Archive » November 2013 » Columns

We’ve all seen them, two elderly people sitting silently across each other in the restaurant or diner, staring past each other in a dull deadening silence.

How long have they been married? A long time.

Was it always like this? No.

A report from the American Association of Retired Persons that just came out states that, in New York State alone, there are 7,000 New Yorkers on waiting lists for transportation and other non-medical services, and four million New Yorkers who provide “informal” services to family and neighbors ( 

Most urgently, the report also states that caregiving will be the number-one workplace issue in the near future as baby boomers age and the population of the elderly also increases due to people living longer.  Caregivers providing non-medical services can often keep relatives out of nursing homes and other care facilities for years, just by helping with bills, shopping, errands, and transportation to appointments.

But many must work, or don’t live near their relatives, and count on organizations to help.

Community Caregivers, a not-for-profit organization, has provided these services in Albany County since 1994, and is preparing for the need to increase. 

It already has. We have plenty of clients to serve, and have already expanded from serving just Altamont, the Hilltowns, Bethlehem, and Guilderland, to all of Albany County now. The problem is getting volunteers in the new areas of expansion; most want to stay in their local areas.

Throughout the last eight years, Community Caregivers has had 500 volunteers who provided over 28,000 direct services to over 800 clients. Community Caregivers’ model is to recruit and train volunteers, and match them up with clients who get services for free.

The organization survives on grants and community support, to pay for oversight of volunteers, an registered nurse who does an initial assessment of the client, and program staff to provide ongoing training both for volunteers and the community on caregiving.

AARP and other organizations are advocating for more federal and state resources for caregivers.  Community Caregivers receives New York State Department of Health funds now, and hopes to be able to both get more funding to provide services and advocate for caregivers themselves to be able to be reimbursed for their services.  This will be increasingly more important in the next few years. 

Community Caregivers website,, has information on volunteering, referring clients, and services provided.

Editor’s note: Kathy Burbank is the executive director of Community Caregivers.

Novel way to read a classic novel: Charles Dickens’s 1859 A Tale of Two Cities, can be read in electronic form now. Frank Palmeri sees both good things and bad — the best of reading and the worst of reading — in this.

An e-book is an electronic version of a traditional book that can be read on a computer or on an e-book reader like a Kindle from or a Nook from Barnes and Noble. About two years ago, I purchased a Kindle.

I liked it, but, around the same time, I seemingly became a magnet for regular books; I started picking up cheap or free books from the library, all kinds of charity events, and even my old books from my parents' basement when they moved.

For a book lover like me, this was just terrific, so I rarely used the Kindle. Lately, though, I decided to immerse myself in the Kindle, just to see, once and for all, what the e-book experience is really like. When it comes to real books versus e-books, I think one phrase the kids like to use is appropriate: It's all good.

My Kindle is called the Kindle Touch. There is only one main button on the thing — when reading, you simply tap the screen to turn pages.

If you're thinking of giving a Kindle as a gift to a book lover, the one caveat I'd say is that the person has to be at least semi-literate with a computer to take full advantage of it.

For example, I could take a Kindle, load it up with a hundred books, and give it to my mother, who does not use computers at all. I'm sure I could get her reading on it pretty quickly, but many of its functions and features would be so unfamiliar or unavailable to a non-computer user like her as to make the experience more frustrating than fun.

The last thing you want, when you give someone a gift, is to see it used once and then tossed in a drawer.

E-reader pros

Here are the pros of an e-book reader like a Kindle:

— Anything that gets more people reading is a good thing;

— You can literally carry thousands of books around with you;

— Besides books, there are newspapers, magazines, shopping, all kinds of games, and more;

— You get access to thousands of titles, many free or dirt cheap, at the click of a button;

— Font size can be changed on the fly. This alone is one terrific reason to read on something like a Kindle;

— E-ink (electronic ink) technology is really great. Though currently limited to black and white only, the stark black text on a plain white background looks just like a page in a real book. Unlike a computer monitor or a tablet screen, e-ink is very easy on the eyes, even for long periods;

— E-ink e-book readers have really long battery life (e-ink uses no power when just displaying a page). You can go a month without recharging;

— Just tap on a word to get its definition;

— Think about how much less shelf space you'd need if all your books were e-books;

— E-books are very environmentally friendly since there's no paper required;

— You can take out e-books from the library from the comfort of your home;

— You can lend and borrow e-books from friends with e-book readers;

— A specific word or phrase can be "x-rayed" to show all places where it occurs;

— Passages can be highlighted, and you can share your highlighting and view other's highlighting;

— There is a text-to-speech mode, where the Kindle will read out loud to you. You can choose male or female voices and the rate of speech, but it's so robot-like as to be almost comical; and

  • You can share what you're reading with social media like Facebook if you want.

