Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nature Walks Here and There

How did we manage to escape Nature's wrath these past weeks?  While coastal New York has suffered flooding sea surges, tree-toppling wind blasts, and the insult of heavy snows, up here in the Saratoga Region we have enjoyed one lovely late-autumn day after another.  And, doubly blessed, we are also lucky to have an abundance of woodsy and watery places to spend those lovely days outdoors.  Here's a brief recap of just three of those places I've visited this past week.

Friday: The Hennig Preserve, Town of Providence, Saratoga County

Less than 15 miles west of downtown Saratoga Springs but more than a thousand feet higher in altitude lies the Hennig Preserve, one of the latest -- and certainly the largest -- nature preserve to be managed by Saratoga P.L.A.N.  A gift to this county-based land-conservation organization from members of the Hennig family, the preserve consists of over 600 acres of forested land, with about 9 miles of well-marked trails that wander through a beautiful mixed-conifer/hardwood forest.

I had the very best of guides when I visited the Hennig Preserve on Friday:  no less than one of the donors of the land, Barbara Hennig, whose intimacy with every aspect of these woods stems from her having spent more than 50 years carefully stewarding them.  Our other stellar companion, the noted botanist, author, and teacher Ruth Schottman, had invited my to join her and Barbara to walk a portion of the woods on this bright chilly day.   This photo shows Barbara and Ruth ascending one of the more interesting geological features of the preserve, a ridge-shaped ice-age remnant called an "esker" that rises to considerable height and runs for more than a quarter-mile through the woods.

The long winding ridges called eskers were created when sand and gravel was deposited within ice-walled tunnels in the glacier, which lay nearly a mile thick over these woods during the Ice Age.  When the glacier melted, these stream deposits remained.  To my knowledge, I had never encountered an esker in all my woods wanderings until I walked along this high ridge in the Hennig Preserve, enjoying the prospect of the woods falling steeply away on either side of our path.

I also enjoyed the little stream that we crossed at two points in our circuitous trail, its clear water sparkling and dancing along through the heart of the forest.

A clue that we were walking through a higher-altitude forest than those closer to my home was the presence of Stiff Clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum), which still retained its yellow sporophylls at the tips of its bristly stalks, releasing little clouds of spores when I flicked a finger at them.  This is a species of clubmoss that prefers a colder climate than does a similar-looking clubmoss called Running Pine (Lycopodium clavatum), which is common in the woods around Saratoga Springs and which bears its spores on separate forked stalks, rather than at the ends of its leaf stalks.

Another clue to this forest's higher altitude was the presence of Red Spruce and Balsam Fir among its mix of conifers,  which also included the more familiar (to me) White Pine and Hemlock.  Black Cherry was numerous in the mix of deciduous trees, along with maples, beeches, poplars, and hickories.  As we walked along the trail, we could tell what trees we were passing under by observing what leaves lay underfoot.  At a glance, we knew we were under Red Maples by the purplish cast to their fallen leaves, intermixed with the pale tan ones of American Beech.

Now, here's a puzzle none of us had an answer to:  Why is almost every single one of the fallen leaves that litter the forest floor lying face-down?  Anybody have a clue?

Sunday:  Moreau Lake State Park, Moreau, Saratoga County

On Sunday afternoon, I quickly shed my jacket as I set off around Moreau Lake, the day was so soft and warm, with only the slightest breeze to riffle the sky-blue water.

Although the sky was nearly cloudless, there was a slight haze lying over the mountains and lake, which added a lovely misty quality to every vista.

Despite ample rainfall this autumn, the water level was still low enough to allow for walking completely around the lake on wide  beaches, golden ribbons of sunlight rippling across the underwater sand as the wavelets lapped on the shore.  Although this photo doesn't show another soul in the shot, there were many people enjoying the park on this mellow day, so I had many opportunities to pat the heads of very happy dogs.

Their petals have fallen, but the bright-yellow bracts of Witch Hazel still hold the sunlight as if they were still in bloom.

Monday:  Cole's Woods, Glens Falls, Warren County

The weather continued sunny and warm on Monday, when I met my friend Sue for a walk through Cole's Woods, a remarkably extensive forest tract right in the heart of Glens Falls, adjacent to Crandall Park.

Originally preserved in the 1970s as a cross-country ski area, the woods has miles of pine-needle-cushioned trails for very pleasant walking during the snowless months of the year.  When we visited this woods last spring, we were delighted to find a number of wildflowers we rarely find in other nearby forests, such as One-sided Pyrola and Rosy Twisted Stalk, which were growing here in abundance, along with many others of our favorites.   We found no wildflowers in bloom today, but there were many other signs of life on this balmy day, including a cluster of waterbugs skating across the surface of this pretty little creek.  Sue is patiently trying to get a photo of them.

In the damp mud along the creek, many sharp-pointed shoots of Skunk Cabbage were already protruding, offering us a promise of spring's first flowers even before the first of winter's snows have begun to fall.

 Foamflower leaves carpet the woods in low-lying spots.  Their purple-tinged evergreen leaves will stay fresh all winter long under the snow, along with the fronds of the Intermediate Wood Fern that intermingles with Foamflower here.

Although the leaves and petals of Starflower have long been shed, we found evidence of their presence in these tiny white ball-shaped seedheads still perched on the ends of twin flower stalks.


catharus said...

Thanks for letting us come along on your wonderful late fall excursions!

Ellen Rathbone said...

You've been busy!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment, catharus and Ellen. I try to get SOMEwhere outdoors every day, although I've lately gotten a bit lazy about blogging. And even lazier about responding to comments, which is really rude of me, because I love hearing from you.

catharus said...

I think it's great that you get outdoors most every day! And no, I don't consider it rude of you not to reply - not at all! :-)