Saturday, October 31, 2015

Boo! A Brief Visit to Nature's Nastier Side.

Ooh, it's Halloween!  What better time to visit a bit of Nature's nastier aspect?  I've been waxing a bit Hallmarky of late about Nature's healing beauty,  but lest we forget about her shadow side, I'm reposting one of my blogs from several years ago that reminds us that Nature can be just as creepy as she is wondrous and amazing.

(From my blogpost of March 11, 2009)

I found this goldenrod ball gall yesterday.  The neat little hole in it indicates the larva inside was probably gobbled down by a downy woodpecker. (No, it's not the gall resident's exit  hole; that would be much tinier.)  Chickadees also rifle these galls, but make a real mess of them when they do.  And squirrels cut them off and carry them away.  I learned this from John Eastman's Book of Field and Roadside, which I turned to again to learn more about this gall. And its parasite. (Be warned!)

The gall is caused by a fruitfly, Eurosta solidaginis,  which lays a single egg on the stem of the goldenrod (almost exclusively tall goldenrod, Solidago altissima) just before the plant's leaves open. When the larva hatches, it eats its way inside the stem.  Nobody seems to know why the plant reacts the way it does, but a swelling ball of solid tissue forms around where the larva is feeding.  Come fall, the larva chews its way outward through this tissue, making an exit tunnel but leaving the door unopened.  It doesn't leave but retreats to the center, where it sleeps through winter, snug in its now-dead gall, pupating only a few weeks  before spring arrives.  Spring comes, the adult emerges inside the gall, crawls up the tunnel it bored last fall, and finds the door still closed.  Now, the adult fly doesn't have the chewing mouthparts its larva had, so how will it get outside?  Undaunted, it clamps itself to the door, pumps bodily fluids into a special part of its head, and this swelled head bursts the gall's external membrane.  The adult fly then pulls itself out.  Cool!

But that's only if all goes well.  And all will go terribly wrong if its parasite Eurytoma obtusiventris comes along.  This tiny wasp finds the fruitfly egg even before the fly hatches and starts forming its gall.  The wasp sticks its ovipositor into the fly egg and lays an even tinier wasp egg there.  The wasp larva bores into the fly larva and lurks there unnoticed until the latter is full grown.  It then proceeds to devour its host from the inside out.  Eewww! (Don't say I didn't warn you.)

Actually, I think it's pretty neat how all god's chillun get fed.  In nature, that is.  I don't think our factory farms that knowingly torture livestock are fine at all.

While I'm at it, here are a few more creepy images from my archives:

Dead Man's Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha), a fungus (or is Mickey Mouse reaching up from his grave?)

Jelly Leaf fungus (Tremella foliacia), oozing a blood-red fluid all over my hand.  (Actually, this one is edible, and not just by Zombies!)

And how could I forget Witch's Brooms on Halloween?  These tangles of twigs are caused by some kind of irritant to the branches of woody trees and shrubs.  This was one I found in a Shadblow tree, a frequent host for Witch's Brooms.

Oh wait!  I thought of some MORE gory stuff!  Here's some oozy orange slime that looks like some tree stumps have vomited.  It's caused by a yeast that feeds on the sugars in tree sap, and you can read all about it on the Cornell Mushroom Blog.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Still Gorgeous Out There

After the pouring rain and roaring winds we had last night, I didn't expect to find many autumn leaves left on the trees today when I went for a short walk along the north shore of Moreau Lake.  Well, I was wrong. There's still much to marvel at out there.

A week since my second knee surgery, severe pain still limits my energies,  but I did crave to immerse myself in the loveliness of this sandy stretch of lake shore.  The trail that runs between the main lake and the back bay certainly beckoned me to amble and enjoy, soft sand and pine needles beneath my feet, fragrant and colorful trees on either side.

Such a wonderful jumble of colors, including the intense red of these Lowbush Blueberry shrubs spilling over a bank.

The blue water sparkled and danced, and the forest glowed.

When we moved from the shelter of the trees to the sandy shore, we could look up and see the mountainside a patchwork of many colors.

As the maples fade, the oaks and aspens come into their own glory, glowing deep orange and bright gold.

And nothing can out-glorify the glorious ruby-red of this hedge of Huckleberry shrubs.

We even found a few flowers holding on after frost.  Here was a brave little bunch of Butter-and-eggs still thriving in the sand.

And one stalwart stalk of Goldenrod still held a robust cluster of golden bloom.

No flowers remained on these low branches of Maple-leaved Viburnum, but their vibrant leaves were more beautiful than even their flowers had been.

