Visions of a distant past

The Comeau today. (photo by Dion Ogust)

March 21, 14,781 BC — It’s the dawn of a new spring but this calendar date is little more than an irony in this, a late chapter of the Ice Age. We are the mind’s eye, the human imagination, and we are flying across an ice age landscape. We are about two thousand feet up in the air, just east of what someday will be Woodstock. We can look north and see that the whole of the Hudson Valley is filled with ice. That is the Hudson Valley glacier. It has slowly been moving south for a very long time, but we will soon see that things are changing. Next we look west, over and past the Woodstock site, and see that a sizable finger of ice has branched off of the Hudson glacier and advanced up the Saw Kill Valley. But, just short of Bearsville, it has come to a halt and it is beginning to melt. Beyond the ice, there is a shallow unimpressive pond. This is Lake Bearsville but it, so far, has in no way reached to its peak. Its greatest times lie ahead. We are witnessing the end of one of many chapters in the Ice Age. The climate had been cold and the ice had advanced, but now that is changing. The glaciation has reached a respite.

We rise up higher in the sky and gaze over the top of Overlook Mountain. Beyond is a surprise. There, where Echo Lake will someday be, lies an Alpine glacier. It’s something that should be in Switzerland, but it is here. The whole Echo Lake basin is filled with ice. And this glacier, unlike the ones below, is actively advancing. A stream of glacial ice is descending the valley below and entering the future Beaver Kill Valley. It has reached the someday site of the hamlet of Willow. It is a strange thing, but when low elevation glaciers begin to melt away, it is typically the case that Alpine glaciers begin a substantial advance. It’s still cold up high.

The Echo Lake glacier, as it grinds downhill, is carving the Echo Lake basin. It is also busy modifying the Beaver Kill Valley, making it much smoother and rounder than it had been. So much of the landscape that today’s Woodstock folk enjoy, is being created below us.