Well, I carried Ed with me in my heart yesterday when I walked down the snow-laden trail to the ice-covered water of Lake Bonita, a beautiful little pristine lake high up in the Palmertown Mountains of Moreau Lake State Park.
We'd had several inches of new soft snow overnight, which lay in cottony puffs on the boughs of hemlocks and hushed even the crunch of my snowshoes as I descended the trail that leads to the lake. When I stopped to catch my breath, the silence of the forest was palpable. There aren't many other places where I could find such absolute quiet. I lingered in that silence, clearing my mind of all but thoughts of Ed and offering prayers that he find comfort and peace, whether he be leaving this life or else on the road to healing.
Aside from this little lake's unspoiled beauty (the only signs of human encroachment being a small stone pumphouse at one end and a concrete dam at the other), the most remarkable feature of the lake is the presence of tiny shrub-covered islands dotting its surface. Since the state park prohibits the presence of boats on this lake, winter becomes the only time we can investigate what plants inhabit these islands.
The remnants of last fall's seedpods can still be found among the Leatherleaf twigs, looking themselves like tiny two-toned blooms.
The second-most abundant shrub out here is called Sweet Gale (Myrica gale), another common denizen of acidic peatlands. This shrub earns the "sweet" part of its name from the aromatic quality of its leaves and fruits. In winter, its flower buds look like tiny glossy-brown cones, each scale prettily outlined in white.
Here and there, I found a Sweet Gale shrub with its fruits still attached. These fruits are highly aromatic, and a pinch of them will not only scatter the seeds on the snow but will also perfume your finger tips with a beautiful lingering scent.
A third shrub, Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), is almost as abundant on these islands, and it also can be found along the shore. In late June, this shrub bears clusters of vividly pink blooms, and even now, in the dead of winter, its leaves seem to glow with a ruddy cast.
Tall flower-stalks of Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) hold the globular remnants of their blooms all winter long. If the snow at the base of the stalks had not been so deep, I would also have been able to find the hollow pitcher-shaped basal leaves this peatland plant is noted for.
I remember puzzling over these spent seedpods a couple of years ago, and a blog-reader from Michigan helped me put a name to the flower that made them. During the summer, the pretty yellow flowers of Horned Bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta) rise on these slender stems, with the sparkling, ruby-red leaves of Spatulate Sundew carpeting the mud-flats beneath their feet.
The steep, rocky, north-facing banks of Lake Bonita are forested mostly with Hemlocks and Red Oaks, but down closer to the shore, where more light can penetrate, I find a few American Beeches and Red Maples. How odd, though, to see so many beechnut husks still clinging to this tree's branches. Perhaps because the branches were hanging over the water, wildlife foragers ignored them in search of finds with easier access.
A few scattered snowflakes began to prickle my wind-chilled cheeks, and the lightly overcast sky began to darken with roiling clouds.