E-reader cons

Now here are some cons of an e-book reader:

— Even though the battery lasts a long time, you still need to carry a charger around;

— Who really needs to carry a thousand books with them?;

— The user interface is not great: The book title and chapter title should be on each page, and, to read footnotes, you have to tap on the asterisk, leave the page, then use the go-to function to get back to the page or location where you came from;

— With so much storage, you need to spend lots of time sorting books and applications into Collections, or else you wind up with yet one more cluttered mess to deal with;

— It's too easy to use the thing just to play games;

— Any mechanical device can break at any time;

— Be careful how you hold it, because an inadvertent touch can change a page or do something unwanted;

— Like any gizmo, it will become outdated;

— It's not good for technical manuals (diagrams are too small; it’s hard to bounce back and forth between text and diagrams; and it’s not easy to photocopy specific pages);

— E-ink is currently only black and white;

— E-ink is hard to read in the dark (newer models have supplemental lighting);

— Giving or lending a book requires the receiver to have an e-reader as well; and

— It’s harder for older people to use all the features without at least some computer skills.

Book advantages

Of course, there are plenty of plain old books available. The pros of regular books are:

— No battery required;

— Excellent user interface;

— Available everywhere, often free or really cheap;

— Books can be dropped without any problems;

— Easy to copy diagrams or pages from technical manuals; and

— Easy to borrow, lend, or give away.

Book drawbacks

The cons for regular books are:

— You can't change the font on the fly;

— If you lose it, it's gone;

— Highlighting a phrase makes in appear black when you make a copy;

— Some are too expensive, big, heavy, or no longer available; and

— Many don't lay flat, which can be a pain (think recipes or technical articles).

Recently I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair on my Kindle. This is the classic workers’ rights book from 1906 that inspired the cleanup of the meat-packing industry. Reading this book on the Kindle was seamless and wonderful.

Then I wanted to borrow and read the e-book versions of New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell's latest books, Outliers and Blink, from the Guilderland Public Library. (Anything by Malcolm Gladwell, like his earlier The Tipping Point, is well worth your time, trust me).

For both of these, I was put on a waiting list — just like with popular real books, popular e-books are often all "out" at the same time. When they finally became available, reading them was fine. Getting to read two great books for free simply by using my Kindle, without ever having to visit the library, was great. Can't beat that with a baseball bat.

Since using a Kindle means you can take advantage of the library without ever visiting it, I'll include here a little song I wrote that was inspired by trying to make a left turn onto Western Avenue when leaving the Guilderland library.

If you've ever tried to do this, especially during rush hour, you'll get the drift I'm sure. You can sing this to your favorite blues riff or play along on harmonica:

Left Turn at the Library Blues

The Guilderland Library
is a place I like to be for programs, books, magazines,
seminars, movies, and DVDs.

All's just fine 
'til it's time to leave
'cause then you have to wear
your heart on your sleeve.


Look out left, look out right. Don't jump out
before the time is right!

Look out left, look out right.
Maybe someday
we'll get a traffic light.

A traffic light
would make it right;
hope no one gets killed
before they see the light.

Repeat Chorus

The community gathers
at the library
so coming and going
shouldn't be so scary.

Repeat Chorus

Go west, young man,
is what they say
but at the Guilderland library,
better hope it's clear and OK!

Repeat Chorus

E-book readers like the Kindle certainly have many advantages, and I'm glad I'm finally making full use of mine. Still, there's nothing like the tactile feel of devouring a good old-fashioned page-turner by someone like Tom Clancy or Mary Higgins Clark that you got at a used book sale for a quarter. Truly, it's all good. 

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Blue Star Restaurant in Schoharie.

It was noted that there was a big change in the weather from the 18th of November to the 19th, but what the people in the Midwest and the people in the Philippines are going through right now (and who knows how many more people are) a few-degrees drop in temperature is nothing we have to worry about.  We only know that it is time to put another log on the fire.

The OFs sat in the comfort of the Blue Star and had breakfast, and this old sphere just keeps spinning around and around; the OFs just sit there and talk about the flood in another building close by that just a short time ago was full of water.

The people who have such great events enter into their lives will relate time from then on to these events. The OFs are still talking about the flood (from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011) and it came up again Tuesday morning along with dialogue concerning recent tornadoes and the typhoon.

This talk was about something that not too many have even considered, i.e., paperwork that is kept at lawyers’ offices for safekeeping, and safe-deposit boxes at banks for the same reason.

One OF said the safe-deposit box situation hit home with him because his deposit box was in a bank vault that filled with water; however, his box was on the top shelf and the water stopped just a few inches below it. The boxes below were under water and these boxes are not waterproof.

