Hiking in Harlem Valley

When I get the chance, I sometimes watch House Hunters or House Hunters International and I’ve been noting the number of “buyers” who are looking for places close to a hiking trail. Since Hilltop House is so close to the formerly called Harlem Valley Rail Trail, I have been doing a bit of research.

cows grazing in distance on a summer day. Green fields, blue sky with clouds

View from one of the overpasses on the Harlem Valley Recreational (Rail) Trail

Seems that a year ago in June of 2014, the National Parks Service, which runs the rail trail, changed its formal name to ” Harlem Valley National Recreation Trail,” adding in the process, 452 odd miles in 11 states to a growing network of these trails. Their stated modus operandi was to get people connected with nature, but it surely must have a lot to do with getting us off our tooshes (how do you spell tooshes?) so we can get in shape end this obesity crisis in America.  Enough on that–I run a bed and breakfast and I love to bake, never mind eat!

So a little on hiking: I found a great website called hikingwebsite.com which posed all the basic issues, i.e. benefits of hiking, difference between a walk and a hike, what you have to think of in advance of hiking, so it was a nice simple way to acquaint yourself with getting into the go of it. One of the benefits they stress (though stress is something hiking alleviates) is being prepared–if it’s hot, taking water–if it’s going to get cold when later in the day, bringing a jacket–anticipating the time you’ll need, and bringing food along–or in the case of our Rec Trail that leads into Millerton, a town with a range of tasty eateries and great antiques, you might want to bring some money along.

Walking to Millerton (about 7 miles) will require a cabride back. But as the National Parks and Hiking website both tout, the road to Millerton connects the hiker with nature. It’s a truly beautiful tromp by dairy farms, cornfields, back woods, and wetlands. You might need bug spray. If you take our bikes–free to the first come first serve–you’ll get to and from Millerton, and have time enough to catch a bite too.

From a bite to a bit about our branch: In 1845 the railroad was voted by the NY legislature to be built from the thriving suburb of Harlem north to reach 125 miles into Chatham NY. The “Harlem Valley” as it was nicknamed, was chosen over the more precipitous Hudson River path, but the more affluent cities on the Hudson, including Poughkeepsie, raised private funds to build the Hudson River line. It was completed about the same time as the Harlem Valley line, and it became more popular.

The late 60s brought more highways, and after changes in rail ownership, the Harlem line from Chatham to Millerton was eliminated in 1976. Further cutbacks took the terminus back to Wassaic–then to Dover Plains–then reinstating it to Wassaic again. For all of the time we have been at Hilltop House, Wassaic has been the end of the Harlem line. In Dutchess County, The Rail Trail as it was known, and is still referred to, began where the rails ceased to be, right there in Wassaic, into our neck of the woods, Amenia, then on to Millerton.  When the trail pases into Columbia County where the Taconic State Park gains possession of where the rail beds were, then picks up briefly in Copake.

But we recommend getting out while you’re here at the bed and breakfast. There’s that great, short hike to Stone Church we’ve written about before, and even the walk to town to eat or antique can involve a nice hilly loop around so you don’t have to see things twice!

Come on up and Take a Hike!


How a Handy-dandy Weed-wacker Keeps Bears at Bay

A friend of Hilltop House Bed and Breakfast, a private gardener over in Litchfield County, works for a family on their estate. It was Friday, and her day for weed-wacking the pond. Now, in her several years of gardening there, she’d seen a number of singleton bears off in the treeline, or wandering the grounds; so when she spotted one last Friday, she didn’t think much of it and went about her early morning chores. Then out of the corner of her eye, another—a big male—joined the first mama bear, still, armed with her trusty heavy duty weed-wacker, our brave friend thought all would be fine.

That is until the line drawing of bear fuzzy duo began to circle the pond, or as our friend saw from her perspective—CIRCLE HER—she got a little more worried. Let it be said that our friend doesn’t carry a cell phone, she’s one of those who just won’t, and with the reception in the Litchfield Hills, who can blame her? She often totes a camera, but this day she didn’t, and after two complete circles –or should we say, being circled, she looked for that moment when she could inch herself over to the nearby vegetable garden, (somewhat) protected by a fence.

