Sunday, December 14, 2014

Upriver Roads

Christmas is coming.  And with it a houseful of family members,  along with the need to feed them all.  An Oscar's Smokehouse ham will come in handy for that, so I headed up to Warrensburg to buy one today, and since I was that far north already, I went another few miles along the River Road, just to enjoy the view of the Hudson River.  Nice!

We've had some snow in Saratoga, but not nearly as much as fell on Warrensburg and on the surrounding areas.  The River Road along the west bank of the Hudson had been plowed (sort of), and here and there I passed private roads that still were covered in snow.  They looked so inviting, I wanted to turn off and follow where they went.  But I don't have four-wheel drive on my Toyota Corolla.

One of those private roads held a realtor's For Sale sign, so I did venture up it on foot, wondering what kind of house was hiding way back in these snowy woods.  Oh, what a perfect log cabin it was, tucked in among tall pines, and offering splendid views of the river.  Here was the house of my dreams!

Yep.  Dream on, my dear, for when I got home and looked it up on the realtor's website, I found they were asking around a half-million dollars for it.  Yes, that includes many acres of woods and over a thousand feet of river front, but still . . . .   Guess it will have to remain someone else's dream house.

Ah well, who needs to own private acres of river and forest land, when so many wonderful woodsy and watery spots are mine for the walking, any time I want?  In fact, I discovered a new place of remarkable beauty today, thanks to a tip from some friends, who told me about a spectacular waterfall just off the Wilton-Greenfield Road.  I stopped there on my way home from Warrensburg.

I could hear the rushing creek when I climbed out of my car, so I followed the sound as the rush grew into a roar, carefully planting my feet and clinging to trees as I clambered down the precipitous hillside.  Here the creek plunged steeply over a cliff before rolling and tumbling away at a gentler pace down the forested valley.  So beautiful!  So dramatic!  And mine, all mine, for FREE!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Snowy Day in Saratoga Springs

Once we got our sidewalk cleared and our cars dug out, the day was nothing but lovely.  I took all these photos behind the Dance Museum in the Saratoga Spa State Park.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Winter River Walk

No more paddling on the Hudson this year, now that ice has covered the bays.   But the wooded shores are still wonderful places to walk.  That ice is much too thin as yet to support a human's weight, but it was obvious that other creatures had been walking -- and sliding! -- across it.  I couldn't get close enough to examine these skids and tracks, but since the animal that made them came right up out of the water, I have to assume it was an otter.  Or two.  Gosh, but I sure would have loved to see those amusing creatures frolicking on the ice!

Enough snow lay across the forest floor to preserve the tracks of all the creatures who inhabit these wooded shores: coyotes, foxes, porcupines, squirrels, deer, and mice and more.   I have yet to lay eyes on any Fisher who patrols these woods for food, but their tracks reveal their frequent travels here.

This very large bird came soaring and wheeling way up high in the sky.  Due to the breadth of the wings that do not taper until the tips, I believe it was an eagle, sailing up and down the river's course in search of food.

A Tree Club Moss resembled a miniature Christmas tree.

The carmel-colored leaves and yellow flower bracts of Witch Hazel added a splash of color to the wintry woods.

Close to the shore, where fluctuating water levels create patches of open water,  new ice had formed with patterns as intricate as Waterford cut crystal.

As the shadows darkened in late afternoon, a low sun broke through the clouds and cast a dramatic golden light on the river islands.  Beautiful!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Break in the Weather

We had a few hours of clear blue sky this week between days that were soggy and gray, and lucky for me, my friend Sue had that day off from work to come play with me outdoors.  When we got to Moreau Lake on Friday morning, that sky was radiantly blue from horizon to horizon, and the ice-free lake was filled with noisy throngs of ducks and geese.  What a day to take a walk all around the lake!

We took our time wandering the wooded western shore, puzzling over big trenches some animal had plowed among the dry leaves of the forest floor (a big dog, to judge from the dirty pawprints leading into and out of the  mess it made).  By the time we passed the swimming beach and crossed the bridge to approach the back bay,  a rumpled blanket of clouds had begun to move in from the west, eventually to cover the sky completely.

But even though we had lost our sunshine, the day continued pleasant and calm, without a breath of wind to disturb the perfect reflection of mountains and trees in the still-open sections of quiet water. Sue calls this her Mt. Fuji, and I know exactly what she means.

That neutral gray sky proved to be great for viewing a trio of Bald Eagles high, high up in the air.  According to Sue (who can see far better than I can), the trio consisted of one adult and two juveniles, with the juveniles whirling about as if they were playing tag, she said.  I had to take her word for that.  I could barely see three tiny indeterminate specks, which I struggled to differentiate from the other black specks that constantly float across my disintegrating vision.  But I shared her elation, nevertheless, at having a three-eagle day.

It was also a many-hundreds-of-geese kind of day, with honking hordes sending up a great clamor from time to time and then inexplicably falling silent once more.  And then, here came a solitary Bufflehead drake, a speck of white against the dark water, trailing a wake, not making a sound.

There remained enough snow along the shore to capture the trails of animals who had passed this way.  The small size of these prints and the shoreline habitat suggested immediately that these tracks were laid down by a muskrat making its way from its den to the water.

My guess was immediately confirmed when the creature's trail reached the once-slushy frozen surface of the bay, which captured the tracks of the muskrat's skinny tail as well as those of its dainty feet.