The OF said, “You think you have all your bases covered and  Mother Nature has a subtle way of saying, ‘Hold on a second. I have something to say about that.’”

The OFs wonder if those who say time heals all wounds — well, does it really?

As one OF put it, “That statement probably emanates from someone who has not experienced whatever tragedy is the point of conversation. ‘Walk a mile in my shoes’ is a better quote and, after that mile, see if ‘time heals’ still fits.”

Wither the Monarchs?

One OF posed the question, “How many of you OFs have seen the Monarch butterfly this year?”

You know, no one within earshot of the OF who asked the question could remember seeing one. This OF said that a fungus, similar to the White Nose syndrome of bats, brought on by the strange weather early in the year, did a real number on the Monarch.

This OF said that he had read that they might not make a comeback because they were so badly affected. Well, that was said about the bats and the bald eagle and they are making remarkable comebacks.

Let’s hope that the Monarch rebounds quickly because they are great pollinators. 

Along with this came a few comments on the number of deer, which seems to be less, along with squirrels and rabbits, at least in the areas the OFs are from. This may not be true elsewhere. There may be places where the deer are taking over; the same with squirrels and rabbits.

Have a plan

One OF brought up a problem that is not too uncommon. This OF has a friend with whom he normally converses by phone at least once a week.  This friend lives alone and he does not live that close by.

The OF said he has been unable to reach him in the last two weeks and was wondering if he should call the authorities to go and check on him. The OFs think that it is a good thing to have a plan in case this should happen to one of us.

At the ages of some of the OFs, this is a possibility.

One OF suggested that this is why people should be part of something like seniors, or a church, or the American Legion, or Veterans of Foreign Wars — some organization that would be concerned if your habits changed.

In this case, there might be someone to check on you and see if you are OK.

Know-how in demand

Another topic came up that was not specific to an OF problem, and that is, when someone has a particular talent, or expertise, and belongs to an organization that takes advantage of that talent or expertise.  In this case, it was running sound equipment that one OF seems to know what he is doing.

To this particular OF, it is a simple job. But, and this is a big but, this OF is not always around when the equipment is being run.

Another OF mentioned that an organization he belongs to has the same problem and the guy who knows how to run the equipment is not around much of the time either. The OF said that he has everything color coded — the white wire to the white receptacle etc., etc.

And the OF said he has given instructions more than once on how to shut it down and start it up. Ditto with the other OF; however, these instructions seem to fall on deaf ears. Not really deaf ears: The people being trained know what to do at the time and maybe a month or so later but that information eventually becomes lost in the six inches of gray matter between the ears because it is not used and so enters the nether land of the brain.

 One OF came to the defense of those who are not familiar with using sound equipment. The OF who has the know-how uses his knowledge quite frequently, where the others might only have to use it once a year, and the OF relating this mentioned he is quite familiar with the short-term memory loss in this type of surrounding.

Things start making noises that the untrained OF is not familiar with and he goes a little berserk thinking the whole thing is falling apart and he does not want to be responsible for pushing the wrong button and blowing the whole business up. All this OF can think of is to pull the plug and wait for the OF who knows what he is doing to come and fix it.

The reader can insert appliance or whatever into the slot where sound system is mentioned. Wait for someone who knows what to do to show up. That is the best answer!

Those OFs who showed up at the Blue Star Restaurant in Schoharie on that rather blustery Tuesday morning and were glad nothing needed fixing before they came, were: Roger Chapman, Mark Traver, John Rossmann, Robie Osterman, Glenn Patterson, Harold Guest, Andy Tinning, Steve Kelly, Roger Shafer, Miner Stevens, Duncan Bellinger, Gary Porter, Mace Porter, Bill Keale, Lou Schenck, Don Moser, Jack Norray, Bill Krause, Ted Willsey, Mike Willsey, Jim Rissacher, Harold Grippen, Gerry Chartier, Don Wood, Elwood Vanderbilt, and me.

Give one big Whoop for Tuesday, because Tuesday, Nov. 12, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Country Café in Schoharie. This restaurant, like many of the restaurants the OFs attack, has that early morning welcome sign, which is not in words but the smell of eggs and bacon cooking as the OFs walk down the sidewalk from their cars to the restaurant.

The OFs mention this quite often because it is like a magnet drawing the OFs to the front door.

The OFs think that one way to end a battle on the front lines would be to have each army set up their cook tents along the front and start cooking breakfast. As soon as that aroma wafted over to either side, the OFs bet that both sides would set down their arms, grab their mess kits, and go have breakfast — maybe even together.

One OF said that, in today’s wars, there doesn't seem to be enemy lines. It just seems to be skirmishes, or car bombs, or suicide bombers, or blowing up school buses full of kids going to school.

