A prof answers the OFs' questions on disappearing critters

On Tuesday, Aug. 6, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Duanesburg Diner, and the OFs filled up the back room. In the good ole summer time, our numbers are growing, but in the throes of winter the OMOTM group is smaller, and understandably so.

It is early August and already the OFs reported seeing one tree turning color.  One OF said it is not turning color — it is just one stressed-out tree. Then someone else said he thinks, because of the wet spring this year, the trees are all done, and the fall color will be early this year. 

These hardworking trees need to take a break from all that photosynthesizing. When leaves change color from green to yellow, bright orange, or red, you'll know that trees are beginning their long winter's rest.

A healthy portion of the OFs are members of the Berne Masons, and they did a lot for our recent event concerning the C-130 plane that is often seen in the Hilltowns. Now these OFs are involved with the history of the Hilltowns, and who else would know the history of the Hilltowns other than those who have lived here 80 years or so and have seen things go from horse and buggy to jet planes and men on the moon, to talking picture shows.

My goodness!  The wonders the OFs have seen.

On Saturday, Aug. 24, these Berne OFs are going to be part of a History of Berne Festival and the OFs who come to our Tuesday breakfasts, and who are Masons, along with other Masons are going to put on a breakfast at the Masons’ Lodge in Berne. This is another open-to-the-public event; all are welcome to come and see what else will be going on in Berne.

Wondrous happenings

From breakfast to breakfast, it seems like not much happens, then, as the OFs start talking, we realize that quite often a lot really does happen in those seven days from one week till the next.

We have one OF who is building a new home, and on some Tuesdays he brings in a progress report, complete with pictures on his phone. Another OF is planning a trip, and still another is planning a major life move.

The OFs are conditioned to watching a particular group of OFs arrive at the breakfast, and we know who they are as soon as their vehicles pulls up.  Sometimes we see a different automobile and then all of a sudden the same group starts piling out of a different vehicle driven by the same OF.  This denotes another change.

Kids move, grandkids and great-grandkids are born. The days between breakfasts are not stagnant because wondrous things are happening all the time.

Where are the bugs?

The OFs talked about how few bugs are around this year. It used to be that, when leaving a light on by the porch door, one would attract all kinds of millers, moths, and flying insects. This year, the OFs are saying, “Where are they?  The bugs are not here and it’s possible to get in the house in the evening with the light on and have to deal with only a few nasty flying things.”

There are a lot fewer swallows chasing what few bugs are around, one OF noticed.  The same with the size of the robin flocks. When this OF used to see 20 to 30 robins in a group, now he is seeing only 10 or so.

Then there is the snake.  One OF said he has not seen a snake around his house in two years; some said they have seen a few but nowhere near what they used to see.

Where are they? Where are birds? One OF wondered out loud, could it still be Irene, and Lee.

This scribe offered that it could be that pesticide use has caught up with us, and another OF said it may just be a local thing, maybe all these critters have moved somewhere else.

One thing we do have on the Hill, at least in the northeast corner of Schoharie County and southwest corner of Albany County, is rabbits — we do have rabbits.

Changing landscape

This conversation prompted this scribe to e-mail one of his many nephews.  This particular nephew is a professor at Keuka College, which is located on the shores of Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

This nephew’s doctorate was presented in the area of the OFs questionings. Taken from his reply are some answers to the OFs’ queries and wonderings. The OFs did not take actual notes, but did take notice, and were using recollection of their observations.

The professor said, “I wish more people took notes on changing habitats.” A lot can change in 80 years.

He goes on to say, “The landscape has changed dramatically since the OFs were young.” (And, boy, has it, especially in the Hilltowns where many of the small farms have disappeared and the grazing land and pastures have turned into brush and wood lots.) “There are more trees and taller trees, which generates a different composition than 50 years ago. That change has brought a change to the critters that live in it.”

Continuing with his reply, he suggests that pesticides in the smaller “critters” have had some effect, and he suggests that there are similar reasons, all of which are related to people, knowingly, or otherwise, changing the environment to the detriment of the animals in it.

“These are too many and too common to list but certainly could be part of the problem,” he said.

He stated the OMOTM might recognize the increase in other animal populations, such as bear, moose, and porcupine that were not around 20 years ago, like they are now. Ravens are breeding all over the state, and some other animals have increased in abundance, all due to the changing landscape.

In the end, Professor Brown also suspects the general abused conditions of the environment have not changed that dramatically in the past few years, it is just that the OMOTM are starting to catch up with it. This change is natural due do plant succession from field to brush, from brush to forests, and therefore the critters are going to change with it.   

Guys and gals and implanted chips

The next topic (really not next because these things are chosen at random; sometimes this scribe has trouble reading his notes) was on driving. Driving is a common discussion with this group, but this conversation was about the accident that was on the news recently, and the driver had 10 or so violations, and his license was revoked.

One OF said revoking and taking away a license doesn't mean a thing to a lot of people; they will just hop in another car and take off, and, if they get caught again (driving without a license), they will do the same thing. We have to do more than that.”

“Well,” one OG said, “We can't lock them all up — we won't have enough cells to hold them all.”

One OF said, “All cars should have a chip in it, and it would be activated when the offender would have a corresponding chip implanted in his shoulder so that, once the car detects that chip, it won't start.”

Another said, “That won't work, the guy will just go and have the chip removed from his shoulder.”

Then there was a response from the original OF who suggested the idea, and this OF said the chip could also be programmed to notify the issuing police department that the chip has been tampered with and the cops can go and round him up again.

Then from nowhere came this statement, “You guys are saying guys all the time.  Are guys the only ones driving without a license?  Not on your life — the gals are just as guilty.”

That led to another discussion on guys being all inclusive — kind of genderless, so to speak. So the OFs were off on a completely different tangent.

Those OFs that made it to the Duanesburg Diner, in Duanesburg, and making us guys genderless, like “youse guys better clean up your act,” were: Miner Stevens, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Bill Krause, Steve Kelly, Roger Shafer, Mark Traver, Glenn Patterson, Otis Lawyer, Harold Guest, Lou Schenck, Art Frament, Herb Swabota, Jay Taylor, Roger Fairchild, Gary Porter, Jack Norray, Mace Porter, Ken Hughes, Henry Witt, Duncan Bellinger, (with guest Alex Cipperly) Frank Pauli, Don Moser, John Rossmann, Bob Giebitz, Ted Willsey, Jim Rissacher, Bob Lassome, Duane Wagenbaugh, Elwood Vanderbilt, Mike Willsey, Gerry Cartier, Harold Grippen, and me.