For more than twenty years I've been wandering the woods and waterways of Saratoga County, New York, looking closely, listening carefully. We are blessed in this county with an amazing amount of wilderness right at hand. With this blog I will share a year of adventuring here, seeking out what wonders await in my own Madagascar close to home.
i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky: and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes
e. e. cummings
I hope all my friends and family had a blessed Thanksgiving Day, filled with love and joy and thankfulness -- and if you were lucky, a walk outdoors among the "leaping greenly spirits of trees" and beneath a "blue true dream of sky."
This photo is of Moreau Lake on a late November afternoon, as a lowering sun gilds the top of the far mountain before slipping behind the mountains in the west. Each time I gaze at this scene I feel a deep peace, aa well as deep thankfulness that I live surrounded by such natural beauty.
I also give thanks for the continuing health and vivacity of my husband, Denis, who turns 80 years old today. As a birthday gift to him, we will be spending most of the coming week in the habitat that delights him the most, the vibrant milieu of New York City, with all its wonderful museums and ethnic restaurants and, this time of year, the bustling and colorful crowds from all over the world who throng this great city's streets to marvel at the holiday decorations. I love all this, too, but I know I will be very glad to return the following week to my wilderness haunts and once again post news of what I find out there in this blog.
Well, not exactly fresh woods, since the woods in question have been lumbered for many years by the Finch Pruyn paper company. But I heard that these woods are now for sale, and that they may eventually be acquired by Moreau Lake State Park. If this does happen, the woods and wetlands of this tract would certainly be new to me, as public access may be granted to this many-acred plot of land that lies between Butler/Old Bend Roads and the Hudson River. The state already owns the shore along this stretch of the river below the Sherman Island Dam in Queensbury -- note the thin green line along the river as pictured on the map below -- but the public has never been able to cross this huge plot of forested land to reach the riverbank. At this time, the land still belongs to Finch Pruyn, and since logging with its concomitant hazards continues at the site, public access remains prohibited. But I'm hoping that this situation may change sometime in the near future.
Excited to learn this news, I hurried over to Butler Road this week, hoping to maybe find a way to personally preview these lands. But after noting the prominent "No Trespassing" signs, all I could do was gaze at the site through a sturdy chain-link fence. Nevertheless, I could still enjoy imagining myself walking those logging roads through the clearings and then down to the shore of the river. Those logged-over lands offer the promise of finding the kinds of plants that populate forest clearings. And who knows what undiscovered plants I might find when I reach those yet-to-be explored riverbanks? Ooh, I just can't wait!
As I said, I couldn't wait. Convinced I could get a better sense of these lands than just a gander through the chain-links, I followed the fence for nearly a mile to where it ended at this spot on Old Bend Road. Then I followed the fence line back into the woods as far as it went, to where it ended on the banks of a flowing stream.
I remembered paddling this stream a couple of years ago, progressing against a slow current from where it entered the Hudson just upstream from the Northway bridge. I wondered at the time if this was a natural stream, or was it a canal dug out by log drivers to avoid the rapids out on the main course of the river. Because of beaver dams across this stream, I wasn't able to paddle the entire length of the waterway back then, but today I decided to see how far I could follow its banks. Could I get all the way to the river from here?
Here's one of the beaver dams that interrupted my paddle a few years back. I thought I might cross this dam today to get to the lands that abutted the Hudson, but the dam ended before it reached the far bank, leaving a gap too wide for me to leap across. And the water rushing through the gap was too deep for wading across in my ankle-high boots.
So I kept walking along the bank, and soon I came to another dam that held the stream's water back to form a pond that on this day was covered with a thin sheet of ice. At this point, an extensive wetland lay between me and where I might find access to the Hudson shore.
Nor could I proceed much further along the stream, since the banks soon grew too steep, leaving no room for a pathway along the water. So I turned back. I guess I will have to wait until the park creates trails across the lumbered lands before I can reach the river.
In the meantime, though, I enjoyed discovering the plants that grow along this stream, including many Winterberry shrubs that were thick with scarlet fruits.
When I first glimpsed these skeletal structures lying atop the leaves, I thought they might be fish bones left from an otter's dinner, but a closer look revealed that they were the bleached-out remains of Field Horsetail Reeds.
There were abundant fallen logs covered with many different kinds of mosses, liverworts, and lichens, including this thriving cluster of the Cladonia lichen called Pixie Cups. A second, narrower Cladonia, called Powderhorn, was sharing this stump.
Tufts of milkweed silk were caught on the twigs of streamside shrubs.
I drew to a halt when I came across this patch of tall plants with their tulip-shaped seed pods and caramel-colored opposite stem leaves. Gosh, but they looked familiar! What are they, I wondered, and where had I seen these before?
A closer look at the seedpods jolted my memory: these are the remains of Great St. Johnswort, a flowering plant that is listed as Rare in New York State, and one I had found only once before, on a Hudson River island upstream from where these are growing.