One offered even drones — no one around — just an unmanned flying machine. Another OF said he still doesn't understand what the wars are about.

“All I know,” the OF said, “is what I read in the paper and none of that seems to make much sense.”

This OF didn't understand how making breakfast would help today. “Who is the bad guy, who is the good guy?” the OF asked. “Does anyone know, or has most of the world gone crazy?”

Bald man’s lament

On a lighter note, the more important question asked was: Why do we OFs who are bald have to pay the same amount for a haircut as some guy with a ton of hair?

One OF said that he has sat along the wall in the barbershop waiting while some guy in the barber chair gets coifed and it take 20 minutes or more, and he gets in the chair and it is whirr-shear, eyebrows snipped, neck shaved, and out!  The OF is out of the chair in five minutes max, yet he pays the same as the guy with the half-hour hairdo.

“That is not the lament of just us OFs,” said an OF. “That is the lament of all the bald guys.”

“Maybe that is where the barber shops make their profit,” a different OF mused.

“It is tough finding a barber shop now,” one OF added.

He needed a haircut and his wife made him go to one of those sissy places. The OF said that was a mistake.

He told the girl (hair stylist?) he just wanted a haircut. The first thing this girl did was lead him to the sink and wash his hair.

“What!  Did she think I had lice or something?  I told her I just washed it this morning in the shower.”

Then the girl got the back of his shirt so wet that, even after being toweled off, his shirt was too uncomfortable to wear. After he left the shop, the OF walked down the mall and bought a shirt and undershirt at K-Mart because the OF said he was soaked and freezing.

To top it all off, this girl who had “cut” his hair had spent half the time snipping at the air with the scissors, and not really doing much cutting. When he got home, the OF looked in the mirror and said he still looked the same as when he went in the (Salon?).  He was still in need of a haircut — what a rip-off.

“Give me a guy barbershop any day, where I can still get a haircut and don't have to go back every week, and have some chatty, snippety young thing click her scissors in the air to make me feel like I am getting my hair cut,” the OG concluded.

One OF said he thought prices should be pro-rated at the barber shop: X number of dollars for a five-minute cut, and X number for 10 minutes, X number for 20 minutes and so on.

“Then,” the OF said, “you can go in and say, ‘I want a 10-minute special’ and be out of the chair in 10 minutes.”

“That might not work,” said another OF. “If you had a fine head of hair like me, which takes awhile to cut, and you ask for the 10-minute special.  The barber may only have enough time to cut half the hair on your head and you would go out of the shop looking kind of weird.”

Then one OF said, “Don’t mess with what the barber does; remember he is the one with the razor in his hand.”

Felons in office?

The OFs, discussed something that they didn't know (what?), at least at this scribe’s end of the table and that was convicted felons running for political office and winning the election.

“Sure,” one OF said, “look at Marion Barry, one of the former mayors of Washington, D.C. itself; he was a convicted felon.”

This scribe did a little checking — the key word here is little — but the basic answer is: yes. The Constitution says felons can even — while in prison — be elected for federal office (House and Senate) and serve from jail.

However, there are some in this body but suffice it to say the House or Senate can expel them because they are bad guys. The states have nothing to say about this.

Voting and holding elected office for state or other offices differs by state, but in many cases the answer is: yes. This scribe could not find where it differentiated between murder and stealing candy from a baby. (Then again, this scribe used to read a lot; now this scribe reads two pages, falls asleep, and has to go back and read over what he just read and fall asleep again. Takes awhile to read a book now but this scribe gets plenty of naps.)

Brain lapses

The OFs have a new name for lapses of information in a normal conversation.

One OF was talking to another OF, and was going to tell the first OF about someone in the hospital. In the middle of the sentence, he stopped talking because the name of the OF in the hospital went right out of his head.

So the OF who started the conversation had to stop right there because the whole purpose of the conversation was gone.  About 15 minutes later, the OF shouted out the name. The name sifted its way through all the clogged-up brain cells until it found its way out.

Another OF said to the OF across from him, “How about the time I asked you about your granddaughter and you couldn't remember her name?”

“Yeah, you OG.  You asked me that in front of 40 people.”

The other OF said, “How was I supposed to know you would forget her name; she was only five chairs down from where we sitting.”

What are these brain lapses?

One OF said, at our ages, they are the same as Brain "F---s". The OF agreed because none of us can escape them.

A different OF said that, when it happens to him, he starts to recite the alphabet and, generally, when he comes to the letter that pertains to the thought, the lost thought usually comes to mind.

One OF said that sometimes, when it happens to him unconsciously, it must rattle around in his head somewhere because at the darndest time he will blurt out something like "Charlie Chaplin,” or "Mickey Mouse" for no reason at all.

