I certainly took advantage of some of those habitats these past balmy days, beginning a week ago last Tuesday, when my friend and fellow nature nut Sue Pierce happened to have a day off from work for nature adventures. Mud Pond was our choice for a leisurely walk, stopping often to observe the waterfowl winging in to rest on the water as we made our way completely around the pond.
There's not an awful lot of water in the pond this fall, nor has there been most of the summer. But somehow the Canada Geese and the odd pair of Hooded Mergansers managed to find enough water to feed and float on, keeping up a noisy conversation as they did so. Every time a new vee of geese came skidding in, the volume of honks increased considerably, as if the birds were greeting old friends.
Most of the trees had shed their leaves by now, but the glorious colors of autumn foliage still swirled around our feet. What a pretty rosy pink are the backs of the Red Maple leaves!
When we're at Mud Pond, Sue and I always look for the evergreen leaves of Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata), a native orchid that bears small white flowers in summer. Some of the plants still held the dried flower stalks, but as when in bloom, the prettily patterned leaves were the showiest parts of the plants. Still, we often had to brush aside pine needles to discover them.
On the other side of the pond, where the hardwood trees outnumber the pines, Sue discovered an abundant patch of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens) last summer, another native orchid that has even showier leaves than its sister Goodyera. The leaves of G. pubescens are also evergreen, and they put on quite a stunning display against the tawny beech leaves that we brushed aside to find them.
Back Bay of Moreau Lake
My husband rarely assents to a nature walk with me (and I do understand why!), but the day was so gorgeous last Sunday he just could not resist my invitation to walk around the back bay of Moreau Lake. The air was balmy and soft and fragrant with the scent of oak and pine, and the water in the bay was so low we could walk along the water's edge instead of keeping to the woodland trails on higher ground.
Even with the muted colors of late fall, the landscape is beautiful here.
Especially against the muted colors of late fall, these translucent and vividly ruby-red Bittersweet Nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) glowed like Christmas lights.
This first-year rosette of Evening Primrose leaves (Oenothera biennis) displayed a more subtle beauty with its green and purple leaves, but a beauty nonetheless.
The Red Oak Ridge Trail
All summer long, I have kept to the flatter parts of Moreau Lake State Park, trying to coddle my shattered kneecap while it healed, but on Wednesday this week I decided to try my strength on the Red Oak Ridge Trail. This trail ascends to a ridge about half way up the mountains that rise beyond the west shore of Moreau Lake, and when I reached the trailhead near the south shore, I was almost tempted to continue along the beach, the lake lay so temptingly blue and lovely beneath a sunny sky.
But no, I had come here to challenge my strength a little, and so I entered the forest and began the ascent, discovering in the first steep climb exactly how out of shape I had grown over a mostly sedentary summer. But soon the trail leveled off, and I was able to move at a pleasant pace along the leaf-strewn path.
I particularly love the curving stretch of trail pictured above, for here I find all our evergreen ferns that hold their lovely fronds all winter long. Along this bank, I can even find all of them within the frame of one photo. The fern at top left is Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis), while the fern at right and bottom with its more intricately cut leaflets (pinnae) is Intermediate Wood Fern (Dryopteris intermedia). The darker green fern in the middle is Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), distinctive for the Christmas-stocking shape of its individual pinnae.
I soon came to my favorite spot , where the trail crosses a creek via a wooden bridge. Last time I was here, there was no water at all in the creek, but today a small but musical amount of water was tumbling and trickling over moss-covered rocks and collecting in sky-reflecting pools below where I leant on the railing of the bridge.
The damp rocks lining the waterfall's course are covered with a fascinating variety of mosses, liverworts, and evergreen plants. I was particularly charmed by this cluster of Herb Robert leaves (Geranium robertianum) sharing a mossy stone with some violet leaves worn nearly translucent by weather and time.
Continuing on, I reached steeper parts of the trail that were lined with large boulders. I was happy to have made it up this far, but I found that the rocks were providing footing that was a bit more unsteady than my weakened knee found safe. So I parked myself here for a little rest before reluctantly turning back the way I had come. So pretty up here, with views through the winter trees of lake and distant mountains. I hope when this trail becomes cushioned with a few feet of snow I can come back here and continue on in snowshoes.
In the meantime, I looked around at the massive boulders lining the trail and delighted in the tiny mosses thriving among them. I'm guessing that this may be Atrichum undulatum, although it seems a bit small for that species. And I had never seen that species in fruit, as it was this day. Whatever it is, it was lovely!
This moss I did confidently recognize as Rhizomnium punctatum, looking like a carpet of tiny green posies. The "posies" are actually the male splash cups holding the sperm until rain can splash it out on the ground to seek its female counterparts.
Update: Actually, the sperm in these moss cups is still green and not yet ready to be splashed out. I found a photo in my files that shows the sperm when black and ripe and ready.
I found the descent more difficult than the ascent, inching my way sideways down the steeper parts of the trail while I supported myself with my cane. But I made it down safely in time to catch this panorama of mountain, sky, sun-warmed shoreline, and the perfect silhouette of two horseback riders slowly passing along the beach. For several days, since the terrible killings in Paris and Beirut and who knows where else, I'd been suffering anger and anguish and arguments about what we should do next. How calming it was to stand here and gaze at this serene scene, to breathe deeply the sweet clean air and to rest in a silence broken only by the sound of a breeze in the trees. As I said before, how grateful I am to have such a beautiful park!
This poem by Wendell Berry appeared on my Facebook page this week. For obvious reasons, the poem speaks my heart.