What a spectacular show this patch of Great St. Johnsworts will put on when the plants come into bloom next summer. Here's what they will look like then, with bright-yellow blooms over two inches across. I hope by the time they come into bloom next year, we will be able to freely roam these newly acquired woodlands and waterways. Who knows what other floral treasures we might find?
Sudden bitter cold! The temperature plunged down into the teens last night and barely rose out of the 30s today (Saturday). And overnight, portions of the back bay of Moreau Lake became covered with a thin sheet of ice.
On other north-facing shores where the sun rarely shines, bands of crystalline ice had formed where still-open water met the sand.
But on sunnier shores, the sun still cast its warming beams, and open water lay still beneath a cloud-less sky. The cold air felt pure and astringent as I walked along, while the sand felt soft and warm beneath my feet.
Black Huckleberry shrubs line the shore at the north end of the lake, and their still-brilliant leaves seemed to emanate warmth from their very color.
Clumps of Little Bluestem Grass shoot up from the sand along this shore. The fibers of the grass's inflorescence seemed to catch and hold the sunlight's gold.
I was surprised how quiet the lake was today, with very few people walking the shore. Even though it was cold, there was little wind, and a brilliant sun under a cobalt sky made for very pleasant conditions.
Where Hop Hornbeam trees hang over the sand, their branches were ornamented with cone-like seed pods.
A flock of Bufflehead ducks was visiting the far end of the lake, with most of the flock dipping and diving beneath the waters of the back bay. But a single Bufflehead drake came over to the main body of the lake to swim around with a group of Mallards. See how small this little duck is, compared with the larger Mallards. He is so distinctive, with his dark back and solid white undersides and that fan of white displayed on the side of his crest, that I could ID him even from this blurry photograph.
A small flock of Canada Geese was feeding along a grassy shore, but they swam away as I approached, leaving a pattern of Vs on the sky-blue water.
The first frosty morning of autumn, 2017! I don't know if this is the latest first frost on record, but it's certainly one of the the latest that I can remember. And I do pay attention, since every year, on the first morning the thermometer drops below freezing, I like to hurry over to Mud Pond in Moreau Lake State Park, hoping to see if the plant called Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense) has extruded its frosty curls of frozen sap.
This year, though, I slept rather late, and by the time I reached Mud Pond, the sun was already warming the shore. Would that sun already have melted the Frostweed curls? Would I miss seeing the lovely way that frost crystals ornament the low vegetation that grows in the sandy powerline clearcut that lies at the top of the pond?
My first steps onto that powerline clearcut assured me that there was still some frosty beauty to be observed this morning. Some sparkling crystals still outlined the Dewberry leaves and clung to the red-capped Cladonia lichens.
Some silvery-mauve mushrooms were spangled with frost, as were the spiky leaves of Haircap Moss.
And there, where the nearby woods had shaded the path, where the sun's early beams had not yet warmed the leaf litter, a number of Frostweed plants had performed their overnight magic! Curls of delicate ice, diaphanous as frozen vapor, surrounded each stem, close to where the stems emerged from the ground.
Wherever the sun had begun to touch these frothy emanations, I could see they were melting fast. I'm so glad I arrived in time to see them today.
These brilliant red American Bittersweet berries were another beauty I felt lucky to find today. Unfortunately, this native vine is rapidly being supplanted by the introduced tree-strangling Oriental Bittersweet, but a few of these vines still manage to hold their own at this site around Mud Pond. Their berries are bigger than those of the alien species, but the vines tend to produce many fewer of them.
I'm always amazed at how the leaves of seedling oaks contain all the foliage colors of autumn in a single leaf. The frost that had earlier coated these leaves had melted by now, dampening the leaves and intensifying the colors.
I could hear the flocks of Canada Geese hooting and muttering out on the pond. One of their downy feathers had caught on the wind and wafted up the bank to catch on a Hazelnut twig. It fascinated me to see the different textures of this single tuft: the lofty, fluffiness of the warmth-providing down and the stiff spikiness of the water-shedding outer layer. A perfect design for a goose's cold-water habitat!
Frost is finally predicted for this coming week, the latest I can ever remember. And the forecast is also for chilly rain in the days to come. Seems like a good time to take my canoe back to Hornbeck's for repairs before I store it away for the winter, but first, I covered the leaks with duct tape and went for a final paddle on the Hudson River.
The day was gray, but the woods along the river still glowed with the last embers of autumn colors.
The little birches and the highbush blueberries added especially vivid flashes.
The river was so high when I put in on Satruday, I could hear the water roaring over the Sherman Island Dam some considerable distance downstream, so I headed that way to observe the tumultuous plummeting. Inching as close to the edge as I dared, I beached my boat and climbed up the bank for a better view.
This dam has a most remarkable horseshoe shape.
I doubt I would have survived if my boat had gone over the edge to be dashed on the rocks below!
