Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Beautiful Season

Go for a drive or a hike or a paddle right now, or just take a walk in a park, and it's easy to see why thousands of folks from all over the world tour northeastern North America during autumn. Everywhere we go these next couple of weeks, the trees have taken on chrysanthemum colors, and those colors are doubly gorgeous when amplified by water reflections.  I went up to Lens Lake today, where the colors are quite a bit further advanced than around Saratoga Springs, and I found the beauty there just breathtaking.

Even the drive to Lens Lake was a scenic wonderland.  Here's the historic Bow Bridge over the Sacandaga River at Hadley, which I crossed on my way to Stony Creek.

When I reached Stony Creek I turned west to climb a mountain road that would take me to Lens Lake.  The beauty along the road was whetting my desire to see the beauty of the lake.

When I reached the lake shore, I just stood and gazed at the mountains, the forest, the sky, and the quiet water reflecting it all.  What a perfect day for a paddle!

I soon set out across water as smooth as silk, with a bright sun warming my back.  Even the sky was putting on quite a show, with wisps of white cloud streaming across the radiant blue of the sky.

Brilliant Red Maples blazed from the forest, and out on the bog mats, white tufts of Cottongrass danced and bobbed as if to some music that only they could hear.

Lens Lake is remarkable for the acres and acres of bog mats that cover its surface, with narrow channels among the mats that allow a small canoe to explore among them.

The mats are covered with sphagnum mosses in colors of red and gold and green.  Wild cranberries flourish here, nestling their ruby-red fruits among the moss, and stately stalks of spent Pitcher Plant flowers tower above their clusters of tubular leaves.

I've seen Pitcher Plant leaves in many different colors: yellow and orange and green as well as red.  But here on Lens Lake, I never find them in any other color but red.  And wow, what a deep ruby red they are!

Golden sphagnum covered this old stump, where also sprouted some stalks of Marsh St. Johnswort, stems and leaves turned red.

After passing this moss-covered stump, I turned to see it backlit by the sun, and it glowed like panes of stained glass.

When I reached a quiet bay near the far end of the lake, I rested my paddle and just drifted along, transported by the beauty of these trees reflected in the mirror-still water.

Before returning to my launch site, I slipped into some quiet backwaters that were sheltered behind tall pines.

Here I found beauty of more muted colors, dappled by shade and silvery light.

I loved the curve of this moss-covered log, strewn with confetti-colored leaves.

Here were the holy trinity of Adirondack trees:  the glowing Red Maple, the snowy-white Paper Birch, and the graceful green-needled White Pine.  A small American Beech sneaked into the photo,

Monday, October 5, 2015

New Springs at the Spa

I love that the marvelous landscapes of Lake George or the Adirondack Mountains are just a few miles away from my home in Saratoga Springs.  But I really don't have to go that far for some beautiful walks in nature.  The Saratoga Spa State Park is an easy walk from my downtown home, and it's there I went on this bright sunny day today.  (Although I confess I did drive to get there today, to save some stress on my still-recovering knee.)

Spa Park is better known for its mineral springs, golf course, swimming pools, and performing arts center than it is for wild natural beauty, but it does have a lovely short trail that follows a little stream down a forested ravine.  It's called the Ferndell Ravine, a beautifully descriptive name for this cool, dark,  quiet, fern-lined sanctuary.  I walk there often, and today I was surprised to discover a couple of pretty new springs right beside the trail.

As soon as I start my descent from the road, I'm enclosed by the hush of the forest, a silence broken only by the songs of birds, the occasional chirp from a chipmunk, and the babble of a tiny brook that runs beside the trail.

As I approached a rustic little bridge, I noticed a bubbling pottery bowl set in stones by the side of the trail. I later learned that this is a real spring, with water piped from the depths of the earth, but that it has not been certified as safe for drinking.  Thirsty dogs, however, would find this a fine spot for quenching their thirst with mineral water.

Then, as I started across the bridge, I could see a second new spring, this one set at a height that encouraged human consumption, with steps leading down to a graceful granite fountain.

Except for a few pale-purple puffs of Heart-leaved Aster on the wooded banks rising each side of the trail, I found very few flowers in bloom today.  But I did see some beautiful berries.  Here are the porcelain-white, black-dotted fruits of White Baneberry, borne on pedicels of a startling red.

Speaking of startling red, these scarlet fruits of a Jack-in-the-Pulpit blazed from a shady bank, momentarily set alight by a stray ray of sunlight piercing the tall pines and maples and basswoods that lined the steep sides of the ravine.

Much more demure were these pretty blooms of Herb Robert, a faithful little wild geranium that stays with us from spring through summer and into autumn, sometimes even after frost.

Not in flower, but with leaves as colorful as flowers, was this branch of Hobblebush sprawling across a shady high bank across the stream.

