Monday, January 31, 2011

Technicolor Snow

Brrrr. Zero this morning. But with a dusting of soft new snow glittering under a clear blue sky, the day definitely called me to come outdoors. I decided to try a snowshoe hike in the wooded hills above Spier Falls Dam, where little streams tumble down the mountainside, creating fantastic ice palaces out of the boulders. Here's a photo of one such creation I found last winter. Isn't it beautiful?

Unfortunately, those ice-covered boulders lie high up on the mountainside, and I just couldn't get there today. The snow was simply too fluffy and deep. Or maybe it was because I am older and heavier than a year ago. How I wish I could have scampered across that snow like these little mice did.

But with every step, I plunged at least a foot deep. And sometimes, all the way up to my thigh. Or my toe would go in first, pointing down, and I would pitch forward and plant my face in the snow. Then the only way to get up was to literally roll around to pack the snow enough for me to regain a foothold. After about an hour of this, I grew too tired to continue and headed downhill.

But the day was not lost. I didn't get to see the ice palaces, but all around me the snow was glittering in the most exquisite way. It was truly sparkling like diamonds. And rubies and emeralds and sapphires and topazes, too. Once in a while, conditions are right to create this Technicolor snow, and today was that kind of day. Hard to capture in a photo. I doubt you can see the colorful specks in this mound of glittering snow.

I could see those colors with my naked eyes, and I thought my camera had not captured them, until I looked at the photos on my computer screen, and there they were. I have cropped a section out of the above photo and then boosted the saturation, the better to show those colors, glowing like tiny Christmas lights. Do click on this photo to get a closer view.

This beech leaf veiled with snow presents a subtler beauty of its own.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ice and Snow, Sun and Sky

Sue stands on the banks of the Hudson, now clogged with frazil ice.

I wanted to see my friend Sue today, and she wanted to go see the frazil ice on the Hudson north of Warrensburg. So we went there together. How lucky I am to have such a friend, who loves ice and snow as much as I do. Sure helps us get through the winter in cheerful spirits. We each have friends who cower inside and grumble all winter, complaining about the weather. Well of course! We believe that if they'd only buy longjohns and snowshoes, they'd actually look forward to the snow and ice.

Sue had hoped to see the frazil ice in action, rushing downstream in slushy mounds and piling up to suddenly dam the river. That dramatic kind of action had happened some time ago, so the river was now a solid mass of lumpy ice. I thought those lumps were pretty impressive, though.

After checking on the ice situation just north of Warrensburg, Sue decided to drive further north, hoping to find open water in transition. We made it no farther than Wevertown, though, where this snowy sideroad beckoned to us to stop and explore its charms on foot.

And those charms were many! Especially as the sun moved behind clouds that were spilling snow, creating the most marvelous pearly light. Our road carried us across Mill Creek, past this snow-covered millpond bathed in that magical light.

The mill and the plunging creek stood on the opposite side of the road, where the trees were lit with gold as the clouds parted in front of the lowering sun.

And here came the snow, a light fairy-dusting of sparkling flakes, glittering in that filtered sunlight. Do click on this photo to better see that beautiful snow.

As the snow clouds moved to the north and the sun descended in the sky, the high clouds glowed a radiant pink and gold against a blue, blue sky. It was time to head home. This photo was taken as we sped south on the Northway.

Anxious to get a clear view of that splendid sky, Sue turned off the highway at Glen Lake and made her way to the fen at the end of Ash Road. We stood and watched, clutching our scarves and stamping our feet in the cold as the fire in the clouds turned to embers and then to ash. We both agreed that the sky is never so beautiful any other time of year as in winter.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Woods Hollow Weeds

Another beautiful balmy day with still unspoiled snow. Where could I go to enjoy it? Today I chose Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa, a beautiful pine woods and sand dunes area I often explore in the growing season for all the native plants I find there. But never had I visited there in winter. Time to see what it was like with its pond frozen over and its woods deep with snow.

Well, for one thing, this place is very popular with skiers and snowshoers, so the trails were well packed, making for easy hiking. There's also a great sledding hill, which was getting a workout today. Sure wish I had brought a sled. Looks like fun.

A bright overcast sky shed a luminous shadowless light in the woods, perfect for displaying the graceful shapes of branches and twigs and seed heads. It could be this little shrub is a blueberry, but I'm not sure. What struck my eye were the arching curves of its twigs and the stark contrast of its dark branches against the snow.

The fat little catkins decorating these twigs reveal it to be a hazelnut shrub, probably Beaked Hazelnut, since that's the kind of hazelnut I have found growing in these woods.

I love the graceful arrangement of these Sensitive Fern spore stalks, especially how they stand out in this shadowless light.

Here's a closer look at one of those spore stalks, so handsome in its beaded symmetry.

The arcing stems of Leatherleaf bent over the snow-covered ice. This plant will keep its appropriately named leaves all winter, only yielding them to new growth after it blooms in the spring.

Sheep Laurel is another plant that holds its leaves all winter, although they do look a bit battered.

The yellowish bracts of Witch Hazel cling to the twigs long after the flowers have fallen, so the shrub appears to be in bloom all winter.

Bright Winterberry adds one of the very few spots of color to be found in the winter woods.

Although drab in their coloring now, the winter remnants of last summer's weeds and grasses possess a beauty of a different kind. The flower head of this Canada Goldenrod is as graceful as a fountain.

This grass (what kind?) presents us with a study in elegance.

The spent flower heads of Queen Anne's Lace stand out against the snow like a fireworks spray.