As we drove around the lake on our way out of the park, we stopped to take in one last view of this splendid mountainside in all its spectacular color.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lovely Day for a Woodland, Waterside Walk

Not only was the weather pleasant today, I also felt strong and pain-free enough to venture out for a brief walk amid all the autumn loveliness that's happening now.  Since I really did not get my fill of the awesome riverbank beauty my husband and I witnessed yesterday,  I returned to that bend of the Hudson above the Spier Falls Dam this afternoon.

It always amazes me how different a landscape will appear from one day to the next.  Yesterday the sky was clear and cobalt blue, and the foliage on the far mountainside was dappled with sunlight and shadow.  Today, thin clouds diffused the shadowless light, which made the foliage glow with even more intensity than it had when blasted by sunshine.  Every day reveals its own kind of beauty.

As I stood at the edge of the river, I was also enchanted by the colorful leaves beneath my feet, some submerged in the shallow water, others floating lazily along on the surface.

Energized by the splendor of this landscape and pleasant weather, I decided to continue my walk along a powerline access road that starts just across from the Spier Falls Dam.  The walking is easy here, as the trail moves first through a close-growing woodland, then later into open meadows and voluptuously curving hills.

The foliage on the trail beneath my feet was just as lovely as that which towered over my head.

One patch of Quaking Aspen leaves displayed the green patches caused by a small moth larva that resides within the leaves.  This tiny larva exudes a chemical that preserves the chlorophyll in the otherwise dying leaf, which allows the larva to continue feeding on living leaf tissue until it is ready to pupate.

I soon reached the open areas where the land fell away from the trail and left me high on these rolling hills.  These curvaceous hills are carpeted now with the rusty hues of frost-killed Hay-scented Ferns, Grass-leaved Goldenrods, and Little Bluestem Grass, the distant mountainside crazy-quilted with the many colors of the autumn forest.

Vast tracts of Moreau Lake State Park forest rise alongside the trail.

Here's where a tiny brook comes tumbling down the mountainside and hurries down to the river far below.  This was my turnaround point, and I lingered here for quite some time.  Yes, my leg was tired and sore, but who would want to hurry away from a place of such quiet beauty?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Beautiful River,Years Apart

The doctor tells me my knee surgery went well, but my knee itself is telling me YIKES!!!  Yeah, it hurts pretty bad right now, so I'm mostly lying around in a pain-med daze, not eager to get back outdoors as yet.  But yesterday, the folks at Facebook posted a photo I'd shared on Facebook five years ago, a photo of the banks of the Hudson River in full glorious autumn color (see below). "Wow!" I thought, "I'd better get over there right now if I don't want to miss this year's show."  And bless my dear husband's heart, he took me there, to where the Hudson takes a sharp bend, just above the Spier Falls Dam at Moreau. (I can't drive myself as yet.)

Five years later (see below), the scene looks pretty much the same, despite a few differences.  More sunlight and shadow today instead of the bright overcast of the day I took the original shot, and the foliage colors are not as brilliantly yellow this year.  Also, I now use a Canon Powershot S95, while I took the original photo with a Canon Powershot G7, which did focus better in zoom. But I didn't want to zoom in today, desiring to capture all that expanse of radiant blue of the sky and reflecting water.  What a thrill it was to stand on the river bank and just gaze at all this splendor!  And to see how all of this beauty has remained the same, unchanged for the past five years.

Before we went home, I wanted to visit another favorite spot along these banks, this one a mile or so below the dam.  Ah, yes!  As beautiful as ever!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Taking a Short Break (I Hope!)

I am so glad I got out early on that frosty Monday morning this week,  to join my friends at Mud Pond and along the beautiful Hudson (see my previous post).  What a sweet morning it was, presenting all the joys a splendid autumn morning in this part of the country can offer: brilliant sunshine, bright blue skies, frost spangled plants, quiet waterways reflecting the gorgeous colors of trees in their autumn foliage, and above all, the joyous companionship of friends who share my passion for nature.

Now I'm going to immerse myself in the memory of this delightful day (and others equally as delightful) as I lie on my couch recovering from the knee surgery I'm scheduled to undergo tomorrow (October 22).  This is actually good news.  It means my shattered kneecap has healed sufficiently that the wires that once held the pieces together can now be removed, along with the screws the wires were wrapped around.  Our hope (my surgeon's and mine) is that this procedure should eventually ease the pain that has been my daily torment since the day I fell on May 31.  My surgeon insists that recovery from this operation should be swift and easy.  So that's the hope I'm clinging to.  Please, dear readers, send a healing wish my way, so that I may soon be back in the woods and out on the waterways, sharing with you all the sweet wonders I encounter in the natural world.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Perfect Morning for Frostweed

Conditions have to be exactly right to find the fragile curls of frozen vapor emanating from the stems of Frostweed (Helianthemum canadense), a phenomenon worth rising early and dressing warmly to see.  The temperature has to fall below freezing, the night has to be clear and calm with no wind or snow, and you have to get there before the sun's rays reach the delicate "petals" of diaphanous frost and melt them into thin air.  Monday was just such a morning at Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park, and my friends Sue and Peter and I made sure to arrive on time.