Paddling back, I took my time marveling at the glorious landscape that surrounds the river along this stretch, with forested mountains as far as the eye can see, and except for the road that follows the far bank, very few signs of human habitation.
The close-up views were equally delightful, as a momentary sunbeam broke through the clouds to illumine this maple bough.
Now that the Witch Hazel shrubs have dropped their leaves, their starry yellow flowers stood out against a backdrop of dark-green conifers.
An abundant patch of Wintergreen had found its niche in a crack of a riverside boulder. I rejoiced in realizing that these glossy green leaves and plump red berries will emerge from winter's ravages next spring looking just as beautiful as they do today. I will seek them out when I return for my first paddle of next year.
Every time I re-enter this quiet boulder-lined cove to beach my boat, I feel reluctant to leave. There's a fragrance here of moss and pine and damp soil, and centuries of flowing water have carved deep-shadowed hollows in the rocks. I lingered here for quite some time, breathing in the cool fragrant air and offering thanks that I live in a place where such natural beauty abounds.
For the most part, our fall foliage colors were disappointing this year. Due to a hot, dry September, many leaves shriveled and fell before turning the gorgeous reds and golds we expect to see each autumn, and by now, the show is mostly over, except for a few russet-brown and cinnamon-ruddy oaks. But there's one place we can still find some vivid foliage, and that's among the banks and boulders that rise along Spier Falls Road, where this curving road follows the Hudson River at Moreau.
Here, massed on the forested banks, shrubs like Maple-leaved Viburnum and American Bush Honeysuckle, in addition to small oak saplings, offer the vivid pinks and corals and golds and apricots we missed this year in our taller trees.
And the brilliant green of evergreen ferns enhances the kaleidoscope hues of all the deciduous woody plants.
With the Palmertown Mountains rising steeply away from the river here, exposed bedrock lines the road, craggy boulders dampened from many dripping springs.
These spring-dampened rocks provide a perfect habitat for a number of beautiful mosses. I'm not sure what the name of this yellow moss is, but I loved the way it softened the craggy rocks with its thick shaggy carpet of gold.
I believe this spiky green moss is called Fountain Moss, for its habit of growing in wet habitats.
This starry patch of Haircap Moss has sprouted out of a bed of some species of dark-brown liverwort that thrives on this spring-watered ledge.
A number of different liverworts cling to these damp boulders, including this leafy green one, its leaves outlined in purple.
UPDATE: My friend Bob Duncan suggests this could be either Preissia quadrata or Reboulia hemisphaerica, but he also cautions about the difficulty of identifying a liverwort from a photograph. Preissia is described as a calciphile, and there certainly could be lime in the spring water that dampens these otherwise granitic rocks. And then, one of the common names for Reboulia is Purple-margined Liverwort. So take a guess!
I believe that this glossy red growth is a liverwort instead of a moss, but I would not be able to define exactly how to distinguish the two kinds of organisms. I have some queries out to friends who might know the name of it, so at least I hope to be able to report back on that question.
UPDATE: Thanks to Evelyn Greene, I now can call this liverwort by its name: Scapania nemorosa (or nemorea, according to some bryologists).
This is a closer look at the tiny translucent leaves along its reddish stems.
I also don't know the name of this fern. Perhaps it's a Woodsia obtusa, the Blunt-lobed Cliff Fern, which is known to inhabit spring-watered rock ledges just like this one. (Nope. See below.)
UPDATE: I have heard from some NY fern experts, both of whom opined that this was most likely a "weird mutated" Dryopteris, probably D. marginalis, the Marginal Wood Fern. There certainly were many Marginal Wood Ferns in the same area, but this one looked very different, "weirdly mutated" indeed!
A number of spring-flowering herbaceous plants grow on these rocks amid the mosses and liverworts and ferns, and some produce leafy rosettes that will winter over as green plants, ready to send up flower stalks as soon as warm weather returns. This pretty cluster of Pussytoe rosettes has found a niche amid clumps of moss.
I love how the leaves of Early Saxifrage look as if they'd been cut out with pinking shears.
I still had hoped to explore a good distance of roadside boulders when my camera battery died, and my spares were back in my car at least a half mile behind. I had just enough power to take one more photo of this beautiful curvaceous road, forested mountains rising on the left, the Hudson River flowing along on the right. Even on this gray drizzly day, the landscape was rich with texture and color.
On my way home over the Corinth Mountain Road, I stopped off at a tiny roadside swamp, where thick carpets of Sphagnum moss were punctuated with glossy green Goldthread leaves. Since Goldthread leaves are evergreen, I was surprised (and delighted!) to see these rosy-red ones, so pretty against the green-velvet of the sphagnum. Luckily, I now had a fresh battery in my camera.
As all our deciduous trees and shrubs drop their leaves in the days to come, the Winterberry fruits are exposed in all their vivid red. Even now, this little roadside swamp was ablaze with their brilliant glory.