Monday, January 14, 2019
Wintry Cold Arrives
OK, I asked for it. Wintry cold, that is. It just didn't seem right to have wide open water and bare ground in mid-January. Well, we got the cold all right: temps hovering near zero for several nights in a row. No snow yet, but hey, you can't always have everything. Trouble is, I'm finding the cold less bearable in my old age, so I've been out for only brief stretches these past few days, starting last Friday with a short walk on the shore of Moreau Lake.
Even though the temperature never rose above 15 degrees on Friday, despite a clear blue sky all day, there was still a large area of open water on the lake. There were THIN ICE signs along the shore warning folks not to venture out on the lake, but visible cracks in the ice close to shore revealed it was thick enough to walk on, as long as I stayed near the shore.
It was obvious from all these tracks that other creatures had ventured out on the ice, most likely coyotes drawn to feed on a bloody carcass I could see the remains of out there. I know the park staff often place the remains of road-killed deer on the ice for wildlife to feed on, but I was later informed that no staffer had dragged this carcass out on the ice. Coyotes are known to chase deer out onto the slippery surface, where the deer lose traction, their legs splay apart, and the coyotes are able to make short work of them. There wasn't much left of this one by now.
I was surprised to find no waterfowl occupying that open water on this afternoon, but this downy feather caught on an alder twig and blowing in the stiff wind was evidence that they had certainly been here previously.
What a lovely thing, this oak leaf emblazoned on an escutcheon of frosty ice!
It seemed I had only arrived at the lake before the sun began to sink behind the trees. But three weeks earlier, it would have been dark already by now. Every day, a little more sunlight!
By the time I started home, a crescent moon was high in a dark-blue sky, a very clear sky that signaled the start of another very cold night, as the temperatures started to plunge down toward zero.
It was still very cold on Saturday afternoon, when I stopped by Yaddo, the famous artists' retreat on the outskirts of Saratoga Springs. I walked by this little stream that flows under a pretty stone bridge, admiring the beautiful crystalline transformations that bitter cold creates in splashing water.
I had stopped by this stream to check on some American Bladdernut shrubs (Staphlea trifolia) that grow on the banks. A few years ago, groundskeepers had cut these shrubs down to the ground, but I pleaded with them to let these native shrubs regrow from their butchered stumps. And so they have! There were more of the distinctive hollow pods on the shrubs than I'd ever seen before.
The native American Bladdernuts grow wild along a woodland stream, but back in the cultivated gardens that Yaddo is famous for, I find another woody tree that also bears hollow papery pods. Only a few of these distinctive pods remained on the branches by now, but I found enough to prove that this was indeed the Carolina Silverbell Tree (Halesia carolina). This tree is native to the warmer climes of our more southern states, but it manages to survive our cold winters somehow where it grows in cultivation. Perhaps as our climate warms, we will begin to see this lovely flowering tree in the wild.
Here's a photo of the pretty flowers of the Carolina Silverbell. If you visit Yaddo around the third week of May, you might find both the Silverbell Tree and the Bladdernut shrubs in bloom.
The gardens at Yaddo are known for their fountains and statuary, as well as a gorgeous rose garden and a shade garden where many native wildflowers grow. I was surprised to see these fountain nymphs exposed to the winter weather. In previous years, I was sure they had been protected by covering boxes. That standing nymph looks like she could be hollering, "Bring me some clothes! Don't you know how cold it is to stand around naked in winter?"
I was certainly bundled up on a cold Sunday afternoon, when I stopped by the Bog Meadow Trail outside Saratoga, entering the trail by the new trailhead off Meadowbrook Road. This new section of trail runs along an open marsh that I had been waiting to freeze over solid, so I could safely venture out on the ice.
Over the past two years, I have been collecting specimens of plants that are missing from the botanical record for Saratoga County, and one of those missing plants is Swamp Dock (Rumex verticillatus), which grows abundantly in this particular swamp. (As well as in many other swamps, I'm sure. It is not a rare plant.) I see it frequently during warmer months, but it grows in mucky areas where I can neither walk nor paddle. At last, it was within my grasp, for I could walk right up to it on the frozen surface. I just hope it will be acceptable as a vouchered specimen, with its shriveled leaves and shedding seeds!
I didn't stop to collect the plant in this next photo, although I later discovered that this plant, too, is missing from the botanical record for Saratoga County, despite its actual ubiquity. I instead stopped to delight in this Northern Willow Herb (Epilobium ciliatum) because it was so cute, with its seed pods (siliques) curled back to give the plant the appearance of tousled blond curls. I won't go back now to obtain a specimen, for I would rather collect it when it is blooming with tiny pink flowers. It's even cuter, then! And I won't even have to wade through muck to collect it.