And That Was August

August 30, 2015

Doing the old summer vacation thing again, and my search for Socky the Lakemonster of Sacandaga

Once again we spent two weeks at the cabin on Great Lake Sacandaga because I’m a boring person who keeps doing the same thing over and over. But really, the lake isn’t boring at all, it’s a fascinating thing manufactured by humans that has taught me a lot about the environment in which we live. Each yearly summer visit is a kind of snapshot in my mind, I see the natural and manmade forces at work and I see how after 85 years of existence the lake is still settling into the valley that it has filled with water.

Now, I want you all to know that I spent some time sitting on the screened porch of our cabin trying to compose a very thoughtful article on how corruption in the City of Albany has shifted tremendously. But I just wasn’t into it, I spent most everyday kayaking the lake and taking pictures. So no, you can’t read my take on corruption yet so instead you’ll get a chance to look at some of my pictures.

Dawn On Great Lake Sacandaga Dawn On Great Lake Sacandaga

We arrived on Saturday the first day of August right after the blue moon. That first Sunday morning I got up before dawn and kayaked out to see the sunrise. This is the stuff of inspirational posters, I’d better copyright any pictures I post so no one can make a buck off them producing office art. While I was snapping pictures of the sunrise I was surprised to notice the beginning to wane moon high in the sky over my shoulder. I’d tried to photograph the moon shining on the water off to the East the night before, but alas I did not have the equipment to catch night visions.

The Shopping Mall Outside Of Northville The Shopping Mall Outside Of Northville

Outside of Northville on Route 30 is this independent convenience store and gas station called Coloney Centre just like the mall on Wolf Road. I told a friend that I tried to visit her at work but for some reason I couldn’t find Macy’s. Oddly enough I’d never had reason to visit. Later I stopped here to fill a gas bottle for the grill, despite the rather forbidding facade the place turned out to be a big and well-stocked general store inside.

Contrail In The Morning Contrail In The Morning

This year I was very interested in the sky. A bubble of warm air over the lake pushes low clouds away from the water, so that very often during the summer the weather along the shore is dark and rainy while the lake itself remains bathed in sunshine. The lake was created by humans, and anyone who watches the summer sky over the lake can see how it pushes around the clouds, so what more proof does anyone need that even relatively minor human activity affects the weather.

The Remains Of Deer Island, Once Covered With Trees Now Destroyed By High Water The Remains Of Deer Island, Once Covered With Trees Now Destroyed By High Water

One of the first things we noticed when we arrived was that the level of the lake’s water was lower than it has been in years for the month of August. I’ve explained in the past how the State agency in charge of maintaining the lake, the Hudson River Black River Regulating District (HRBRRD) essentially gave the owners of the hydroelectric turbines located on the lake’s dams the power to control the water levels of the lake. Since it is in the interest of the turbine owners to keep the water flowing over the dam without interruption, for the last 15 years the lake has been overfilled all year round.

Not only has the persistent high water damaged the shorelines and islands terribly, the lake can no longer be used for flood control. As a result the City of Albany along with the upper Hudson Valley has had to endure terrible floods that shouldn’t have happened, particularly in 2006 and another in 2011. Apparently this privatization arrangement is fine with the downstate politicians that dominate our State, they could care less if we get flooded and are only interested in the salinity of the lower Hudson that provides drinking water for many downstate municipalities.

Seagulls Hanging Out On Another Nearly Destroyed Island Seagulls Hanging Out On Another Nearly Destroyed Island

Now, the turbine at the first dam at Conklingville has no problem with water flow, but the turbine at the second dam further downstream at Stewart’s Bridge is owned by a Canadian corporation called Brookfield, or the Brookfield Energy Group. If the lake levels are low, as normally happens in the Autumn, then the part of the Sacandage River downstream from Conklingville, called the Stewarts Bridge Reservoir, does not fill up adequately with water. Thus the Stewarts Bridge turbine will not turn and generate profits for Brookfield. Therefore Brookfield overfills the lake and doesn’t give a damn about the consequences.

