Monday, October 20, 2014

Walking Another Ridge

The hollow-point bullets are what changed our plans.  On Sunday, Sue and I had planned to walk the  high Western Ridge Trail overlooking the Hudson in Moreau Lake State Park.  We'd hiked there a year ago to spectacular overlooks and were looking forward to repeating that beautiful hike.  (You can click on this link to see just how beautiful it was.)

We remembered it was opening day of deer-hunting season, but I wasn't worried because it was black-powder hunting only, and black-powder hunters tend to be very careful shooters, not wanting to waste their single shots on hikers instead of deer.  But then we met a hunter in the parking lot, an amiable guy who was more than happy to talk about his sport and show us how he loaded his gun.  I just wish he hadn't mentioned how the hollow points of his bullets spread open to cause major damage inside the deer, because that's when I felt Sue start to cower in the direction of her car.

"Um . . ., think we should hike in a safety zone instead?" I suggested.  So we changed our plans and chose another ridge:  the Red Oak Ridge Trail within the No Hunting area of the park.  If you  stand at the lake's boat-launching site and look to the mountains that rise to the west, this trail runs about midway up that slope, with a few steep spots but mostly a gentle up-and-down hike through a beautiful mixed hardwood forest.

Sure, there are some Red Oaks along this ridge, some White Oaks and Chestnut Oaks, too, but this time of year it's the yellow-leaved trees like Sugar Maple and Shagbark Hickory that cast a golden glow throughout these woods, even when most of those leaves lie scattered across the forest floor.

Another remarkable aspect of this trail is the presence of rocky outcroppings throughout the forest.

Some of those outcroppings are steep and towering, many of them covered with interesting mosses, ferns, and lichens.

We took a short detour to visit an area of the woods where a series of caves offer shelter to woodland creatures like porcupines.  I'm not sure of the exact geological makeup of these rock formations, but I would guess limestone or marble because of the presence of so many calciphile plants inhabiting the rocks.  In this photo, for example, there is a very healthy patch of Walking Fern, those spiky leaves covering the mossy boulder just to the left of the cave opening.

Another indicator of a limey soil was the abundance of Maidenhair Fern, still holding on to its delicate lacy green leaves, which will shrivel and disappear after frost. (The pink leaves here are those of Maple-leaved Viburnum.)

We also found patches of the lime-loving moss, Rhodobryum roseum, covering the surface of some rocks. This aptly named Rose Moss looks like a carpet of tiny flowers.  Sharing its patch in this photo is another lime-loving plant, Sweet Cicely, which will bear tiny white flowers in the spring.

I can never remember how to distinguish between Long Beech and Broad Beech Ferns, but I am pretty confident that this is one or the other, with its final pair of leaflets angled backwards.  It is normally a pretty green, but this ghostly white of its dying phase looked quite beautiful against the colorful fallen leaves.

Most of the Indian Pipes we found in the woods were desiccated and black, but this cluster had stems of the most remarkable pink.  Usually, Indian Pipe has stems as ghostly white as its terminal blooms, shown here turning black.

I was excited to show Sue these interesting Bigtooth Aspen leaves, bright yellow but each with a little patch of green emanating from its midrib.  That green patch is caused by a tiny moth larva within the leaf emitting a chemical that prolongs the life of the chlorophyll in the leaf, allowing the larva to continue feeding on living leaf tissue until it is ready to pupate.  I learned about this fascinating phenomenon just last year on a hike with friends, and if you click here you can go to my post (The "Undead" in the Autumn Woods) where I link to a very informative site explaining the process.

The Red Oak Ridge Trail eventually descends the ridge to come out near the back bay of Moreau Lake, where a flock of noisy Canada Geese were restlessly moving about on the water.  Sue studied the flock with her binoculars and discovered a solitary Bufflehead swimming amid all the geese.

Rain, wind, and a threatened frost will soon strip many of the remaining leaves from the trees, but the Highbush Blueberries always end their season in a stunning blaze of glory.  Sue and I were hurrying to drive out of the beach area before park staff locked the road gate, but we just had to stop awhile and gaze at the splendor of this gorgeous shrub.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Season's Finale

This is IT, folks!  That's what the forecasters are telling us today about fall foliage season, urging us to get out there NOW if we want to feast on autumn's glory, since the colors are fading fast.  Well, I never need anyone else's urging to get outdoors, but I did hear it might rain tomorrow, so off to the river I went today.  And yes, it was really lovely!

