Friday, July 6, 2012

Twenty Years of Riverside Wonders

Thursday, July 5, 2012

 Twenty years!  Oh my, can it really be that many years since I got my first Hornbeck canoe and began to explore "my" stretch of the Hudson River?  Yes, indeed, it was 1992 when I first lifted my 17-pound Kevlar 10-footer to my shoulder and hiked down through the woods to come out  at this incredibly beautiful spot.  Here, the river runs behind  a large island to create a serene backwater, where a series of rocky promontories and quiet bays provide habitat to a wonderful variety of plants I had never seen before.  And today, on this beautiful sunlit day in 2012,  I lifted my even lighter carbon fiber Hornbeck canoe to my shoulder and hiked again through the woods to revisit "my" stretch of the river, to call on the beautiful riverside flowers I've come to regard as my friends.

In one of the bays leading into a marsh I can lift my eyes to West Mountain across the river while I push my canoe along among grassy tussocks, happy to once again spy the dainty Bedstraw Bellflowers decorating a pretty clump of ferns.

Although I had grown up paddling the creeks and streams of my Michigan childhood, I had never there laid eyes on the flowering shrub Meadowsweet, which happily thrives on the riverbanks here,  leaning its fluffy pink blossoms over my head as I pass underneath.

Meadowsweet's close relative, Steeplebush, also thrives here, its flowers a deeper, dustier pink, borne in narrower clusters that certainly suggest the origin of its common name.

Twenty years ago, the water levels in this part of the river between the Spier Falls and Sherman Island dams would fall quite low by midsummer, creating stretches of mud flats below the rocky banks.   Those mud flats would be covered with solid carpets of Golden Pert so that the river's edge would just glow, as if it were incandescent.  Today, water management authorities maintain much higher water levels in this catchment, and I now seldom find mudflats along the banks, nor do I often see wide solid carpets of Golden Pert.  But I still do see and delight in them, sprouting from every crack and cranny into which they can find a foothold.

Of course, the queen of the riverside flowers is the majestic Cardinal Flower.  Today I spotted only a few, but in just a week or so, masses of their fiery scarlet spikes will be lining the river.

 Buttonbush looks as if it took quite literally the phrase "burst into bloom," with its very explosive appearance.

Blue Vervain is now raising its wands of dainty blue flowers, its tiers of little blooms ascending the budded stalks.

Another vervain, of a paler blue and narrower leaves, grows on a sandy stretch of shore on the Warren County side of the river.  This one is called, appropriately, Narrow-leaved Vervain.

One of the reasons I came here today was to check of the progress of Great St. Johnswort, which last time I looked was still in tight bud.  It's a good thing I didn't wait any longer to visit, because these big, brilliant-yellow flowers were almost done with blooming.  Many of the numerous plants had already gone to seed.  Luckily, I found a few still in good shape.  Luckily, I found these flowers at all, since I know of no other place where they grow.

While loading my canoe back onto my car, I was happy to see some familiar faces right near the auto pull-off.  And what pretty faces, too, the moire-patterned purple blooms of Common Hedge Nettle.

While leaning in close to admire those blooms, I noticed a tiny brown ball dangling from one of the leaves by an almost invisible thread.  What on earth could this be?  Is it an egg case, or is it a gall?  Or is it some critter's cocoon?  If anybody among my readers knows, I hope you will leave a comment informing us.

Update:  Five minutes after submitting a query about this to, a very helpful fellow named Charley Eiseman identified this as the egg sac of the ray spider Theridiosoma gemmosum.  Those folks at Bug Guide never fail me!

I had barely started down the road toward home when I pulled over to stand in awe at the brilliant beauty of this patch of Oswego Tea, growing in a roadside woods. Such a spectacular shape, size and color, it's hard to believe it's a native wildflower.  But it is.  And one I had never heard of, 20 years ago.


hikeagiant2 said...

Gorgeous flowers ... as ever! Happy anniversary!

catharus said...

Wonderful little retrospective. I'm always surprised how far ahead you are of me, here in central PA. Wild blueberries aren't ripening yet; the Cardinal flower in my garden is not blooming yet.
Thanks as always!

threecollie said...

Lovely! A good friend has a Hornbeck and brings it to camp sometimes.

Auntie sezzzzzz... said...

Wow, I've never seen anything like the Buttonbush!

"Into the shadow-white chamber
silts the white Flux of another dawn..."

~~D. H. Lawrence

Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary ... wishing you many more days of joy!

Jens said...

Jackie.... on to the next decade -- in good health and joyous mind!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thank you, my friends, for stopping by with your comments. I wish I could take each one of you along the banks of this beautiful river with me.