Our State Assembly representative here in the South End of Albany, John McDonald, told me that he introduced legislation to take away the power of the Brookfield Corporation to regulate lake levels. When he was mayor of Cohoes, Mr. McDonald fought Brookfield to a standstill over the hydroelectric turbine that they own in that City, wringing concessions out of the corporation. “They shouldn’t have control over the lake,” he told me, but unfortunately his legislation died in committee.

odd-looking bird Green Heron Extending Its Neck

There’s plenty to explore on the lake, for instance I found this odd looking bird hanging out in a cove near our camp that I’d never seen before. I had a bit of trouble identifying it, turns out it’s a green heron. Silly me, I kept searching for a bird with a blue butt and a red throat. A few weeks later I spotted another green heron on the Hudson near Schuylerville, I guess these birds are becoming more numerous in the area.

Tough, Scraggly Willow Bush Tough, Scraggly Willow Bush

The shoreline and the disappearing islands is a harsh habitat for plants that is called the littoral zone, only the toughest can barely survive. For about half of the year these areas are underwater and for the other half are dry like the sand dunes in the Pine Bush but nearly devoid of nutrition. The toughest survivor is a species of willow bush that rarely gets above six feet and usually has twisted gnarled branches and exposed roots.

For the first time, I looked up these hardy bushes and found to my astonishment that under good conditions they grow rapidly some thirty feet high. New York State has commissioned both Cornell and the State University to grow the willow bush and study its feasibility as biofuel. Here I’d ignored these humble looking bushes all these years and it turns out that they may soon become an important crop.

Tough Tree In The Littoral Zone Tough Tree In The Littoral Zone

On one of the larger islands where I landed for an afternoon I admired this tough survivor of a tree that stands alone awfully close to the August waterline. At a distance it looks like it is being strangled to death by parasitic vines, but vines rarely if ever survive in the littoral zone. Up close though I could see that what looked like vines was actually very short branches. I would guess that the branches only grow for a short time at the end of summer and early fall when the trunk of the tree is not drowned and never get a chance to spread.

Is This An American Elm? Is This An American Elm?

Now, I might be mistaken, but these leaves on these little short twigs identify this tree as an American Elm! This is the very same kind of tree that normally spreads awesome branches clear across roadways, and is considered an endangered species because of Dutch Elm Disease. This tree may not look the least bit magnificent but you really have to respect such a tough and lonely survivor.

Iron Rivet Found On An Island Iron Rivet Found On An Island

Before the lake was flooded in 1930 every effort was made to remove the debris left by the 1500 or so inhabitants of the valley displaced by the water. Naturally much was overlooked, and occasionally pre-flood artifacts wash ashore or rise up out of the sand and stones. On a disappearing island (the one with the seagulls above) I discovered two iron clamps that someone had found and placed carefully on an exposed rock.

This artifact in the photo appears to be a brace for holding blocks of wood together, probably homemade in one of the blacksmith shops that sat along the old riverbank. The round thing is a plate that has slid down and rusted fast next to a wedge that acted as a rivet to hold the brace in place. Perhaps it was part of a heavy horse cart? I thought of taking it and the other clamp as souvenirs, but since I have enough useless crap in my house I put these artifacts back on the rock for someone else to examine before the water rises again later this year.

Oil Slick On Great Lake Sacandaga Oil Slick On Great Lake Sacandaga

Plenty of motorized boats ply the lake, I have observed that every single one of them leaks petroleum. I’ll see some pontoon or jet ski pass a short distaqnce in front of my kayak, and by the time I paddle up to where the boat passed I can observe the line of oil that shows exactly where the motorboat passed. This path of oil will sit in place for hours because the oil floats on top of the water mostly independent of the water currents underneath.

Because Sacandaga is relatively clean, when the lake is calm you can see this generally light oil slowly collect into big slicks in the middle of the lake. Eventually these slicks move into the outlet arm of the lake, pass over the dams and joins the oil that flows past the Albany waterfront. Personally I’d like to see motorized pleasure craft replaced by electric boats, unfortunately current technology is not yet ready to produce electric speed boats.

The I Go Inn, Accessible By Boat The I Go Inn, Accessible By Boat

Speaking of the outlet arm, one day at The Wife’s insistence we both paddled about five and a quarter miles across the lake and up the arm to visit the I Go Inn for lunch. This is a weird and wonderful place with a Caribbean Island theme, Bob Marley tunes on the loudspeakers and a Polish flag flying proudly above the thatch umbrellas on the deck. The food is great, the staff is welcoming and the waitresses are all cute and the mixed drinks are ridiculous concoctions, but you can get anything at the bar.