It didn't take long for us to spot dozens of curls of frothy white ice surrounding the stems of Frostweed, a plant that in summer bears pretty yellow flowers and which prefers the sandy open area of the powerline clearcut that runs along the northern edge of Mud Pond.  I've known for years that this is a favorite habitat for Frostweed (also known as Rock Rose), but I have never seen so many plants exuding these beautiful fragile curls.  Here's just a sampling:

The frost was doing all kinds of pretty things this morning, including spangling these strawberry leaves with crystals, . . .

. . . and spiking the fuzzy leaves of Common Mullein with sparkling needles.

After thoroughly exploring the powerline to delight in this seldom-seen and marvelous display, we next made our way to the end of Potter Road and down through the woods to come out on the shore of the Hudson River.  Here the river runs back behind a large island, and the water this morning lay still as glass, reflecting the gorgeous autumn foliage and the mountains rising beyond the far bank.

As we made our way along the shore, each vista loomed even lovelier than the one before.

We walked through the woods to arrive at a large bay on the open river, and here we could stand and gaze at the kind of beauty that makes us happy to be alive in this gorgeous part of the world in this splendid season.

Fruit-laden Winterberry shrubs added their exuberant beauty to the scene.

And wonder of wonders, look what we found!  A tiny Shadblow tree had ventured to put out a tuft of flowers, almost as if in defiance of today's frost.  This is one of our earliest shrubs to bloom in the spring, and although we often find it producing fuzzy baby leaves in the fall, we have never, ever, seen it come into flower this late in the year.

Incredibly splendid against the blue sky were the scarlet leaves of a Black Tupelo tree.

Autumn beauty lay around our feet as well as towering over our heads.  The ruby-red leaves of Low Blueberry seemed to glow against a carpet of Wintergreen leaves.

A pretty veil of rosy-pink Dewberry leaves spread across a boulder ringed with the green leaves and lavender flowers of asters.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Return to Pyramid Lake

For more than 20 years, Pyramid Life Center on Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks has been my "summer place to be," whether I was volunteering to help open or close the retreat center there, attending retreats myself, or just coming up for the day to immerse myself in one of the most beautiful wilderness places on earth.  I did get up there for opening weekend in May this year, but just a week later I fell and shattered my kneecap, which kept me pretty close to home for the rest of the summer and into the fall.  But now, healing has progressed enough to allow me to paddle my little canoe, and where could I find a more beautiful place for a paddle this bright autumn day, than here on Pyramid Lake?

A brisk breeze riffled the water as I set off, but I knew that as soon as I entered a shallow swamp at the very east end of the lake, I would find quiet water.  And so I did.

I came to this swamp to greet two old friends that grow abundantly here, but nowhere else that I have found.  It didn't take long before I spied one of them, the water plant called Small Bur Reed (Sparganium natans), its puffy white spherical flower clusters now matured into clusters of of tiny pointed nutlets.  Although classified as "Threatened" in New York State, this little bur reed thrives by the hundreds in the quiet shallow water at this end of Pyramid Lake.

The second organism I sought today is not a plant, although it does produce its own nutrients via photosynthesis the way plants do, with chlorophyll.  This organism is called Nostoc balls, colonies of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) enclosed within pale-green spherical membranes.   It's not until late in the year I would begin to find these little jelly balls suspended in the cold water at this end of the lake, but when I paddled back here today, I could not find them at first.  Or else I spotted just a few, as seen in my photo of Small Bur Reed above.  But it wasn't long before I found masses and masses of them collected against the trunks of fallen logs or corralled within patches of Water Lily pads.

Several biologists have told me that Nostoc balls are relatively rare, found in only about 2% of clean lakes and ponds.   To find such enormous quantities of them here certainly says something about the special quality of Pyramid Lake.  I brought along a tea-strainer today so that I could collect a few, perhaps to share with a friend who told me he'd never seen them in the wild.  I saved these in a glass jar filled with water from this swamp.

My search completed and the wind having quieted some, I decided to take a turn around the lake, enjoying the vistas of rugged cliffs and forested islands.

By the time I completed my circuit of the lake, clouds had moved in and the wind had died down completely.  Without the high contrast of sunlight and shadow, the colors of the foliage glowed even more intensely, and the still water mirrored this beauty to spectacular effect.

Similar vistas of gorgeous autumn color followed me all the way home.