Those OFs who made it to the Country Café, and did not forget (maybe because their wives pushed them out the door) were: Steve Kelly, Roger Shafer, Andy Tinning, Dave Williams, Harold Guest, Robie Osterman, Roger Chapman, Glenn Patterson, Jim Heiser, Mark Traver, George Washburn, John Rossmann, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Ken Hughes, Gary Porter, Bill Keale, Miner Stevens, Bill Rice, Henry Whipple, Ted Willsey, Jim Rissacher, Mike Willsey, Bill Krause, Harold Grippen, Gerry Chartier, Duncan Bellinger, and me.

At first, I hardly noticed the change in her demeanor.  It was two years ago and my Mom had been living alone for six years since Dad passed away. She was nearing her 85th birthday.

As a long-distance caregiver, I could ignore a forgotten name or misspoken word.  But when Mom decided to resign as treasurer from an organization she had served for 52 years, I instinctively knew something was up.

She gave up e-mail next, explaining that she wasn’t sure she could turn on the computer and there were too many jokes in her inbox. So we cancelled her Internet service.

All of these “symptoms” occurred after her cardiologist told her he wanted to conduct a stress test to ensure that her two stents were working properly.  True to form, she had convinced herself he would find something wrong and worked herself into a state of anxiety the likes of which I had never seen.

Good news though — all was well. However, the damage was done. Her self-confidence had eroded.

Her 87th birthday is next month and her memory has continued to decline. She came to visit me this summer and I could tell she was uncomfortable being in a different place.

One night she said, “I know you are a relative but I can’t think of your name.”  So, I told her and she wrote it down and put it in her purse. Then she apologized for not remembering I was her daughter. 

Her ability to process information also continues to decline, and she struggles to say what she means in conversations. Talking with her on the telephone is very difficult as she tries to describe people because she cannot remember their names.

A family member goes to doctors’ appointments with her because she is unable to completely relate what was said. She now has a companion aid six days a week who helps clean, cook, and keeps her engaged in conversation, helps grocery shop and helps with other activities.

The worst part is that she is aware of what is happening.  My father had Alzheimer’s and she cared for him. Now she believes she will follow the same path. 

I tried discussing assisted living, pointing out that there would be socialization and activities. The upkeep of the house would no longer be an issue.

But she said, “That’s one foot in the grave.”

She wants to stay in her home.

And, if you think the stories about trying to get your elderly parent to turn in the car keys aren’t true, think again. It is their last vestige of independence and they use every possible tactic to keep driving.

While my caregiving duties have increased three fold during the past year, I realize this is what I must do to ensure that my mother has the best quality of life possible for as long as she is here.

It is very hard, being an independent person, to realize you are a lifeline.  Every day I have to tell myself that she cannot live the life I want her to live, but the one she chooses.

For all of you who are caregivers, I hope you will understand from my story that you are not alone.  There are many of us, and our circumstances vary. Some have family support; some do not.  But we do what we must to take care of our loved ones.

November is National Caregivers Month and it is important to remember and honor those who keep their loved ones safe and secure.  I identify with each of you and urge you to not be ashamed to reach out and ask for help be it family, friends, or a volunteer from Community Caregivers. 

For more information about Community Caregivers, visit our website at or call 456-2898.

Picture this: You're crossing the street downtown in a big city like New York or Chicago. As you approach the curb, you glance down and see, amid the cigarette butts and beer-bottle caps, a single, spindly weed growing in a tiny crack between the hard, weather-beaten curb and the grimy, sticky asphalt.

The crack is maybe a millimeter wide, yet this weed has the audacity and tenacity to boldly poke itself up into the blustering, windy city, only one misplaced footstep or bad parking attempt away from destruction. Even putrid runoff from dogs relieving themselves at the nearby hydrant and toxic car and bus exhaust fumes can't keep this weed down.

This sucker is more than just a weed; it's a survivor, an underdog, and that's why you have to like it.

Now I live in suburbia, where the landscape consists of widely spaced houses separated by lawns that would love nothing more than to be like the manicured fairways of the world's greatest golf courses. The fact that many are not is only because of the immense expenditure of time (endless mowing, weeding, feeding, and watering) and money (mowers, fertilizers, pesticides, automated sprinklers) that it costs to have such a lawn.

I don't really care that much about landscaping, and I'm not very good at it, but I'm so trained that carpet-like grass and bountiful shrubs are the things to have that often I'll be walking along somewhere and have to stop myself from bending down to pick up a stray stick or pull out a choking vine. Living in landscape-obsessed suburbia does that to you.

That's why you have to love that single, solitary, growing-in-a-tiny-crack weed. It doesn't care about pristine suburbia or lush golf courses. It just is.