Parts of the bay were covered with a milky-colored opaque ice, which displayed numerous branching "spiders" of darkly transparent ice, so clear that they looked as if they were filled with open water instead of the glass-clear ice that filled those branching arms.  The solidity of this clear ice became even more evident when we could see the track of a waddling goose move directly across the dark ice.

My friend Ed Miller has told me that these ice spiders are caused by snow weighing down the ice cover and causing water to flow up through weak spots in the ice.  I'm not completely satisfied with this explanation, especially when we've had so little snow covering the surface of the ice.  At any rate, there were certainly a lot of these ice formations all over the back bay's ice.

We found a few other mysterious events on our walk this day, including small beeches completely stripped of their bark by some unknown creature that left no tracks (mice? birds?),  and also this pretty little cocoon or egg case attached to a Shadblow twig.  I'm assuming the maker was some kind of insect, but the vessel was so cunningly made, I could imagine some tiny fairyland potter turning it out on his miniature potting wheel.

It also seemed there was magic at work behind the various ice formations we found along the shore.  Of course, we know that all these intricate structures can easily be explained by the laws of physics, but nevertheless, we still found their beauty enchanting.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Back to Brown

 Well, that snow didn't last long! It rained a little, warmed up for a day, and now we're back to cold air and bare brown earth. There wasn't much about the day today to tempt me outdoors, except that I hadn't been out for a walk since before Thanksgiving, what with holiday feasting and then hostess duties over the weekend.  So I went to Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa.  There are many nice trails there, through several habitats, from sandplain to piney woods to woodland pond.

Entering the preserve through an open wet meadow (now frozen), the first thing I noticed (see photo above) was a whole miniature forest of baby White Pines in the middle of what I always think of as a huge wildflower field.  The photo below shows the same meadow in summer, full of goldenrods, bonesets, daisies, Black-eyed Susans, and other flowers tall enough to hide those little pines.  I'm afraid those pines will soon grow tall and begin to shade out this wonderful wildflower profusion.

As for today, there certainly weren't any wildflowers blooming to add any color to the landscape, only the tawny browns of fallen leaves and the dark green of the conifers.  Even the sky grew colorless, as clouds moved in.

But it was still pleasant to walk the trails at an easy pace, breathing the sweet cold air and admiring the swirling patterns of ice on the woodland pond that lies at the center of this nature preserve.

Here and there I found little patches of green -- such as these ruffly evergreen leaves of Dalibarda -- to remind me of what a fine place this is for hunting wildflowers during growing season.

Tucked in among the glossy purple-tinged leaves of Wintergreen were fat red berries that would cling to the plants all winter.

Here was a colorful surprise!  A bright-yellow rosehip still clung to its thorny branch.  What an unexpected color, since rosehips are usually red.  But what else could this be?

Update:  My friend Lois Klatt from the Thursday Naturalists group had suggested what else this could be, and I believe she is absolutely right.  This looks exactly like the yellow fruit of Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense), a prickly plant of sandy soils.  A survey of Google Images confirmed Lois's suggestion.   Thanks, Lois.

A young willow tree along the path bore these galls that look very much like furry pinecones.  They are caused by a larva that will winter over within the gall, escaping in spring by pushing open the scales of the gall.

It's always a treat to find Earthstar fungi growing on the sand, accompanied by these tiny Pixie Cup lichens.  Curls of Sweet Fern leaves were scattered across the same ground.

Although Sweet Fern loses many of its leaves in winter, clusters of these graceful mahogany-colored curls remain on the ends of the branches,  where tightly closed male catkins also cling to the stems, already in position to puff out with pollen when spring arrives.  Here's another delightful thing about Sweet Fern:  even brown and dry as they are, those leaves are still filled with fragrant resin and will release their delicious scent when rubbed between your fingers.

How many times have I posted photos of these Virgin's Bower seed heads?  Probably as many times as I've stopped to delight in those gracefully curling tendrils  of feathery fluff.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Album

On Thanksgiving Day 2014, I was thankful for so many things.

For the newly snow-cleared roads over the mountains on our way to join our dear family in Vermont.

For the gracious hospitality of our hosts Keith Balter and Liz Young, who opened their beautiful mountainside home to dozens of family members and friends.

(Their converted barn serves as a spacious gathering place for spectacular feasts, as well as comfortable accommodations for overnight visitors.)

For the deep soft snow that enhanced an already gorgeous landscape of mountains, valleys, meadows, and trees.

For a kitchen-full of excellent cooks and willing helpers who prepared the delicious many-coursed Thanksgiving meal.

(Our darling daughter Jane [white apron] and her sister-in-law, our excellent hostess Liz Young)

For long sloping hillsides, groomed by our host for optimal sledding so that guests could work up a good appetite in the clear cold air and sparkling snow.

For the delighted shrieks from our son Peter and his children as they sailed down the hill.

For my son-in-law's brother, Keith Balter, turkey carver extraordinaire and incredibly generous host, who year after year has brought our multitudinous families together to celebrate Thanksgiving under his most accommodating roof.

For the Thanksgiving feast, an amazing array of delicious food lovingly prepared by many hands and happily devoured by many thankful diners.

For the long comfy couches and big-screen TV for watching the games and resting up after the feast.

For the clear cold blue light of evening, where I could stand out under a crescent moon and gaze at the sky as well as the beckoning golden light spilling out of the windows onto the snow.  In all that splendid silence,  I breathed my prayers of gratefulness.

With my loving husband beside me all these years (and this day was his birthday!), with all our children and their children and in-laws gathered for this special celebration,  and with so many amiable friends delighting in each others' company here in this special place, how could I not feel blessed?