Monday, February 21, 2011

Yo-Yo Weather

What strange yo-yo weather we're having! One day it was close to 65 (Friday) and by Sunday it was close to zero. Today was cold but beautiful, with fresh new snow and brilliant sun, and I was very glad to get out for a walk at last. My son's family, including four children ages 13 years to 4 months, were here for a long weekend, and we had a marvelous time, but mostly indoors. Teen-aged Tayla was happy to read for hours on end, Baby Alex was all-smiles for anyone who just looked at him, while four-year-old Maya and two-year-old Sean had a grand time playing with Grandma's toys.

Friday was so spectacularly warm I just had to get outside, but there was so much water on the sidewalks, I knew the children would soak their shoes if we stayed outside for long. So a quick trip downtown was in order, to buy Sean and Maya some rubber boots for stomping in all those puddles. Which they did with great gusto!

Everyone went home to New Jersey yesterday, and today I was really ready to go stomping outside myself. Especially with several inches of fluffy, sparkly new snow.

Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park was my destination, and my plan was to snowshoe around the pond on the ice near shore, where the snow was not so deep. (Some creature -- my guess is a fox -- had made a beeline straight across the pond today.)

I soon discovered, though, that it was not safe to walk close to shore, since bank-dwelling beavers have been keeping patches of water open throughout the winter. These open areas then freeze over with thin sheets of ice, which today were camouflaged with newly fallen snow. I was lucky I didn't fall through.

So I headed up into the woods instead and followed a nicely-packed trail through the trees. The branches held lots of fresh snow, which fell gently and silently in feathery clumps and shimmering clouds when touched by the breeze. Shafts of sunlight penetrated the woods, setting the air asparkle. You'd think I'd be weary of winter by now, but on days like today, the season's charms are definitely renewed.

As I climbed the bank to where I had parked my car, I was struck by the look of these Bear Oak branches against the blue sky. They certainly have a distinctive bristly twigginess that sets them apart from other oaks, a distinction made all the more evident by the lack of leaves in winter. Another name for this small pretty tree is Scrub Oak, but I prefer the name that seems less derogatory.

The Latin name for this shrubby tree is Quercus ilicifolia, which also sounds kind of negative (as in "illicit"), except that the word ilicifolia actually means "holly leaved." And yes, the leaves are indeed holly-like, being quite leathery and shiny and resembling in shape the leaves of that Christmas greenery. I have heard that the tree is called "Bear Oak" because reportedly only bears have a taste for the very bitter acorns.

Unfortunately, it appears that beavers have acquired a taste for the Bear Oak's bark. Just this year, the beavers that make Mud Pond their home have discovered these trees high on the northern bank. I hope they soon find some trees they like better, before the entire stand is eliminated.

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