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A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.


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August 30, 2018

Clouds And Fog Over The Lake

And an admiring consideration of the amazing unique littoral zones around the lake

One calm evening earlier this month just before the day ended I set out in my kayak on Great Lake Sacandaga to watch the sunset.  As it turned out the sunset itself was not very spectacular, maybe the upper atmosphere had less pollution than usual or something, who knows.  But although the sky directly above the lake was clear, the horizon all around me was populated by fantastic clouds that rapidly changed appearance as the sun rapidly dropped in the west.

The Top Of A Big Thunderhead
The Top Of A Big Thunderhead

Like this one.  I didn’t realize what I was looking at until I saw a flash of lightning deep inside of it, a flash that was so far away that it made no sound that I could hear on the quiet lake.  This is the top of a thunderhead, which are enormous piles of moisture that begin close to ground and rise up into the stratosphere where the air gets thin, almost in outer space.  When they get close by where you are, you don’t see these lofty heights, the heads, you just get off the lake before you are pummeled with rain and struck by lightning.

This thunderhead was to the East, more or less opposite the sunset.  Since I was bobbing in my boat North and West of Albany, this thing must have been somewhere in Massachusetts over the Berkshire Mountains.  There was another one behind it to one side, I guess those folks who lived over there were having a wet evening.

Light And Dark
Light And Dark

As the sun set, the angle of light that hit the clouds steadily shifted, causing some puzzling effects.  Some nearer clouds would be shrouded in darkness while distant clouds behind them would glow.  Probably there are clouds behind me, between me and the sun, casting a shadow on these clouds, but they are not big enough to darken the distant clouds.

Heavenly Bridge
Heavenly Bridge

This bridge across the sky, oddly enough, was sitting to the South somewhere past the Mohawk Valley and over or beyond the Capital District.  The glow behind it is puzzling, the sun was setting way off to the right almost behind this formation.  Maybe down that way there was more stuff in the air full of charged particles that glowed when hit with light.

Red Glow Far Away
Red Glow Far Away

The red glow showed up pretty much everywhere on the horizon except where the sun was setting.  Earlier in the day we’d had a whole herd of thunderheads pass over the lake and nearby, my theory is that they cleaned the upper air of suspended particles but had not gotten around to scrubbing the distant atmosphere on the horizon.  That was also the reason why the lake was so quiet, after the thunderstorms there was no one out on the water in their noisy motorboats, just me.

To The Right Of The Setting Sun
To The Right Of The Setting Sun

Like I said, the sunset itself was less than spectacular, I mean it was nice, but usually there are better.  The actual spot where the sun was descending was hidden by clouds, but to the right, toward the East, the light managed to break through so it wasn’t completely obscured.  I mean it was nice enough but compare it to this sunset photo I took 3 years earlier:

Sunset, 2016 Seen From Across Lake Sacandaga
Sunset, 2016 Seen From Across Lake Sacandaga

Okay, you can’t always get jaw dropping spectacular like that but sometimes instead you can get a skyline full of nice subtle shades.  As the sun dropped behind the hills there seemed to be these strange alien creatures emerging from the clouds.  Like this one, which made me wonder if certain science fiction illustrators got their inspirations by gazing at the sky:

Strange Creature?
Strange Creature?

So the sunset was nothing special, but it was followed by Venus blazing spectacularly, and I think that was Jupiter following the sliver of Moon.  At first I thought Jupiter was Mars, but then I saw the unmistakably red wanderer appear off to my left as the light failed.  The stars and constellations emerged in the deepening darkness, and I paddled back to shore wishing I had left the porch light on at the cabin so I could see where the hell I was going.

A week or so earlier I had cast off at 4:30 in the morning to watch the sun rise and also watch the morning fog that often shrouds the Kenyon Islands, which are a short distance from our cabin a half hour to an hour paddle depending upon wind and waves.  It was a totally clear and still Monday morning and I got there fast.  Bats flitted around me, some zig zagging across the water probably looking for bugs, others traveling straight over my head like they had somewhere to go. Oddly. there didn’t seem to be much fog.

But I knew it was going to be one of those murderously hot days with temperatures in the 90s F.  I brought plenty of frozen bottles of water with me, along with a bottle of coffee and one of tea.  And sure enough, as the sun appeared above the hills I could see patches of fog starting to form as the sun’s first rays hit the moist air near the ground. 

Fog Forming Over The Islands
Fog Forming Over The Islands

Now, this was rather unusual.  What I’d normally seen in the past was that the fog would form before dawn and slowly dissipate into parches billowing over the water as the sun climbed into the sky.  But this day the fog was forming in the hills after the sun rose and spreading into the lower elevation lake with the rising sun.  As I approached the islands the day was clear and bright, but shortly after I landed visibility began to disappear.

