Sunday, February 8, 2015
Back to the Big Old Pines
The thermometer might have inched up above zero by the time we set off through the snowy woods on Friday morning, a group of hardy folks brought together by our friend and guide Evelyn Greene to explore a section of state forest preserve near Friends Lake, known to harbor some impressive old White Pines. Yes, it was cold, but the snow lay deep and untrodden, so the effort quickly warmed us up as we made our way along old logging roads that led us deep into the forest all the way to the banks of the Hudson River.
We knew we had reached the forest preserve, unlogged since 1928, when we sensed the pines towering way up toward the sky, with the surrounding spaces nearly clear of the small understory trees that typically populate forests of younger age.
We felt truly dwarfed by the height and girth of these majestic old giants, many now approaching 90 years old.
Most of the birches that once thrived among these pines had long toppled from old age. But here and there we found some still living, including this one that Bonnie is climbing into, the trunk perched aloft on tall serpentine roots that doubtless first sprang to life atop a stump long rotted away, leaving a vacancy within.
Most of our group were eager to keep up a steady (and warming!) pace, glad that the nature nuts among us did not find much along the wintry trail to slow us down. But I couldn't help myself when I saw many trees covered with some kind of fluffy growth. I just had to call out to the experts among us to help me figure out if this stuff was a moss or a liverwort. I knew that Evelyn would know, and so would our friend Nancy Slack, an expert bryologist.
Turned out, this fluffy stuff was BOTH a moss and a liverwort, growing together on the same trunk. From a distance they looked quite a bit alike, but a close look revealed they were quite different. This is the moss, a tiny-leaved species called Neckera, which prefers the bark of old-growth trees.
Intermixed with the moss was this Porella liverwort, whose overlapping leaves give its stems a braided appearance. Both moss and liverwort are green, with stems that curl away from the tree, so it is easy to confuse them at first sighting.
When we reached the banks of the Hudson, some of our party were brave enough to venture out onto its frozen surface. I'm sure that ice was really thick, but I am always wary of river ice, especially in stretches where the current is swift and turbulent, which it is in this part of the river. But everyone returned safely, for which I am grateful. By now, I was growing cold and hungry, and we had at least a mile and a half to trek back to our cars, which would carry us all to the fireplace-warmed tavern of the Copperfield Inn in North Creek, where our rosy-cheeked bunch had a hearty, convivial lunch.