 I entered the Hudson where it flows behind an island above the Sherman Island Dam, with West Mountain rising behind the hills on the far side of the river.  When I first set out, clouds covered the sky, but the forested hillsides and riverbanks seemed to glow with their own golden light.

By the time I had explored the coves that lie behind the island and then headed out toward the open river, the sky had cleared to a brilliant blue, and sunlight set those forested hillsides truly ablaze!

Yes, that autumn color was lovely, but this year it seems to be mostly yellows, oranges, and russets, with very little of the blazing red that in other years has punctuated this colorful mix.  But here and there, tucked back in the river's quiet coves, I did find a few spectacular flashes of scarlet, such as this low-hanging bough of a young Red Maple.

In another cove, this lipstick-red tree blazed forth from its surrounding thicket of golden beeches and emerald pines, its spectacle doubled by its reflection in the dark still water.

As I paddled closer, I noted the drooping oval leaves and silvery-gray buds that identified this tree as a Flowering Dogwood.  I had never before noticed this tree tucked in back here,  but I will be sure to return to view it next spring, when its boughs will be filled with beautiful white flowers.  We don't find many Flowering Dogwoods in our Saratoga County woods, since this is almost the northern limit of its natural range.  But as in the cases of Sassafras and Black Tupelo, this river valley appears to provide enough of a moderated microclimate to allow these more southern species to actually thrive.

Before leaving the river, I stopped to climb up onto my favorite island, where moss-covered rocks are set among surrounding trees, creating a shaded chamber as peaceful and lovely as any chapel.  I often sit in this quiet place, breathing the fragrance of oak and pine and offering prayers of gratefulness that such a place is mine to inhabit.

Here in this enchanted space, even the bare rocks offer a place for dainty flowers to grow.  And what a treat it was, to find this Pale Corydalis still in bloom, plump little pink-and-yellow blossoms dangling among its lacy green foliage.

Chestnut Oaks thrive here, too, and today their leaves were glowing with vivid colors.  Yellow, orange, green, red and violet -- all the colors of autumn contained on each single leaf!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Autumn Light

In Autumn, even when the day is dark, the world seems lit from within.  Some scenes from a walk along Spier Falls Road:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Three Days, Three Adirondack Lakes

Pyramid Lake in Essex County
Each Columbus Day Weekend finds me up at Pyramid Life Center on Pyramid Lake, an absolute jewel of an Adirondack lake that offers breathtaking vistas at every hour of the day.  Because I was there to help this retreat center prepare its facilities for the winter, I didn't spend much time paddling the lake, but I carried my camera along in my pocket to capture the stunning vistas that caught my eye as I went about my tasks.

Both Saturday and Sunday mornings dawned frosty cold, and I rose at dawn while the light was blue and rising mist obscured the tops of the mountains.

As the rising sun cleared the horizon,  the mist dissipated and the brilliant colors of the island's trees emerged.

These sun-warmed Adirondack chairs invited us busy workers to stop for a moment, sit for a while,  and marvel at nature's glory.

From every place along the shore, the lake offered vistas of dazzling beauty.

On Sunday, our work completed, a friend and I hiked to a ledge high over the lake, from which we could see the majestic Pharaoh Mountain reigning over the lesser peaks.

* * *

Eagle Lake in Essex County

On Sunday, my friend Sue Pierce came up to meet me at Pyramid Lake, and we drove together just a few miles east to paddle on Eagle Lake.

Eagle Lake is distinguished by steep rocky cliffs that line its shores and which today offered us some slight protection from a brisk wind that drove down the center of the lake.

Big puffy mounds of sphagnum moss grow on these cliffs, along with a marvelous mix of ferns and  lichens and baby conifers and other species of moss.

As we rounded this corner of the lake to pass under a bridge and out onto the larger portion of Eagle Lake, we marveled at the colorful leaves of oak trees along this shore.  It seemed very early for oak leaves to be turning such colors,  since oaks are usually the last of our trees to do so.  But these oaks were as brilliantly colored as any maples.

As we emerged from the shadow of the bridge we passed under, we were dazzled by the spectacular colors of the forested shore around the lake.  Eagle Lake has a dramatic shoreline and several rocky islands we might have explored, but the continuing wind in our faces discouraged our further explorations.  When we turned around, that same wind, now at our backs, propelled us along at a lively pace, and we just sat back, rested our paddles, and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

* * * 

Lens Lake in Warren County

Since my friend Sue had Monday off from work, we decided to continue our paddling adventures today and headed up to Lens Lake near Stony Creek to explore the lake's convoluted shoreline and admire the autumn colors of its surrounding mountains.  We made sure to bundle up in fleece jackets and gloves, since the day was cold with no sun to warm us, and a chilly wind was rippling the lake's pristine waters.

