Friday, August 5, 2011

Boghopping, Bushwhacking: Three Old Broads and Their Boats

Bonnie leads the way as Evelyn and I follow her down the trail to Rankin Pond, our boats on our shoulders.

Wednesday, August 3:

Evelyn's the one who called us the "three old broads," laughing at the look of us -- Bonnie, me, and herself -- as we pushed our way through clawing cedars, muscling our boats over rocks and logs through a trackless woods to Little Rankin Pond near Minerva in Essex County. We didn't expect to see any other adventurers this far back in the woods, but if we did, they might have been startled to see us there, three "women of a certain age" with our boats in tow.

But we're exactly the kind of folks our Hornbeck super-lightweight canoes were made for, and our sweet little Black Jack carbon-fiber boats proved to be as light and tough as their maker promised, allowing us access to really remote ponds that take some huffing and puffing to get to. Our first destination, though, Rankin Pond, was relatively easy to access, requiring only a half-mile haul along a narrow wooded trail before we came out onto this vista of serene water.

We didn't stay long in our boats for this leg of our day-long adventure, since our first destination was that thin strip of green visible along the far side of Rankin Pond. To reach it, we paddled directly and quickly across the water to pull our boats up onto a lush bog mat.

All around us grew the plants so typical of an acidic bog, including this sea of Tawny Cottongrass against a backdrop of Black Spruce.

Here's a closer view of the Cottongrass, as fluffy and soft as down.

This little spider looked happy to make it his resting place.

What had looked like a thin strip of green from across the pond now opened up to a many-acred sea of sphagnum, sedges, and Pitcher Plants. (We also found many White Fringed Orchids here, but none of my photos of them came out.)

We then set out to explore the bog mat, sinking up to our shins at times in the plush deep sphagnum moss.

I knew that something special was up when I heard Evelyn let out a whoop and saw her doing a little dance -- or as much of a dance as one can do when ankle-deep in moss. We hurried to see what the excitement was about, and she pointed down to this plump-seeded little green thing.

It was PODGRASS!!! This was cause for excitement, indeed, since Podgrass (Scheuchzeria palustris) is a really rare plant in New York. But there it was: hundreds, probably thousands of plants, growing all around us.

That might have been enough excitement for one day for most folks, but Evelyn had further adventures in mind as she led us across the bog's expanse toward a thick woods at the far edge. Our next destination, Little Rankin Pond, lay on the other side of that woods. For this leg of our journey, we towed our boats behind us, rather than lifting them to our shoulders.

There was no trail to Little Rankin, so we just plunged into the woods, trusting our sense of direction would get us there. Both Bonnie and Evelyn had been there before, so I expected they would find the way. It wasn't easy, though, as we made our way over boulders and blowdowns, our little boats scraping and bouncing behind us, sometimes getting wedged between trees so we had to stop to turn them sideways.

Well, we made it! What a sweet little pond! And not a beer can or bait box in sight. It's nice to know there are still places on our planet where slobs are not likely to tote their sixpacks to. We sure had the place to ourselves on this beautiful day.

Er. . . sort of all to ourselves. This pile of poop was still pretty fresh, so it's likely the bear that deposited it was not too far away. Bonnie also found a moose hoofprint in the mud, but we saw no other trace of it. Luckily. Moose can be meaner than bears.

We promptly launched our canoes and paddled around the pond. Our seated positions in the bottom of our boats brought us nose to nose with this newly emerging dragonfly, its still-damp wings glittering in the bright sun.

One of the dominant plants along the pond's shoreline was White Beaksedge (Rhynchospora alba), a sedge that prefers the acid conditions of bogs.

Every fallen log was a nursery bed for deep-red Spatulate or Round-leaved Sundew and bright-yellow Horned Bladderwort.

I couldn't get a sharply focussed shot of the bladderwort, but I did manage to capture its rippling reflection in the dark water.

Another log held masses of Bog Lycopodium, along with the basal leaves of the little pink orchid, Rose Pogonia, and more of that ruby-red Spatulate Sundew.

There was glowing color everywhere, including these deep-maroon Pitcher Plants inhabiting this hummock covered with golden sphagnum moss.

This hummock was covered with sphagnum of a beautiful red. There's also more of that Horned Bladderwort, which, unlike most bladderworts, is rooted in damp ground, rather than floating freely in the water.

In some places, that red and gold sphagnum grew together in a riot of calico colors.

Evelyn's sharp eyes noticed that some of the sphagnum was bearing fruit, and I was lucky my camera decided to give me a nice focussed photo of these tiny spheres.

One of the reasons Evelyn was willing to struggle through the woods to reach Little Rankin Pond was to see a particular species of Yellow-eyed Grass she had found there before. And yes, we did find some, although it was either not yet open or else gone by, since few of the petals were open. It wasn't until we returned to Rankin Pond (the bigger one -- and yes, we found our way back again) that we found that Northern Yellow-eyed Grass (Xyris montana) in all its glory. Well, as much glory as a quarter-inch flower can muster. Massed in mats, though, it was quite noticeable.

So was it for naught that we bushwhacked our way to that little remote pond? Are you kidding? I wouldn't have missed that adventure for anything. I am glad, though, that neither that moose nor that bear made the trip even more exciting than it was. Although somehow I think that Evelyn and Bonnie would have known what to do, since those two are more at home in the woods than anyone else I know. Thanks for a grand old time, dear friends.

This Mountain Holly just filled with rosy red berries was a parting gift of beauty from the woods as we made our weary way home.


Raining Iguanas said...

Three cheers for this post! Thanks again for bringing others along for the trip. Paddle on...

Ellen Rathbone said...

OH, man, I'm jealous! I drove by Rankin Pond twice every week, at least, for ten years and always thought I'd get there one day. Never did. You had some wonderful finds.

"Three Old Broads and Their Boats" would make a great title for a blog!

Louise said...

The sphagnum moss certainly is beautiful. Your joy in all you see is infectious.

swamp4me said...

I wanna go!

Andrew Lane Gibson said...

I love Podgrass! It's endangered here in Ohio and I have only ever seen it growing on a floating mat of sphagnum in a kettle lake bog in NE Ohio! Great stuff :)

catharus said...

Wonderful story of wild discovery and adventure! Great photos!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thank you, friends, for so many nice comments. I love bringing you all along on my adventures.

E said...

Great blog, so glad I found it... happy to follow! Keep up the great work.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

EXCELLENT! Wish I'd been along too! :-D