Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Back to Bonita (for Ed)

What the heck is WRONG with me?  Days and days go by, and I don't even WANT to go outdoors.  Yeah, I've got  old-lady aches and pains, and yeah, the weather this winter has been decidedly icky. But those used to be just minor impediments I'd quickly brush aside as I tore out the door to snowshoe up mountains or wander around ice-bound swamps or climb up the course of a frozen waterfall. I guess I'm a little depressed. A really sad thing has happened to my dear friend and fellow nature enthusiast Ed Miller, who had a stroke almost two weeks ago and appears to be fading from us more and more as the days go by. Damn! We've had so many adventures together.  Just type his name into this blog's search bar and prepare to be amazed! Even though Ed is now 94 years old,  I'd still hoped we could explore more places  together.  Sadly, I never did manage to get him to Lake Bonita.

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.

 With the snow so deep on the ice, the underlying carpets of sphagnum moss covering these islands were not visible now, but the species of shrubs thriving here are certain indicators of a peatland habitat.  The most abundant shrub is called Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), which, true to its name, still clings to many of its thick leathery leaves throughout the winter.  And even now, its flower buds are already evident, waiting for the earliest warmth of spring to dangle tiny white bell-shaped florets.

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.

 By the time I reached the steep trail that would lead me huffing and puffing back to my car, snow was falling in earnest.   But this snow felt more like a blessing than a threat.   The flakes were big and fluffy and I could catch them on my tongue.  They collected on the brim of my hat so that when I shook my head they cascaded down like a bridal veil around my head.  I could easily see their six-sided starry crystals where the fuzzy threads of my scarf held them aloft.  For weeks, I'd felt nothing but grudging complaints about this winter, but suddenly here, I felt a surge of joy.  Must be because I'd brought Ed along in my heart.  I'd never NOT had a great time when I hiked with my pal.

P.S.: To see photos of this pretty lake and its tiny islands in their full summer glory, click HERE.


Bill and dogs said...

A beautiful post. Thank you.

Uta said...

Wishing that Ed can heal and once again enjoy the woods and fields with his friends.
Your post is enjoyable, although also sad.

Susan C. said...

I hope your wonderful pictures provided as much balm to you as they did to me. Lovely, poignant essay.

Jane said...

Glad you and Ed's spirit could get outdoors. Thanks for the lovely photos of winter treasures.

Jeff nadler said...

Finally, the past few weeks, I snowshoed Bonita and found it beautiful. I look forward to seeing what birds are there in May.

Woody Meristem said...

Sadly, as we age more and more of our friends pass on. Of a group of nine friends we used to call "The Naturalists" there are only three of us left now and I'm the only one who still wanders forest and field. Such is life amid the passage of time.

mw said...

Lovely. I feel the same about going outside now, but it's typical for me by mid-Feb to be done with snowshoeing and ready for warmth and (non-snowshoe, non-ice-cleats) hiking weather. I'm walking on sidewalks around town now mostly and only occasionally in the snowy/icy woods. I'm sorry about your friend and hiking partner.

threecollie said...

So sorry to read of your dear friend's struggle. Seems that this winter is fraught with such sadness. A beautiful post.

Barbara said...

A belated comment. I was deeply moved by this post, Jackie! I fully understand the concept of carrying someone in your heart & it did me good to think of Ed being there with you. Your pictures & commentary were wonderful! I, almost, felt inspired to go outside, myself! So often, nature brings comfort & joy. May it be so!