When there's a sport I don't know much about, I'll always find out which is the worst team and root for them. It's fun to root for the underdog.

No one wants to lose, so you know the underdogs are going to try hard, plus they may not even be that bad; sometimes, the ball just doesn't bounce your way. There is even camaraderie in rooting for a bad team.

The fans in New Orleans spent many years sitting next to each other in the Superdome with paper bags over their heads. You may not know the person sitting next to you, but, when you're both wearing paper bags with eye, nose, and mouth cutouts, there's a bond there for sure.

It's fun to root for an underdog. With no expectations, there's no place to go but up. Yes, it may take a long time to get there — look at the Red Sox — but, when you do, it's phenomenal. I just hope my favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, can win before I get too old and senile to actually enjoy it. Come on, guys, I'm not getting any younger here.

Let's get back to the dichotomy of that pesky weed. On the one hand, it's a true underdog, living in such a volatile environment, so you have to love it; yet, on the other hand, it's a weed, something random and not at all attractive or wanted, so (especially if you live in suburbia like me) you have to hate it.

This is rather painful, when you think about it, and I have thought about it quite a bit. It's a classic example of cognitive dissonance — a psychological conflict resulting from incompatible beliefs held simultaneously.

Is it any wonder I don't have a good time at parties? I'm sitting there feigning interest in small talk while mentally contemplating how weeds can thrive in cracks in city sidewalks. Yes, I really do this. Ah, the conundrum of the thinking man.

I've purchased plenty of supposedly squirrel-proof birdfeeders over the years. All of these have some special feature or design that theoretically should prevent squirrels from getting to the birdseed.

Too bad nobody contacted the squirrels first, because, for every one of these I've put up, the squirrels have had zero problems getting seed from it. They do it so cleverly it's hard not to root for them as well.

Talk about underdogs — these fancy feeders are designed specifically to thwart pests, and the pests just find a way to gorge themselves anyway. The crafty squirrels are truly amazing at it; I've seen them eat heartily while hanging upside down, using their little fingers to paw at the seed, while the chipmunks scoop up the spills. If these little *)%!@s didn't make holes all over the lawn and scare the beautiful birds away, you'd have to admire them.

There's one other thing that reminds me of hearty weeds and persistent pests — things you love and hate at the same time — and that's mob movies and TV shows. As an Italian-American, I am saddened that this genre reinforces the stereotype of Italians as mobsters.

There are some people I'm sure who don't know how warm, loving, funny, and family-oriented Italian people are. When they see these productions, they are sure to get the wrong idea about Italian people.

Yet I can't deny that these movies and TV shows make for compelling entertainment; there's not one bad scene in any of the Godfather movies, and many say The Sopranos is the best TV show of all time.

Instead of pulling that weed from the crack in the curb, I admire it; instead of scaring off the squirrel at the bird feeder, I'm amazed by it; instead of scorning the despicable characters mob shows celebrate, I'm endlessly fascinated by them.

It's this conflicting set of emotions that make many aspects of life so wonderful and frustrating at the same time. Oh well, guess it's time to go down to Robinson's Hardware and try to find a better squirrel-proof birdfeeder.

On Nov. 5, the Old Men of the Mountain met at Mrs. K's Restaurant in Middleburgh, and everybody was up and running, particularly those that run the restaurant. Most of the time, early morning is the best time of day, especially if the OF happens to be an “A” person.

The fifth was one of those days. At the breakfast that morning, Loretta thanked all the OFs for coming to her birthday party, and presenting her with flowers and a hat that has the OMOTM logo on it.

Hey, the OFs will go anywhere for a free meal. Well really, maybe not anywhere.  Like the words “always,” “never,” and the phrase “American people” (without the caveat “some” or “most” preceding the word American) are no-no’s. 

On Saturday, Oct. 12, Middleburgh held its Fall Harvest Parade, and some of the OFs participated in this annual event. The OFs didn't walk the parade route.  One OF had an old tractor and another had an old horse-drawn grader. According to the OFs, the parade was over an hour long and very well attended.

Anyone familiar with the village of Middleburgh knows it has one main road in from the north or south to the Schoharie creek. Even locals — if they are caught before any of the side streets start through the village — find there is no way around, and then these people are in for the duration.

One OF mentioned that, for him to get home from the parade, he was caught in the line of traffic, and this OF is a long-time Middleburger. The OF said there was no ducking in and out of the side streets to get around traffic.

Other OFs mentioned about being caught in small-town parades with only one way in and one way out and just hanging out until the parade is over; one OF added that, when the parade is over, then the traffic becomes a parade itself.

