Actually, I had previewed this trail the week before, on a much sunnier day, when I took this photo of the Saratoga Battle Monument, honoring the victory of American troops against the British at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, a turning point in the Revolutionary War. This monument marks the entry point for the Victory Wood Trail, and both the monument and the trail are part of the Saratoga National Historical Park, which includes the Saratoga Battlefield some eight miles to the south of this location.
Access to the Victory Wood Trail begins in the Prospect Hill Cemetery, which is adjacent to the monument. A large sign here reminds us of the history of this special place.
Here, on a cloudy wind-chilled day this past week, our friends in the Thursday Naturalists gathered in the cemetery before entering the woods.
Of course, being naturalists, we had to halt in our progress toward the woods to examine the lichens thriving on this gravestone.
We also paused at this grave, hoping its inhabitant had found happier times in the afterlife. (And also hoping no one would ever mark our graves like this!)
The trail through the woods is remarkably accessible to people of all abilities, with long stretches of boardwalk and stone paths hard enough for rolling a wheelchair. There is even a separate handicapped-designated parking lot offering direct wheelchair access to the trail, as well as several benches situated along the way. Also situated along the trail are a number of large signs explaining the historical importance of this location, the first of which our friends are examining here.
The trail proceeds through a mixed hardwood forest and past a small pond, its water afloat with bright-green duckweed and its shoreline thick with the red-fruited shrubs of Winterberry.
Another sign describes the importance of this location to native peoples long before the Europeans arrived on this continent.
A procession of signs describes the sufferings of the defeated British soldiers and their Loyalist supporters, who retreated to this location following their defeat in the Battle of Saratoga.
This series of signs certainly helped us understand and honor the history that had happened here. But naturalists being naturalists, we were often lured from the trail to examine some natural phenomena. Ed was particularly interested in the fungus growing on this Hop Hornbeam tree, an accumulation of small pinkish disks that he told us will usually be found only on Hop Hornbeam trees (Ostrya virginiana), although it can sometimes occur on oak or elm as well.
Almost the entire trunk was peppered with the fungus called Hophornbeam Disc (Aleurodiscus oakesii), a more massive accumulation, Ed told us, than he had ever seen before.
Ed also found more fungi thriving on this enormous stump, the size of which indicates it could well have stood here at the very time this location served as a camp for the defeated British forces.
The colorful caps of Turkey Tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) decorated many of the fallen logs throughout the woods.
Another fascinating fungus we found was the Split-gill Fungus (Schizophyllum commune), a fungus with several amazing attributes. One remarkable thing about it is that it can dry up and shrivel again and again, then spring back into fully reproductive life as soon as a rainfall revives it again. Another astounding property is that it has not just two, but at least 28,000 different sexes. (I'm not exactly clear how that works, but you can click HERE to read how mushroom expert Tom Volk describes this complex process.)
Here's a closer photo, revealing the split gills that give this fungus its name.
Another amazement was finding some Witch Hazel shrubs still in bloom, their yellow ribbons of petals unfurled despite the damp chill of the day and the past occurrence of several hard frosts.
Here was one more surprise find: the evergreen leaves of a little Botrychium fern.