Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Walk on the Beach

 Last week, when my husband and I went to Florida, we never got to the beach.  But this past Sunday, when the weather in upstate New York turned nearly Florida warm, I went to my favorite local beach, at Moreau Lake State Park.  What a pleasure it was, strolling along the soft sun-warmed sand, enjoying the sound of tiny ripples washing ashore where the ice had retreated,  and scanning the water's edge for the sight of basking newts or the runic trails of underwater snails.  Added to those pleasures were the friendly greetings from many dogs, out to enjoy this spring-like day with more people than I'd seen at the park in many months. Yes, it sure felt as if spring were truly on its way.

It was obvious from deep gullies gouged in the sand that we'd had torrential rains during the days  we were gone, which also explains why this little creek was rushing and tumbling all the way to the lake.  Its bed had been dry most of the winter, and even in spring and summer this creek often runs dry, whatever waters it carries seeping into the sand long before it reaches the lakeshore.

Of course, no flowers are blooming as yet, but I always enjoy testing my knowledge of flowers' remains.  I pondered and pondered this little clump, unable to put a name to it until I sniffed its papery husks and caught the distinctive maple-syrup scent of Sweet Everlasting.

I knew right away what these small prickly pods were, because I visit them often in every season, to monitor their population. This is Whorled Mountain Mint, one of our state's rarest plants, but one that thrives quite happily along this shore.  As desiccated as the pods appear, they are still strongly fragrant of mint, and I plucked one to breathe in its summery scent as I continued my walk. (Note: the seeds had already dispersed, so I was not endangering the plant by taking a single seedhead.  But please do not ever pick any wildflowers while they are still blooming or setting seed.)

This past summer and fall, the water level of Moreau Lake had fallen lower than anyone could remember, revealing wide swaths of sandy beach where in other years, the water would have reached the treeline.  It's been interesting to see what plants have taken hold in these stretches of dry sand that once were underwater.  On one shore, I found dozens and dozens of plants of Blue Curls emerge where none had been seen before.  The tiny royal-blue flowers of this plant are delightful, and so are the dainty little papery cups that held the flowers' seeds, now long since dispersed.

Moving back into the woods, I could still find patches of snow persisting among the boulders, but the startling pink of Striped Maple twigs assured me the season of spring was inexorably on its way.

I  can't take the lovely reticulated leaves of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain for a sign of impending spring, however, since this orchid's leaves are this gorgeously green and white all winter long. But I loved seeing them again, as they reminded me of the native orchids we have in abundance in New York State.  I learned just recently that the state of Florida has only three species of native orchids, while we in New York have nearly 60 native species.  Who would have guessed that?  Of course, Florida has many introduced species other than its natives.  I can think of only one we have in New York.

These furry leaves of Foamflower, too, have been hiding out under snow and ice all winter, so they can't really be thought of as harbingers of spring.  But that lovely dusty pink certainly adds a welcome dash of color to the still-brown forest floor.  As do the gorgeous greens of clumps of moss.

Ah, but THIS is a sign that spring is definitely on its way!  Skunk Cabbage does send up tight green spathes in the fall that persist throughout the winter, but now those spathes are beginning to relax and swell and take on the speckled reds and yellows that indicate new growth.  We may yet have zero nights and heaps of snow in the weeks to come, but this, our genuine first flower of spring, will not be dissuaded.  It can even produce enough heat on its own to melt the snow around it.


The Furry Gnome said...

Certainly doesn't look like that here today! Been sick and haven't been out of the house for a week, getting cabin fever.

threecollie said...

It is just irresistible to walk these days isn't it? Thanks for taking us along

Anonymous said...

Hi, as an ex-New Yorker, i've enjoyed reading your blog since I stumbled across it a year ago or more. I'd like to clarify something you wrote in re Florida's orchids. There are 109 species of native orchids in Florida, according to their on-line herbarium, and 13 established non-native species. The 3 species you mention must refer to to the 3 endemic native species found only in Florida and nowhere else.