The most remarkable feature of this quiet lake is the presence of many extensive bog mats thick with brilliantly colored sphagnum moss and studded with Pitcher Plants, Cottongrass, Cranberries, and other plants typical of an acidic bog habitat.

Although many trees high up on the mountainsides had already lost their leaves, the trees that grow along the shore still held onto their gorgeous colors.

On most of the bog mats, tiny Tamarack trees had found a foothold, and were now in the process of turning from summertime green to autumn gold.  Tamaracks are the only one of our coniferous trees to demonstrate this deciduous trait, dropping their needles completely each fall and growing entirely new ones in the spring.

I love how this Tamarack's gold stands out from its dark-green conifer neighbors. I took this photo at Lens Lake two years ago, and although on Monday I searched the entire shore I had paddled then, I could not find this tree again.  So I'm posting this old photo again, because I longed to see it.

Although a chill wind continued to blow out on the open lake, we found some refuge among quiet coves, where glassy waters reflected stately pines.

It was here in one of those coves, its banks lined with Sheep Laurel, Labrador Tea, and Leatherleaf, that Sue spied several laurel shrubs with freshly opened flowers.  This is a shrub that normally blooms in June, so yes, this was quite an unexpected pleasure.  Just one of the many delights that had brought us pleasure today on this beautiful lake, despite the dark chill of the day.

Sue had an unexpected pleasure all her own when she was visited by a family of River Otters frolicking in the water around her canoe.  Unfortunately for me, I was around a bend of the bogmats when these amusing mammals showed themselves to Sue, even raising their heads well out of the water before snorting an alarm and splashing quickly out of sight.  Sue showed me some still photos as well as a short video she captured, and I'm hoping she will soon share these on her own beautiful blog, Water-lily.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Low Water at Mud Pond

It not only looks like autumn now, it has started to feel like it, too.  Following many days of continued warmth, a definite chill was in the air today, causing me to grab a fleece jacket before setting out for a walk around Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park.  I didn't have to wear it long, though, for a warming sun shone down on me, exposed as I was as I walked along close to the water, rather than taking the trail that leads through the woods.  I was able to keep to the shoreline today because of low water levels, lower than I have seen on this pond for a long, long time.

Despite these low water levels, hundreds of Canada Geese still landed here to rest and feed on their migratory flights.  Their constant honking among themselves was the music that accompanied me the whole time I was here.

Walking along on the muddy shoreline beneath the banks, I had to scramble over many trunks of fallen trees, almost every one of which served as a sunbathing spot for a bright-red Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly.

Or two!

Imagine how pretty these next two views of the shoreline would have been, if the water had been high enough to provide for a perfect reflection.

But then, the views were really very pretty just as they were!

When I reached the far side of the pond, where a (now dry) creek forms a delta, I found the mudflats carpeted with lush green plants.

Sometimes I find these mudflats carpeted with a chubby green liverwort called Ricciocarpus, but today I discovered that the source of all this greenery was a low-growing Everlasting called Low Cudweed, spreading across the mud in unprecedented profusion.  It amazes me how the plant population varies on these flats from year to year.  This year, the liverwort was nowhere to be found.

I did find these chubby pink pods of Ditch Stonecrop, however.  Their dazzling color this time of year would make this denizen of damp shores hard to miss.

Almost back to where I had parked my car, I passed through thickets of young American Hazelnut shrubs that had turned a very attractive coral-red.

At first glance, I feared that those Sawfly larvae I found on the dogwoods yesterday had developed a taste for these leaves, too.  But a closer look revealed that those pale worm-like appendages were the Hazel's own male catkins, not leaf-devouring caterpillars.  These catkins will hang on the shrubs all winter, opening to shed their pollen in spring when tiny red female flowers will also stud the branches.

I couldn't resist taking yet another photo of the intensely colored leaves of Maple-leaved Viburnum.  Believe me, I did not enhance the saturation of this photo.  These leaves actually glow this vivid color all on their own, even in the shade of the woods.

This Red Maple leaf, however, DID receive some color enhancement.  Not by Photoshop, though, but by the lowering rays of the afternoon sun.  Beautiful!  Like stained glass.