The Wife At The I Go Inn The Wife At The I Go Inn

The I Go Inn sits high above the water, it actually predates the flooding of the lake. The story is that in the late 1940s a fellow from Amsterdam NY acquired the place in a poker game, his family still owns and runs the place which is only open in the summer. If for no other reason I recommend going there to watch the spectacular sunsets from the deck.

Sunset At The I Go Inn Sunset At The I Go Inn

The outlet arm of the lake, which follows the old river channel, has high steep banks on either side. On the map or at a distance the arm looks small and uninteresting, but after crossing some of the roughest open waters of the lake we found that it is actually enormous and rather unique. As usual distances are deceiving, it’s a long, long paddle up the arm before you finally reach the Conklingville Dam.

No Sign Of Socky, The Legendary Lakemonster Of Sacandaga No Sign Of Socky, The Legendary Lakemonster Of Sacandaga

With my camera ever at the ready I searched the coves and open water for evidence of the legendary lakemonster Socky, a prehistoric creature that has lived in the murky depths of Great Sacandaga since the age of the dinosaurs. There are stories that Socky can swallow jet skis and their riders in one gulp. Yes, I was aware of the danger to myself, thank you for asking, but I persisted anyway.

Does Socky The Sacandaga Lake Monster Visit This Cove? Does Socky The Sacandaga Lake Monster Visit This Cove?

In this cove I heard a loon and saw waterbirds and bugs and fish jumping, and one past year I landed here and was briefly surrounded by a pack of foxes who trooped past pointedly ignoring me. But no sign of the monster. Skeptics contend that Socky is a fiction because the lake is no deeper than 49 feet and has only been in existence since 1930. I say pooh pooh to those smirking smarties and their so-called facts, even though I made all this up I hope to one day catch an image of Socky and then we’ll see how those skeptics smirk.

Rough Water In Paradise Cove Rough Water In Paradise Cove

But seriously, the lake is not a toy, I always wear my life vest and pay close attention to the water and the weather. Every year during the warm months the lake takes a few lives either by drowning or by accidents, and every winter a few more bodies either fall through the ice or die by snowmobile. This past June a vacationer drowned in Paradise Bay near our camp in the direction of Mayfield, not to be wondered at because the water there can be rough and unpredictable.

The funny thing is that generally I’m not a risk taker, I don’t do things like rock climb or pick fights where I might get hurt. So why do I repeatedly paddle out into the middle of this unpredictable lake? One day I was out in Paradise Bay and tried to photograph the rough water that I was in, but I had to abandon the camera and work the paddle when the waves rose up four to five feet. Scary.

Taking The Pups For A Swim Taking The Pups For A Swim

We don’t get a lot of visitors at the camp which is fine with me, but as usual a couple we know showed up with their two little dogs to stay overnight. Other years I’d stay up way late with these folks and party and bang drums by the firepit overlooking the beach. But this year we went to bed early and all of us including the dogs took off in our boats and spent the morning on a deserted sandy beach on one of the bigger islands. We had leftover grilled chicken for breakfast. Most of these islands are State land and they are only accessible by boat but are quite popular on busy weekends and get crowded, with various boats parked along the best beaches like cars at a strip mall.

On My Left I Saw A Storm On My Left I Saw A Storm

That morning, a Monday, the lake was calm and silent and we saw only a few fishing boats, but the lake can turn violent very quickly. One afternoon I was searching for Socky and I looked to my left and saw this storm across the lake by Broadalbin moving out onto the water. I was about an hour from the camp but close to shore and started heading back, but the warm air bubble over the water held firm and pushed the storm back onto the land and I was safe.

Observing The Rainbow Observing The Rainbow

Before sunset on the last full day that we were there, The Wife pointed out a spectacular rainbow on the other side of the lake. This turned out to be a rather durable rainbow that lasted right to the end of the day and beyond, and for a moment we had a double rainbow. But the really interesting thing was how the rainbow mutated as the sun set.

Mutating Rainbow At Sunset Mutating Rainbow At Sunset

It almost looked like somebody dropped a small atomic bomb on the hamlet of Fish House across the lake. Even after the sun went down behind the hills the strange rainbow persisted. Eventually the sky grew dark with no moon and the rainbow flickered out and the next day we had to pack up and go back to Albany.

One Last Sunset One Last Sunset