Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Today's weather gave us quite a tease, with a bright hot sun beating down on the snowbanks, sending rushing rivulets into the melting Bog Meadow swamp, pushing temperatures well into the upper 50s. I was sure to get out and enjoy this sweet day, knowing that new snow and cold is due to arrive tomorrow. Ah well, we've had many mid-March snowstorms before, sometimes heavier than any we've had all winter. But that snow will meet its match in the strong March sun, and before we know it, Winter will slink away as Spring parades in triumph. The Red Osier Dogwood and the Pussy Willows are already waving their banners.
I was actually glad for continuing cold this past week, because it allowed my friends and me to venture up into a frozen swamp in the Palmertown Mountains at Moreau Lake State Park last Saturday. We were off to visit some big old Black Tupelo trees in that swamp, but on the way, we took a bit of a detour to enjoy a splendid view of the Hudson Valley from one of the high overlooks along the trail.
Once we entered the swamp, it didn't take us long to locate the tupelos, which towered over all the other trees that grew around them. My friend Sue (looking up) and I were eager to show these trees to our new friend Andrew (red pack), an intern with Saratoga PLAN who the week before had led us to visit some ancient Black Tupelos in the nearby Lincoln Mountain State Forest. The Lincoln Mountain tupelos have been core-sampled and dated to over 500 years old, and it's possible our Moreau tupelos could be equally as ancient, just judging from their size and gnarly appearance.
Thanks to several below-zero nights during the week preceding our hike, the swamp was solidly frozen, allowing us access to every part of the area, which we explored to search for more tupelos. We found only three of the huge old trees, and not a single one that was less mature. Glassy puddles like this one made it clear that we were definitely walking on a wetland that would be very difficult to explore when the weather gets warmer.
This puddle was as fascinating as it was beautiful. A solid 6 or 8 inches thick, the ice was as clear as glass and had captured not only the stacks of coin-shaped bubbles, but also vertical strings of tiny bubbles like those that form in champagne. There were also cascading ripples held within the clear ice, as lovely as the organdy ruffles on a petticoat.
Sunday dawned as cold as Saturday, although a bright sun shed a kindly warmth by the afternoon, when my friend Nancy joined me for a snowshoe hike along the Hudson River at Moreau. We entered the woods at the end of Potter Road and made our way down to a series of rocky promontories jutting out into the frozen river.
The snow-covered bays were still iced over, as was the main river, which we could glimpse behind the island that lay across a frozen expanse. A snowy West Mountain rose against a blue sky, over beyond the opposite banks of the Hudson.
We tromped on softening snow through the woods until we came to a second bay, beyond which the river ran into a swamp that was ringed with Black Tupelos, but much smaller ones than those we had found on the mountain. Sadly, almost every single tupelo that grows in this riverside swamp has been girdled by beavers and will surely die. An exception is this group of small-trunked trees that have grown in a cluster together. I don't know why the beavers have spared these particular trees, but I am very glad they have. These specimens demonstrate the typical growth habit of this tree when young, with horizontal limbs that sweep gracefully down, the branches covered with short twigs.
Another distinguishing feature of this species of tree is the spectacular color of its fall foliage, and it starts to turn this brilliant scarlet earlier than any other trees. Here's a photo of that same cluster of tupelos above, taken several years ago in autumn.
At the time I took this photo of the tupelo in its blazing fall foliage, I did not know what it was, for I had never seen one until I started paddling this stretch of the Hudson between the Sherman Island and Spier Falls dams. Since then, I have happened upon them in other places, but not very often, and always close to water, if not actually standing in swamps. A tree more typically at home in southern forests, the Black Tupelo thrives in the north only in swamps or along river valleys where the climate is somewhat moderated by humidity.
It's hard to think of Saratoga County's weather as being moderated, since our winters can bring us bitter cold as low as 30 below zero, but we certainly do have Black Tupelos not only surviving, but thriving. As Nancy and I climbed the river bank back to our car, I showed her another tupelo tree, this one growing deep in the woods. Note that it has no low branches sweeping down, unlike the ones that grow along the river. Is this because it is much older than those, or because it grew up crowded by hemlocks on every side? Hmmm. . . . Another question to ponder.