Thriving amid the goldenrods was this plant with its spiked flower heads. I should know what it is, but its identity escapes me, although its graceful beauty against the snow does not.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Almost Balmy

Thirty above!!! Why, it was almost balmy today, considering that it was 30 below just a few days ago. I could wear my lightweight longjohns today as I snowsuited up for a walk along the Hudson near Spier Falls. There was no wind at all when I arrived at the boat launch site. The river ran serenely by, smooth as black satin.

There was even a little blue sky and a flash of sunshine now and then. The river was mostly open, except for a shelf of thick ice along the near shore.

The snow in the woods was so deep and untrodden, it was exhausting to plow through, even with snowshoes. I decided to risk a walk on the ice near the shore, where there was much less snow. But not too near the shore. Because of the dams both upstream and down, the water level here rises and falls, breaking the ice where it attaches to the banks, so there's almost always open water right near shore.

The forest animals have the same idea about saving energy by walking on the ice. I saw lots of tracks out here: fisher, mink, fox, coyote, and this trail left by what must have been a muskrat, trailing the keel of its tail as it hopped toward the open water. I have never seen muskrat along these shores, but what else could this critter be?

No question what this critter was, with that big tail fanned out behind those three-toed turkey feet.

After a while, I got a little nervous about walking on river ice, so when I found a likely spot I headed to shore and climbed up the bank into the woods. The woods were lovely, hushed and softened by heaps of knee-deep snow. Huffing and puffing, I followed a coyote trail to where it intersected with trails made by mice. Looks like the coyote snuffled around in the snow, looking for that mouse.

Twigs of Hobblebush held their fuzzy buds above the deep snow, new leaves curled and ready to open when spring arrives.

This large shelf fungus looks like it's holding a heap of merengue.

I followed a tiny bubbling stream, delighting in the forms of ice and snow along the banks. This lacy border reminded me of the dainty picot edging on fine lingerie. I also love the faceted reflections in the rolling water.

It's very odd to see such a rectangular ice formation.

Doesn't this look like a lace-edged boudoir pillow?

Oh look, there's a tiny Winter Stonefly on that pillow! That's a good sign, since stoneflies can only exist in unpolluted waters.

I think that stonefly was also enjoying this beautiful balmy day.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Adventures with Ice

Most sensible people head south when the weather turns cold. Not me. I'd heard that with all these below-zero days, the frazil ice had built up in the Hudson all the way to The Glen (about ten miles north of Warrensburg), so I had to drive up there to see it. Here's what the river looked like today from the Rte. 28 bridge, looking downstream.

For comparison, here's the same scene three days ago. You can see the loose, slushy frazil flowing downstream, since it had not yet clogged up the river.

A distinctive property of this special kind of fluid ice (which is formed in agitated water from droplets freezing in the air) is the way it can clump together and accumulate downward until it completely dams the flow of the river, causing the water level to rise and deposit the masses of ice along the shore. By the end of winter, these ice deposits can reach a depth of ten feet or more.

When deposited along the shore, frazil ice looks like snow, although its crystalline structure is quite different from that of snow. Looking straight down from the bridge, I could see how the fluid ice had swirled around the piers of the bridge.

If you click on the above photo, you might see the trail of clustered footprints bounding across the ice. Here's a closer view of them.

While looking down at the river from the bridge, I suddenly noticed a dark furry creature climb out from a hole in the ice near the bank and bound across the ice and run under the bridge. For an instant I thought I had witnessed a squirrel escaping from drowning, but then I realized that it must have been a mink. Of course, my camera was still in my pocket!

I decided to return to Warrensburg along the west side of the river, hoping to snowshoe out onto the river banks where I find such a marvelous variety of rare wildflowers in summer. I wanted to photograph the site and compare those photos with what the banks look like in summer. Unfortunately, I never made it. The road was slippery and my car skidded into the ditch. From this photo, you'd think I could just drive out of the snowbank, but my wheels were stuck down deep in ruts and the car wouldn't move.

Thanks heaven for TracFones and AAA! And wasn't I lucky I could find cell service there? Just barely, but enough to summon help, which arrived in less than an hour. Turns out, there must have been something hard under all that soft snow, since my car's radiator is now leaking fluid and my heater doesn't work. Uh oh.

Ah well, maybe it was my guardian angel who pushed me off the road to keep me off the river bank. Walking on frazil ice can be very dangerous.

Monday, January 24, 2011

30 Below!!!

Thirty BELOW!!! I heard on the radio that's how cold it got last night. That's mighty cold. About as cold as it ever gets around here. But by the time I was having my breakfast it was already up to 20 below zero, and the sun was blazing away in a cobalt-blue sky. No wind, either.

Hmm, I thought, I'll bet if I really bundled up, I could stand it outdoors for a little while today. (I call this down coat my walking sleeping bag. Nice and warm.)

My friend Evelyn emailed to tell me the frazil ice had backed up all the way to The Glen, but I didn't have time to go that far north today to see it. I did get to Lake Luzerne, about 20 miles north of Saratoga, where the Hudson River falls through a gorge at Rockwell Falls. I wonder why frazil ice doesn't form in these waters, which, as this photo shows, are pretty frothy.

The falls here aren't big, but they are energetic, with the whole river passing through a narrow opening no more than 20 feet across. I tried to get a little closer, but the mist rising from the falls began freezing on my camera lens. Plus, I didn't want to risk falling in.

All that ice and snow make the opposite bank look like shaggy polar bears.

Water splashing against the underside of this ice shelf had formed these dainty icicles glittering in the sun.

I could have stood and watched all that churning energy, that dark cold water swirling and splashing, for a long, long time.

It was mesmerizing, like watching the surf at the shore. But my face soon grew numb and my glasses froze to my cheeks. Time to go home.