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Book review

Hudson Valley’s formative years

Sunday, January 27, 2013
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Book review


When Washington Irving wrote about Rip Van Winkle, he worked with decades.

In their new book, “The Hudson Valley in the Ice Age,” Robert and Johanna Titus work with a timeline that stretches back hundred of millions of years.

Robert Titus is a paleontologist who teaches geology at Hartwick College and has written three books about Catskill geology. He and Johanna are co-authors of geology columns for Kaatskill Life, The Woodstock Times and the Register Star newspaper chains.

The book is organized geographically and topically. It opens near the 100-mile long, nearly one-mile deep Hudson Canyon, 100 miles southeast of New York Harbor. It finishes with chapters on the Albany Pine Bush and landslides on First Avenue in Schenectady and Delaware Avenue in Delmar.

‘The Hudson Valley in the Ice Age’

Authors: Robert and Johanna Titus

Published by: Black Dome Press, 224 pages

How much: $17.95

More info: The Tituses will speak at Mine Kill State Park, Blenheim-Gilboa Visitor’s Center (827-6111) at 1 p.m. Saturday; at the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center (872-0800) at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23; and at the Albany Institute of History & Art (463-4478) at 2 p.m., March 10. The first two events are free; the third is free with a museum admission.

Story of glaciers

Explaining glaciers presents a unique challenge. As the Tituses write, “Advancing glaciers . . . bulldoze their way across the landscape and destroy most of the clues that might have told us what had been there earlier.”

A similar problem occurs with the lakes that remain after a glacier has gone. After the Labrador ice sheet and Hudson Valley glacier retreated, they left behind glacial Lake Albany, which stretched from the vicinity of Glens Falls south to the present day Tappan Zee, between Rockland and Westchester counties.

The authors meet this challenge by using their geology training and field experience to, as they write, “see what is not there.” They describe what happened with clear writing, clever turns of phrase and maps that work with varying levels of effectiveness.

To demonstrate the time of the glaciers, they use a device, “the mind’s eye,” that lets readers move in and over the landscape without the physical constraints of flight. We walk close to glaciers in side valleys along the Hudson, swoop over the Hudson Canyon or Lake Albany and rise a hundred miles into the air to see the three great glaciers that covered North America.

The Tituses show how readers can see the Hudson Valley today by driving and hiking.

Each of the 35 chapters includes a mix of present day field work and believable re-creations of the past.

Local readers, hikers and cross-country skiers will be enlightened by a chapter on the Pine Bush Preserve. The dunes there, the authors explain, were once part of a glacial Lake Albany delta that formed in present day Rotterdam. As lake bed sand dried out, prevailing westerly winds shaped them into dunes. As vegetation returned, the dunes stopped moving.

Two other appealing sites to visit are close to Albany and Schenectady. The Elka Park area in the northern Catskills and High Falls in Philmont, Columbia County, offer easy-to-see clues of how glaciers shaped the landscape.

The Tituses explain how glacial shaping of the Hudson Valley influenced such landowners as the Roosevelts when they chose where to build and landscape their estate, Hyde Park.

I did not understand every term in the book. However, by re-reading, I now know many new, amazing facts about a region that I thought I already knew a lot about.

 
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