The Memorial Day parades in Schoharie and Esperance were also mentioned as parades where the unsuspecting driver is trapped until the parade marches on. One OF mentioned, if this happens and you are not too far back, pull the car to the side of road, get out, walk down, and join the crowd, enjoy some fried dough, get a few balloons, and a couple of flags before you go on your way. You might just as well enjoy the parade because you are going to be there anyway.

Who’s without caries?

The next topic that came up was “Going to the Dentist.”  The poor dentist has the reputation of running a torture chamber. Dentists should be dressed in black, with earrings in their ears, and whips hanging on the walls, according to the OFs.

Most of the OFs do not like going to the dentist but off they go and, again, most find out nowadays it is not that bad. The OFs claim it is best to go periodically, and have regular maintenance and little things taken care of before they become major problems and can really hurt.

The sensation of Novocain is not pleasant, according to the OFs, but many would rather put up with that and not have it hurt while at the dentist. A few OFs say they will not take Novocain for minor stuff because the dentist works in your mouth only a short time and the hurt is over when he stops.

However, with Novocain, the OF said he is biting his tongue, drooling, and conversing with slurred speech until it wears off, and then the OF said, after it wears off, he still feels some of the discomfort from the dental work.

An OG then opined, “That is what you get, you guys that kept your own teeth.  Mine come out at night and go in, in the morning, along with my hearing aids, and glasses.  That is, once I take the teeth out of the Efferdent, put new batteries in the aids, and clean my glasses, I am set to go.”

“Yeah,” one OF answered, “if you lose all that stuff, you are walking into walls because you can't see, stepping in front of buses because you can't hear, and living on soup because you can't chew.  I'll put up with the dentist twice a year.”

Voting “yes”

on older judges

This past Tuesday was Election Day and some politics were discussed but not much. Sitting at the table of the OMOTM was one councilman, one former councilman, and a former town board supervisor. The consensus of this group seemed to be that serving in these capacities is like being married, but with no fun thrown in.

Only two topics came up on how people were going to vote. It seemed (at least to this scribe) that one issue was a “no” vote on casino gambling and the other was a “yes” vote for older judges. What would one expect from this group?

More specifically, regarding the vote for older judges, the OFs say they still have the mental capacity to say, "Throw the bum in jail,” so what more is necessary?

The OFs will have to wait until next Tuesday to discuss how it all turned out.

Those attending the breakfast at Mrs. K's Restaurant in Middleburgh, who had already been to the polls, or were headed to the polls, were: Andy Tinning, Don Wood, Harold Guest, George Washburn, Glenn Patterson, Roger Shafer, Roger Chapman, Steve Kelly, Jim Heiser, Mark Traver, Robie Osterman, John Rossmann, Duncan Bellinger, Mace Porter, Ken Hughes, Gary Porter, Jack Norray, Harold Guest, Mike Willsey, Gerry Chartier, Ted Willsey, Jim Rissacher, Bill Krause, and me.

Standing on the shore halfway down the length of Ballston Lake with a young research assistant named Devin Delevan, I suppose I could be forgiven for mistaking the lake for a river: It is obviously a great deal longer than it is wide, though it shows little of the bending that any proper river should exhibit as it follows the lay of the landscape.

The false impression is quickly dispelled with a glance at a map of the region, for it can easily be seen that the lake lies in a narrow valley, fed mainly by local runoff and some small feeder streams, and empties into the rather unimpressive Ballston Brook as its waters make their way via Round Lake to the Hudson River.

Long, narrow, straight lakes are common in areas that once lay under glaciers. Throughout the Adirondacks, melting glaciers left water in fault valleys called “grabens” that are partially dammed up by the glacial sediment known as moraine.  The Ausable Lakes, the Cascade Lakes, and Lake George are impressive examples.

But Ballston Lake has a different history.  Thousands of years ago, highly energetic waters of the ancient Mohawk River flowed through the valley now occupied by Ballston Lake.  But the river abandoned the valley, leaving the quiet lake as a reminder of how the melting Continental glacier altered the landscape of New York State.

Envisioning the ancient past

In nearly every geology course I have taken, students have been told by the professor that to truly understand historical geology one must have a good imagination: To envision, for example, this part of North America during the Devonian period, 400 million years ago, when it lay under a warm, shallow sea; or during the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs roamed the lands that would become New York and New England, leaving their bones in sediments-turned-to-rock that have almost entirely been eroded away, except for a few places such as the Connecticut River valley;  or the end of the Great Ice Age, some 15,000 years ago, when the northern parts of New York State still lay deeply buried under the steadily retreating edge of the Continental ice sheet.

But, at that time, the whole upper half of the country was coming out of the last great advance of the ice, leaving much of the Midwest flowing with rivers and streams from the melting glacier, many of them now shrunken or vanished entirely.  A map of the Midwest then would look very different from the way it looks now, for the present Great Lakes had not yet formed.