Morning Fog Descending
Morning Fog Descending

The fog spread across the hills and the sun became less visible as it rose. Then the fog thickened above me like a low hanging cloud and then just like that came down and surrounded me.  I didn’t see it arrive, I think it just formed out of the air around me.

Fog Thickens With The Sun
Fog Thickens With The Sun

I don’t know much about how all this works, but I do know the fog is caused by the contrast between the temperature of the water and the temperature of the air.  I did note that the water was warm before the sun rose, which is probably why there was no fog before dawn. A bubble of warm air sits over the lake when the water is warm, it acts as a barrier that keeps cooler air off the lake.

And Then There Was Fog
And Then There Was Fog

Interestingly, the air was somewhat cool when I set out at 4:30, cooler than the water.  But we all knew from repeated predictions that this was going to be a scorching hot day, well into the 90s F on the lake and close to 100 F back in Albany.  So it seems that murderously hot day was all ready to start right on schedule at dawn and it pushed rapidly warming air over the lake.

The Fog Dissipates
The Fog Dissipates

The morning was well along when I finally started to see patches of blue sky through the fog.  The good part about this was that the fog protected me from that killer sun and kept me reasonably cool.  And really, when the fog vanished I should have headed back to the cabin and gotten out of that sun.

But no, foolishly I hung out at the islands and paddled around them looking for various landing spots.  You see, I was looking with fascination at the littoral zones, which is what we call that shore areas that are sometime covered with water and sometimes are not, a fancy name for the beach.  I stayed out doing this into the afternoon until I was seriously sunburned and had developed sunstroke, which took me three days to recover from.  Not smart.

The Bald Eagle Nest I’d Found Last Year
The Bald Eagle Nest I’d Found Last Year

Around midday I was looking for the bald eagle nest that I’d managed to find last year, but this year I couldn’t find it again.  I know they return to the same nests every year, and I knew about where I’d found it, but after three expeditions I had no luck.  I was worried that maybe the eagles had not returned, but on the last expedition I saw one of the bald eagles circling at the end of the island where I think it lives.  I didn’t bother to follow the bird because I know that they don’t let themselves be seen when they are near their nests.

A Sacandaga Littoral Zone
A Sacandaga Littoral Zone

The littoral zones around Great Sacandaga come in many varieties and are amazingly complex, possibly a unique collection.  This is because unlike most bodies of water the size of these zones and the times they appear are unpredictable.  That is, unpredictable to the living things that try to eke out an existence upon them, not so much to the humans that control the appearance of the littoral zones.

You see, the water levels of the lake are controlled by a dam, which in turn has been controlled since around the beginning of this century by the Canadian corporation Brookfield.  This outfit was handed ownership of the turbine on the dam along with the power to regulate lake levels as part of a corrupt privatization scheme.  These foreign privateers have no interest in the condition of the lake or in the people who live and vacation along its shores, they are only interested in having enough water stored in the lake to keep the turbines that they control generating a profit for them.

Thus in recent years the corporation has kept the water levels much too high, resulting in damage to the lake and causing unnecessary flooding in the upper Hudson River.  But this year the water levels were much lower than past years, perhaps because of growing political pressure forcing the Brookfield corporation to grudgingly act somewhat responsibly.  For this reason the littoral zones were the biggest I’d seen them in August for many years.

Littoral Zone Ends At The Trees
Littoral Zone Ends At The Trees

On the larger islands the littoral zones end where the trees begin.  Often one can see a well defined border where the sand of the littoral zone stops at a shelf of forest mulch.  Trees grow out of the mulch close to the border and bare driftwood is deposited on the sand along the border by the now retreated water.  Most of the trees on the islands, by the way, are young.  Before when the lake was flooded in 1930 these were all farmer’s fields.

But really, it occurs to me that one could make a lifetime study of these unique Sacandaga littoral zones.  The more I looked at them this trip the more I realized how complex they are and how little I understood.  What I do know is that these littoral zones are a harsh, unforgiving environment for the plants that manage to survive here, survive rather than thrive.

Some Dicey Looking Clouds
Some Dicey Looking Clouds

I had this notion of talking all about these littoral zones that I’d been observing, but that wasn’t going to work.  I would have had to talk coherently about the varieties of landscapes, the fields of rocks, the quicksand, the sandy beaches where people gather on weekends, the isolated pools, the variety of plants that show up in one place but not another and so much more.  I decided a better idea was to talk about all the clouds that I was gaping at.  That was an easier subject.

Seagull Convention, Great Lake Sacandaga
Seagull Convention, Great Lake Sacandaga

 

 


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