This nearly 250-acre, heavily wooded park, the site of an 18th-century mansion now fallen to ruins, has miles of hiking trails through mixed forest and wetlands. Only recently opened to the public for "passive recreation," the park has become a popular destination for snow-shoers and cross-country skiers, who already had nicely packed the trails to make it easier for us to make our way. I must say that these cheerful and knowledgeable women who joined us today, some past 90 years of age, certainly do inspire me to keep getting out there, even on days when I might be more inclined to stay indoors.
But this day was one that truly invited me to get outdoors, so fresh and clean-scented was the air, so bright and blue was the sky, so delightful was the company, and so diamond-sparkly was the pristine snow that carpeted the forest floor.
That lovely carpet of snow was criss-crossed this morning by the tracks of many mice, the marks of their tiny hopping feet connected by the impression of their tails as they scurried here and there. Their trails always remind me of trapunto stitching on a quilt.
We Thursday Naturalists have visited this park on other occasions, conducting surveys of the woody and herbaceous plants that grow here. This time of year, we have to satisfy our botanical curiosity by observing plants in their winter forms. Here, for example, is a very hairy Poison Ivy vine climbing a White Ash tree. This is certainly a plant that people should learn to identify in every season! The toxic oils that can cause a skin rash are present even in the dead of winter. (One of our members described the bark of this tree as resembling wide-wale corduroy. Very apt!)
Without their leaves, some trees are difficult to identify in winter, but that's not the case for Black Cherry, with its distinctive shaggy black bark that has been described as "burnt potato chips." I have also heard the Black Cherry referred to as the "cornflake tree." There are many mature cherry trees in the woods at Anchor Diamond Park, some of considerable size.
One tree with thick, corky bark had us puzzled for a while, but then I broke off the chunk of that bark and noted the alternating layers of dark and light, a distinctive feature of American Elm. This reminds me of those crispy wafer cookies filled with chocolate cream.
When we arrived at this section of the woods, where Sugar Maple trees were aligned in straight rows, we surmised we had come upon a sugar bush, where these maples had been planted with the intention of tapping them for their sweet sap.
These monumentally large, ancient Black Locust trees appeared to also have been planted along the old roadway, possibly to serve as a source of fence posts. The wood of Black Locust is known to be especially resistant to rot. But as this photo reveals, this species does eventually succumb to the ravages of age.
The palatial mansion that once stood at the center of this forested site has long ago fallen to ruins, but its location can still be detected by the presence of old stone walls. Mesh fencing surrounds much of the site where the mansion, called Hawkwood, once stood, both to prevent injury to hikers who might fall into old pits, as well as to discourage intrusion into a site considered archaeologically significant.
Here we are, heading home. We could hear the noon whistles from nearby fire stations, and also the grumbles from stomachs hungering for lunch. There's nothing quite like a walk through a snowy woods on a clear cold day to whip up an appetite. And what a lovely way to earn our calories!