Instead, the basin in which Lake Ontario sits was occupied by a much larger body of water that geologists call Lake Iroquois, which derived some of its water from proto-Lake Erie and from a huge lake farther west known to geologists as Lake Alqonquin, which would eventually evolve into Lake Huron.

Today, the Great Lakes drain into Lake Ontario via Lake Erie — and Niagara Falls — and thence into the St. Lawrence River en route to the Atlantic Ocean.  But, in those ancient times, what would eventually be known as the St. Lawrence River Valley was under a mile or more of ice, and the massive Continental glacier blocked melt water from flowing directly to the ocean.

Hence, the water found its way through the ancient form of today’s Mohawk River, a river vastly more voluminous and powerful than its relatively placid modern descendant.

Today the Mohawk’s source is considered to be Lewis County, but, around 13,500 years ago, it carried the waters of Lake Iroquois, which seems to have undergone what geologists call “catastrophic” drainage.  This likely was caused by the rupture of an extensive ice dam, and the turbulent flood waters cut a broad valley across the middle of New York State.

The steep cliffs that tower over the Mohawk west of Amsterdam and the wide, deep potholes that are cut into the bedrock of its banks in many places testify to the volume and power of its surging waters.  And the Mohawk today — along with many other streams scattered across the northern part of the continental United States — is classified as an “under-fit” stream, meaning, simply, that it is but a remnant of its former identity as a voluminous, highly erosive river.

Evidence of this fact is easily visible to motorists on the Northway. About a mile south of Exit 12, drivers pass through a broad, deep valley that stretches east toward the Hudson River and west toward Ballston Lake. On its north side are visible once-rugged cliffs that are now softened by years of erosion and tree growth. At the bottom of the valley flows only the gentle Ballston Brook, offering barely a hint of the great and powerful flow that once cut down through the bedrock.

Where did the river go? 

But this scene triggers the question: Where did the river go and why did it go there?

The answer, as with many geologic questions, lies in the distant past.  As the Continental glacier retreated from New York State nearly 15,000 years ago, the Hudson River Valley — which carried an enormous volume of the glacial melt water — became blocked somewhere near Newburgh.

The blockage was presumably made of moraine and it formed a gigantic natural dam.  Its effect was to create to its north an extensive body of water known to geologists as Glacial Lake Albany.  The lake stretched at least as far north as Glens Falls, and probably resembled Lake George and Lake Champlain, both of which were left by the retreating glaciers.

To the north of the natural dam, the east and west sides of the Hudson Valley have fairly steep profiles until the Albany area is reached, which kept the lake relatively confined and narrow.  But, at Albany, the west side becomes a broad, gentle upward slope, and so the lake was at its widest in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area, stretching east on a line that probably closely followed today’s Route 4 — only a couple of miles from the river — but west as far as Schenectady.

This meant that the Mohawk River — which at that time was carrying massive volumes of water and sediment from western New York State and the proto-Great Lakes — did not become a tributary of the swiftly flowing Hudson as it is today above Cohoes but was a standing body of water.  And, when rivers do this, they slow down and begin to deposit their massive loads of sediment.  The result is the development of a delta.

For examples, think of the Mississippi Delta or the delta of the Nile River.  The Pine Bush of Albany County formed, and numerous sandy pine barrens to the north of Albany along today’s Hudson River show the presence of other, smaller interlocking deltas as well.

Within deltas, rivers break up into what are called “distributaries” — networks of lacy, interwoven smaller streams and perhaps two or more larger ones.  Given the vagaries of seasonal changes in the volume of water and sediment being transported, these distributaries are subject to sudden, rapid changes in their paths.

At some point in the distant past, a distributary of the ancient Mohawk found its way into the valley that today holds Ballston Lake, and the cliffs in the lower part of the valley testify to its erosive power.  But as the Continental ice sheet retreated farther and farther to the north, the St. Lawrence Valley became ice-free and, as the volume of water in the proto-Great Lakes decreased, it was able to find its way to the Atlantic Ocean through that newly exposed, lower-elevation channel.

The distributary of the Mohawk that flowed through the area now occupied by Ballston Lake was deprived of its major source of recharge, and the lake was left behind as a remnant of its once-significant role in the drainage patterns of New York State.

So, the next time you are headed up the Northway — take a moment as you approach Exit 12 and observe the valley over which the road crosses. Let your imagination  carry you back 15,000 years and picture a powerful river sweeping down from the west, carrying with it melt water and sediments from the vast retreating ice sheet, bound for the great body of water called Glacial Lake Albany.

If you can envision them, perhaps a herd of wooly mammoths or a mastodon or two may lumber aside the rushing waters:  This was New York State in the twilight of the Great Ice Age.