As I work on this week's column, snow continues to fall outside of my windows. I can't complain; it sure beats the rain.
I've spent most of the past week skiing through the local woods and enjoying the late season's considerable snowpack.
Sure, I've already wet a line or two and car-topped the guideboat for a ride around town.
However, a recent ski trip through the St. Regis Canoe Area produced sparse sign of open water and little hope of any soon to come. Winter has most area lakes and ponds solidly secured, and ice-out will be late to come.
Although the appearance of sap buckets on the maples indicates that spring has arrived, there remains enough snow around to argue the fact.
Tapping a healthy sap
As fresh steam sweetens the spring air of sugar bushes across the region, researchers have finally caught up with the science behind the syrup.
Recent studies indicate that maple syrup contains more than 20 compounds that support health, including 13 that were first-time discoveries.
Several of these compounds are known to have anti-cancer, anti- bacterial and anti-diabetic properties. The Journal of Medicinal Food reports maple syrup has been shown to prevent diabetes and slow the growth of cancerous cells.
A study at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi indicates that maple syrup may be more effective against brain, prostate and lung cancer than broccoli, blueberries, carrots and tomatoes.
Maple syrup is rich in such nutrients as thiamine, manganese and zinc, and high in antioxidants that can help to slow the aging process, ward off Alzheimer's disease and aid proper digestion.
Manganese, a strong antioxidant is linked to energy production, proper thyroid function, sex hormones, balancing blood sugar levels and the absorption of calcium. It can also protect against free radicals.
Koreans call maple the "tree that is good for the bones" due to its high calcium content.
Studies indicate that just one ounce of pure maple syrup provides 46 percent of the daily requirement of zinc. This essential mineral helps protect the heart, controls diabetes, aids in wound healing and helps to alleviate the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Both manganese and zinc are powerful immune response boosters.
Hike for the health of it
Although the woods are still full of snow and mud season looms in the near future, it is never too early to plan for spring hikes.
For the first few weeks of snow-free woods, the trails will remain wet and soft, especially in the upper elevations. However, there are plenty of other opportunities to get out and enjoy the spring woods.
Throughout the region, there are numerous old tote roads and fire truck trails that offer interesting terrain and outstanding opportunities for spring solitude.
Hiking is possibly the easiest, most affordable and likely the most easily accessible outdoor activity in the region and it offers some amazing health benefits.
Hiking benefits mental as well as physical health, including weight control, preventing heart disease, decreasing hypertension or high blood pressure, improving arthritis, relieving back pain, attitude adjustment, inquisitiveness and empathy with your companion.
A 1904 report to the state Forest, Fish and Game Commission stated the following:
"The hills have the health-giving qualities of the soft woods, with their fragrant germ-destroying odors, the efficacy of which in curing disease is universally admitted.
"The air of this region is pure, clear, humid and at all times invigorating, forming one of the attractions and sources of pleasure. As soon as the sun lowers in the west, the temperature drops and a hot day turns to a cool evening.
"People from inland places who are suffering from insomnia
generally experience little or no trouble in obtaining refreshing sleep with its resultant health and strength."
Hiking can even make you smarter and younger. Research indicates that physical exercise increases cerebral blood flow and levels of brain-cell growth hormones that have a positive effect on mood-altering brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters.
In a recent study, the new neurons created by exercise cropped up in only one place, the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that controls learning and memory.
This region controls processes of "executive functioning," including decision-making, multitasking and planning, which are some of the first skills to erode as we age.
Researchers have discovered that exercise helps to restore the hippocampus to a healthier, "younger" state.
"It's not just a matter of slowing down the aging process," says Arthur Kramer, a psychologist at the University of Illinois. "It's a matter of reversing it."
The hippocampus also helps the brain match names to faces, another task that many people find harder as they grow older.
"One of the best ways to maximize the brain is through exercise, movement," explained Dr. John J. Ratey, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, "Everybody feels better after exercise. There's a reason for it."
Southwick Associates has announced the results of their first-ever fly fishing market survey.
The report indicates sales of fly fishing gear have continued to show impressive gains, with 59.3 percent of anglers reporting they bought fly fishing tackle in 2010. That is an increase of 4.1 percent over 2009.
The survey indicates that flies were the most commonly purchased type of fly fishing gear, accounting for 60.9 percent of all transactions.
Temple Fork Outfitters was the most-purchased fly rod (15.4 percent), Orvis was the most purchased reel (23.5 percent) and trout remains king, sought by 66.3 percent of dedicated fly fisherman.
... and gun
When Herkimer County executives decided to raid the county's contingency fund last year, they were really taking a gamble. They wanted to loan the money to the Remington Arms Company in Ilion to allow the manufacturer to retool their shop. At the time, most industry experts gasped at the prospect, since New York is not exactly known as a "gun friendly" state.
However, it appears the unlikely gamble paid off when Freedom Arms, Inc., the holding company that owns such established brands as Remington, Marlin, Harrington & Richardson, New England Firearms, L.C. Smith, Parker, Bushmaster, DPMS/Panther Arms, Dakota Arms, Advanced Armament Corp and more decided to relocate the majority of their manufacturing base to Ilion.
Remington, which began in upstate New York in 1816, will now provide production facilities for all Marlin products after the company relocates from their current base in North Haven, Conn.
Remington agreed to buy Marlin in late 2007 and acquired it in 2008. At the time, the company's North Haven plant had 345 employees, while a Marlin plant in Gardner, Mass. had 225 workers.
John M. Marlin, who worked in Hartford for Colt during the Civil War, founded Marlin. In 1870, Marlin hung out his sign on State Street in New Haven, manufacturing his own line of revolvers and derringers.
Eventually, Marlin's brands included Marlin, Harrington and Richardson, New England Firearms and L.C. Smith.
The legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley, who toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show throughout the 1880s, used a Marlin lever-action .22 repeater rifle.
The move, supported by $1.5 million in grants from the Empire State Development Corporation - $200,000 in 2010 electricity cost subsidies and a state Office of Community Renewal earmark of a $750,000 New York State Community Development Block grant for the project - will bring in an additional 100 manufacturing jobs.
The 194-year-old Ilion firearms plant, which is the Mohawk Valley's largest employer and the nation's longest continuous manufacturer, will also receive $5.9 million investment in building improvements, equipment and machinery over the next two years.