My friend Drew Monthie has pointed out that this cool ravine is one of the very few places he has found this species of viburnum (Viburnum lantanoides) south of the Adirondack region.  It's definitely a cold-habitat denizen, which amazes me, since it already bears its leaf and flower buds at the ends of its branches.  I  often wonder how these buds can survive our sub-zero winters, covered as they are with only the thinnest coat of fuzz.

As I stepped onto an open road from the shady trail, blinking in the bright sunlight, my eye was caught by the fluttering of this pale-yellow butterfly, busy among the blooms of Blue Vetch.

Before retracing my steps back up the ravine to my car, I strolled a few yards down the road to visit one of my favorite springs in the park, one that lies close to the ground and is hidden behind a large stand of tall Phragmites.  It's immediately obvious that this spring is rich in both iron and lime, from the blood-red color of the watercourse that has carved a trench from the source across a spreading tufa of hardened lime deposits.

It's amazing to think that this water contains such a quantity of dissolved minerals, since the drops that arc upwards from its source underground are as clear as crystal, shining like diamonds today as they glittered in the bright sun.  Almost looks good enough to drink, doesn't it?  And it IS!  I cupped my hands and drank my fill of its tingly salty icy-cold goodness before heading on my way home.

A Beautiful Day for the Bog

My friend Sue and I canceled our plans for a paddle on Sunday because of the wind, and we opted to visit a bog instead, stopping off in Lake George on our way to the bog to enjoy a picnic lunch on this beautiful beach.

We had hoped to find the Tamaracks in their golden autumn garb, but found them still soft and green when we stepped through a hedge right onto the bog, all spongey with mounds of sphagnum and brilliant with various reds from the maples and blueberry shrubs.

One of the first sights to welcome us onto this bog were dozens of stalks of Cotton Grass, all dancing and bobbing in the breeze.

We call this marvelous place a bog, and it certainly supports many plants that we would expect to find in a bog: Tamarack and Black Spruce trees, Highbush Blueberry and Leatherleaf shrubs, Pitcher Plants and Small Cranberry, Bog Rosemary and Sheep Laurel and more, including several bog-loving orchids.  But it also is watered by a running creek and not solely by rainwater and snowmelt, which would be the case for a true bog.  Perhaps we should call this site a poor fen.  Whatever kind of wetland it is, it sure was beautiful today.

The leaves of Black Huckleberry shrubs blazed as if aflame when lit by the sun.

The glowing red orbs of ripe cranberries were actually hard to find, camouflaged as they were by the deep scarlet of the sphagnum they rested on.

The sphagnum came in many colors, deepest red to rosy pink to vibrant green.

Tucked in among those mounds of moss were these glowing green Pitcher Plants with their scarlet veining.  Their pitchers were full from recent rains, but I didn't peer in to see if any insects had been trapped within.

We found many of these tiny orange mushrooms sprouting up from the sphagnum mat.

And here was a pale rose mushroom, arrayed against moss of a deep ruby red.

We found a number of Arrow Arum plants, each with bulbous fruits that were starting to bury themselves in the moss, where the seeds would produce new plants.

When we visit this bog in mid-July, we are met with the glorious sight of both Grass Pink Orchids and White Fringed Orchids, which abound here in the summer.  Now the only evidence we could find of that marvelous display were a few spent stalks of White Fringed Orchid, still bearing seed pods.

Actually, it was Sue who found those orchid stalks and the Pitcher Plants.  My injured knee was beginning to pain me from the effort of moving in heavy boots through sucking wet sphagnum, so I found a large cushiony mound of sphagnum and lay back for a rest in my bog-style Barcalounger.  Thankfully, I was wearing a Goretex coat or I would have been soaked.  As it was, it felt like heaven!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Scenes from an Adirondack Autumn Afternoon

Cloudy, windy, and cold this morning.  Not a good day for the paddle I had planned.  And because my knee was paining me bad, not a good day for a hike, either.  How about a nice drive up the shore of Lake George, then?  Ah, now, that sounds good!  So my husband and I drove up past Lake George Village to Hague, enjoying the views of probably the most beautiful lake in the world, as well as surrounding forests just beginning to turn their gorgeous autumn colors.  When we reached the parking area for the Tongue Mountain trails, a scenic spot where a water-filled quarry perfectly reflects the surrounding rocks and trees, we parked and got out  to explore the surrounding woods.

Just across the road from the parking area, we could hear the roar of a waterfall tumbling down the mountain and coursing through the woods. A short walk brought us out on the rocky banks of a rushing stream.

So lovely!  So peaceful! So quintessentially Adirondacks!

I could have stayed here all afternoon.

I can't quite picture what forces caused this tree trunk to curve so dramatically.