Alas, Mama and Papa Bear moved their beary-go-round of the garden enclosure. “Great, now they can have meat and vegetables,” she said feeling a little less vulnerable, enough to find her sense of humor. There wasn’t a great deal of protection, but our friend had rationed her gas in the weed-wacker and felt a bit safer within the pickets.

In all, it was a long two-hour standoff before the hairy duo lumbered away for some more accessible dining. Our friend, exhausted, left the garden, weed-wacker in hand and brought the story to us at hour b’n’b–(bear and another bear???). Mama and Papa went home and told Baby Bear of the one that got away. “She was about this big.” “No, she wasn’t; she was this big.”


Color Choices for Bed and Breakfast ! Vote now!

We need to paint the exterior of Hilltop House Bed and Breakfast, a daunting task, starting with what colors! I picked up some paint samples to try on the house. Getting away from the yellow. I love the yellow color of the house, but somehow feel it is too happy for this house. Maybe with the big maple gone, no longer casting her long beautiful leaf motifs on the shingles she’s changed her personality.         

hilltophouse_exteriorI was leaning towards some tone of green, but as I drove around Dutchess County or over to Litchfield County in Connecticut, I couldn’t really find any green houses that spoke to me.

I was lucky enough to catch a short consultation with a NYC architect who gave me some color suggestions, so I went to the hardware store today and picked up small cans of 6 different colors in the grey family—greenish, brownish, and warm greys. I feel I have to go with warm colors because the roof is brown.

Before we paint there are some repairs to rotted wood to be taken care of or replaced. We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Next year there will be NO big projects to take care of. (Knock on wood.) Not even medium-sized projects. Woohoo! We will basically be done and that’s a good thing. Still not an easy decision. paint1                                        Maybe our blog readers should vote? Personally, I’m leaning towards the darker colors. Of course every time I look at the swatches on the house, I change my mind. My garden designer likes the top color (1) which has a slight purple undertone. (2) has more of a brown undertone and (4) has a green undertone. Now that they’re up, (3) and (5) might be a little too cool and light for the house. I need to get the trim colors and door color on there too so I can see them together.

I wish I had more confidence in my choices, but running a bed and breakfast, one has to don the caps of many professions–cook, gardener, master cleaner, bookkeeper, bottle-washer, antique refinisher, and now interior/exterior designer. It’s another lesson for those who dream of becoming an inn keeper. It keeps me running.



Affects of Snow on Maple Syrup Production

All the snow that’s been piling up in the woods here in and around Amenia has added to the maple sugar farmers’ workload. Over the past decade or so, they’ve been tubing the trees; running lengths of clear tubing from one tree to another all to collect in big tanks at the terminus.

a winter forest with snow on ground. Trees are connected with tubes to collect syrup. There is snow on the ground

The tube collection method of syrup collection

But this year with snow remaining three or more feet high, there’s no way to get into the woods to set the systems up, or adjust them. Some of our local sugar farmers are resorting to the old spike and pail method–snowshoeing their way in, drilling, spiking and hanging them good ole sap pails. We’ve even heard the maple is overflowing. Sugar farming is very unpredictable, like the weather–ha, ha, and comes with its own window that opens then closes shut.

Most local sugar farmers are just starting to boil now, mid March; one said it was the latest start he’d ever witnessed. Usually up here in the Oblong Valley the sap flows from January and ends about March, but when the maple flow starts late, generally it ends late. A frozen layer on the ground can insulate the tree and prevent the buds from forming which is the clear signal to stop drawing sap. That buddiness is what detracts from the taste of the maple syrup. Cold never bothered those old maples–it’s the rain that will hamper the flow. I take that back about the cold–What they need to emit an abundant harvest–after all you need 30 gallons of sap to make  a gallon of finished maple syrup–is the weather we have right now, the freezing nights of about 20 degrees F and warmish days of about 40. For the sake of the maple syrup we cherish in our B’n B, let’s keep the cold going for a while. (Though I’ve just about had it with these freezing nights!)

For more information on Maple Syrup, see our Blog from March 27, 2014. And if you read this early enough, you can still catch the Sharon Audubon’s Maple Fest going on this Saturday March 21st Adults $6 and children $4–can catch a guided tour leaving every hour or so, that finishes up at the boil room. I’ve done it myself and I learned a lot about maple sugaring. It’s just across the border into Connecticut, about 15 minutes away. They suggest you call ahead to see if they’ll be boiling…Go to their website at sharonaudubon.org