmers could produce from 12 to 20 bushels of wheat from sowing one bushel. Every farm had livestock: horses, cows, sheep, chickens, geese, and pigs.

Dutch farms had definite differences from the English type of farm in New England. Grain and hay were cut by swinging a sith or scythe with a short handle in one hand and, holding a mathook in the other, supporting the crop upright to make it easy to cut. The farmer did not have to bend as low as he would have with an English-style sickle and, as a result, could harvest an acre in a day, two or three times as much as he could have with an English sickle.

Dutch wagons were also unique, having rear wheels larger than the front wheels. The front board was larger than the rear and spindles ran along the sides.

Dutch plows were also different from English plows, having a pyramidal plowshare, one handle and two wheels. Another observer visiting the Albany area in 1769 wrote that farmers “used wheeled plows mostly with 3 horses abreast & plow and harrow sometimes on a full trot, a boy sitting on one horse.”

Is there any evidence that this material culture was typical of Guilderland’s early farmers? In 1813, when George Severson, the proprietor of the Wayside Tavern on the “Schohary” Road (located where the Stewart’s Shop in Altamont’s is located today) and a farmer of the land surrounding his tavern died, an extensive inventory was taken of all his possessions and farm equipment.

A lumber wagon worth $40 and a pleasure wagon valued at $30 are listed, though there is no way of knowing whether either of them was a Dutch-style wagon. There is listed, however, one wheeled plow worth $10. Ten sythes are listed for $5 and three sythesnaths for $1.50, these being handles for the sythes, as well as two small hooks valued at 25 cents.

Also included was a skipple measure, this being a Dutch measure used instead of an English bushel. Since he also had half-bushel and peck measures, perhaps the skipple measure was no longer used by 1813.

Also listed were horses, sheep, cows, hogs, fowls, and geese along with two bee hives. Severson raised a variety of crops with amounts of wheat, oats, pease, flax, barley, hay on hand, and must have had an apple orchard since a “cyder” press was among his possessions.


Enslaved people

Dutch settlers had no qualms about owning enslaved people. Slaves had been brought into the Colony of New Netherland by the mid-1600s and the custom of slave ownership spread throughout the colony, continuing after the English takeover in 1664.

Sadly, in the midst of George Severson’s inventory of his possessions were two enslaved women who were sold at auction for $191. In 1810, the census showed that there were 66 slaves in Guilderland while in 1820 the number had dropped slightly to 47.

Certainly not every Guilderland family owned one or more slaves, but the 1810 and 1820 census records recorded which families did, how many and their ages. Finally, in 1827, New York State emancipated slaves within the state.


Fading Dutch culture

Gradually, by 1800, the Dutch culture had slowly faded, but it’s still possible to find bits of our Dutch heritage with place names such as Bozenkill, Normanskill, and Hungerkill, which still continue to be used. However, at some point, the Schwartzkill was anglicized to Black Creek.

When the town government was formed in 1803, it was given the name of Guilderland after Gelderland, the Dutch province that was the original home of the Van Rensselaer family. Old families anglicized their names: Oxburgers became Ogsburys, Friederichs became Fredericks, and Crans or Cranse or Crounce became Crounse.

The Helderberg Reformed and Altamont Reformed churches are direct heirs of the original Dutch Reformed Church while St. John’s Lutheran Church originated in St. James Lutheran Church.

A few of our town’s Dutch barns have survived to the present day, though sadly all too many have disappeared due to neglect or fire. When a 1947 wildfire that threatened the hamlet of Guilderland Center destroyed the orchards of Edward Griffith, wiping out his livelihood, he talked sadly about his great loss — his barn, which he said was historically valuable, dating from the 1700s, constructed of hand-hewn timbers with wooden pegs and its original doors.

Other Dutch barns have been removed to be re-erected elsewhere. The 200-year-old Ogsbury barn from just outside of Guilderland Center was taken apart in 1982 and moved to the Philipsburg Manor historic site in Westchester County to replace another Dutch barn that burned.

Fortunately, the Dutch Barn Society has been working since 1985 to record existing Dutch barns and to encourage their preservation in the areas of Dutch-German settlement.

While some residents in our town can claim to have had Dutch or German ancestors from among our town’s earliest settlers, sadly most modern-day residents are unaware of the town’s Dutch beginnings or even that the name Guilderland comes from a Dutch province.