After enjoying both the drama and the tranquility of the coursing stream, we crossed the road again to walk a ways on a forested trail that passed beneath towering White Pines.

Our footsteps quieted by millennia of fallen pine needles, we soon arrived at a bridge that crossed a stream.

Well, it used to be a stream!  Beavers have built a dam directly below the bridge, and the water upstream has spread out to form a pond.  A lovely, quiet scene, with streamside maples turning a beautiful red and gold.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Quiet Lake, Shoreline Beauty

We are having rain today at last, and predictions are for heavy rains all night.  This is rain we desperately need, and I'm glad to have it.  Nevertheless, it sure has been lovely to have one gorgeous blue-sky day after another this entire month.  I went for a walk around Moreau Lake last Friday, and I loved the serene quiet of the place before the bustle of Nature Fest the next day.  There was not a single boat on the water, and the only people I saw  on the shore were an elderly couple sitting on a bench, holding hands.  So nice!

As the riotous summer days on the lake wind down, so too does the riot of colorful flowers blooming along the shore.  At least, that's how it appears from a distance.  But walking along where the sand meets the vegetation,  I'm amazed by how many beautiful plants are still blooming away, or else have just as colorfully gone to seed.

The asters, of course, are still in their glory, and probably the most numerous species of aster here on the open sand is the thickly blossomed Heath Aster.

Up a little higher, where the sand meets the trees of the woods, I find some lovely clusters of Smooth Aster, a pretty pale-purple species with smooth heart-shaped leaves that clasp the stem.  Sharing this shady part of the shore with the aster were curving stems of Bluestem Goldenrod.

Although many of the Boneset plants are now past their prime, a few still hold some blooms that are fresh enough to offer their nectar and pollen to bees and other insects.

The same goes for the goldenrods, most of them spent by now, except for a surprising cluster of pretty bloom like this on a patch of Grass-leaved Goldenrod.

Almost hidden by the tangle of taller plants, the pretty little flowers of Small-flowered Gerardia can still be found blooming on the sandy shore.

The stems of Lady's Thumb have turned even pinker now than their spikes of pink seeds, adding quite a bit of color to the floral mix along the shore.

Where I found the sunny little blooms of Nodding Bur Marigold a week ago, I now find their flower heads gone to seed and living up to what their name describes by nodding downward.

I think Wild Mint is among the most persistent bloomers of all, still producing whorls of tiny pale-purple flowers in the axils, even after their very minty smelling leaves have begun to tatter.

I had to peer REALLY close to discern that these tiny yellow flowers were those of Canada St. Johnswort  and not those of Dwarf St. Johnswort , which also can be found on these shores. The fine leaves and the dark-red seed capsules helped to clinch the identification.  Such an exquisite little flower!

How exquisite, too, were these ruby-red Bittersweet Nightshade berries, glowing like tiny Christmas-tree lights amid a tangle of multiple blooms.

Not exactly a flower, but just as pretty as one is this Toothed Flatsedge, which thrives on the sandy shores of Moreau Lake.  I love its green and gold colors and the fine herringbone pattern of its seedheads.

There is only a single Black Tupelo tree along the entire shore of Moreau Lake, back bay included, and that single specimen has been gnawed and girdled by beavers.  The tree still stands, and it still produces glossy green leaves in summer, but those leaves turn color much earlier now than they would on a healthy tree.  And when Black Tupelo leaves turn color,  they have no rival for the brilliance of their autumn foliage.

The quiet of this day extended to the lake's animal inhabitants, too, for I never heard a single goose nor saw a single dragonfly or butterfly, either.  But I did see this Pickerel Frog leaping along the shore and counted myself very lucky when the frog decided to sit very still for its portrait.

Probably the most exciting moment of my walk came when I saw this fuzzy cluster of Wooly Alder Aphids on a bough of a Speckled Alder shrub.  OK, you say, big deal.  You see those all the time, don't you?  Yes, I do see clusters of Wooly Alder Aphids quite often, but never have I found a cluster where the majority of the aphids were winged.

Look closely:  almost all of these have wings.  That means that these aphids are nearing the end of their  life cycle, which started last summer when a single winged female  hatched from an egg laid on a Silver Maple tree.  That winged aphid landed on this alder twig and began to produce wingless clones of herself.  These clones, all females, in turn produced more female clones.  Etc., etc. Their season of feeding on alder sap now nearing its close, these wingless female clones now begin producing winged aphids, including some males, which can fly away to find another Silver Maple tree, where they will mate and lay eggs that will winter over on the maple bark to produce a new generation next spring.  Here is a great site with even more information about this fascinating and virtually harmless creature.

I think this whole process is just amazing!  And I feel really lucky that I got to see this part of the aphids' lifecycle.  I just never know what I'm going to find on a walk around the lake.