Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Scary Times, Nature's Comforts

It's almost as if a neutron bomb has gone off downtown.  The buildings still stand, the shop windows full of merchandise, but except for a few dog-walkers, all of the people that normally throng the sidewalks  of Saratoga Springs are gone.  You could even find a parking place on Broadway!  In many ways, this Corona-virus pandemic and its consequent order to "shelter in place" hasn't changed my husband's and my life much at all, except that our dinner-and-a-movie date-night out has become a take-out and Netflix-movie-night in. Both of us are retired, anyway, and each of us enjoys solitary activities, my husband reading his books, and I going out to the woods to walk alone. And yet, everything has changed.  People the whole world over are facing the very same threat, and none of us knows how long the danger will last, or if we will ever go back to things the way they used to be.  Or even if we should.  Could it be that Mother Earth has fallen ill from all the ways we have abused her, and this virus is like her immune response trying to heal herself from human infection? Or just her out-of-patience demand that we go to our rooms and STAY THERE!

Strange and scary times, indeed! And so I have sought to comfort myself the way I know best, by heading to the woods and the waterways. Usually alone. But sometimes with a friend.

Last Wednesday, my pal Sue and I met to wander Moreau Lake State Park, agreeing to keep at least a six-foot distance between us. The day was sunny but cold, but we were delighted to see that the lake was mostly free from ice. There were ducks out there that looked interesting (this being migration time), but all kept their distance too far from us to determine what species they were with any certainty.  In this photo, Sue is watching a Spotted Salamander wriggle out of view beneath an underwater leaf.

Soon we left the lakeshore and headed up the nearby mountain, following a stream that bounded from boulder to boulder. See how responsible we were, not standing close enough to share any possible germs, Sue on one side of the stream, I on the other.

I have read that turbulent water like that found near waterfalls, rushing streams, and crashing waves is actually health-promoting, producing negative ions in the surrounding air that somehow help us heal. (Here's an article about this effect.)  I certainly love how such rushing water looks and sounds, and thus can attest to how it promotes my happiness, so why shouldn't it also promote good health?

Except for some budding shoots of Plantain-leaved Sedge, we found no evidence of spring flowers about to emerge.  But I found the lovely shapes and colors of these wintered-over Foamflower leaves a heartening testament to this species' ability to endure unscathed through the harshest of winters.

Saturday stayed quite chilly despite a high sun beating down out of a cloudless sky.  But this rainbow of colors along the Spring Run Trail in Saratoga  -- red-twigged dogwood, yellow-branched willows, green conifers, deep-blue sky -- certainly indicated that the season was definitely Spring.

And if I needed further and even more definite proof of Spring, here it was!  Masses of Coltsfoot lifted their bright-yellow sunbursts of bloom from out of the dead-leaf litter along the trail.

Yet one more emblematic sign of Spring:  silvery puffs of Pussywillow gleaming against that blue, blue sky.

And here on a fallen log along Spring Run Trail, I once again found a testament to nature's ability not just to revive but also to endure: This brilliantly colored fungus called Cinnabar Polypore had made it through at least one winter (and possibly more) without losing any of its intense orange-red color. I turned one small piece of it over, in order to display the richness and depth of its saturated hue.

We had a balmy day or two this past week, but Sunday was not one of them.  I'd heard reports that the Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs were trilling and croaking (respectively) from the still-ice-ringed ponds in the Skidmore woods here in Saratoga. Of course, I just had to go out there to celebrate the return of this froggy chorus.  But not a peep nor a croak did I hear.  Was this day too cold for them to poke their heads above water? Ah well, another day! And meanwhile, I went looking to see if the Sharp-lobed Hepatica that thrives in this woods was showing any signs of new growth.  The deep-red of their leathery wintering-over leaves made their presence easy to spot.

And look!  Some pinky-purple hepatica blooms were peeking out from their furry bracts.  I bet if the day had been just a bit warmer, these flowers would have opened wide to show their pretty faces to the sun.

Well, if hepatica blooms were almost open, might I find Snow Trillium already up at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton? This is a super-early bloomer, often thrusting up from just-thawed soil while snow still lies deep in the hollows.  Since Saratoga County is well out of the native range for this more-southerly tiny trillium, this preserve is the only place in all the state where we are likely to see them, since Orra herself once planted them here, and they have happily thrived. But not yet this year, I soon discovered, when I hurried to the spot where I usually find them.  And yet, I was happy to wander along the pretty stream that meanders through this preserve, delighting to note that all the snow is now gone from the woods.

Ah, but that wintry cold still lingered on icicle-festooned banks along the stream!

And then THIS happened today!  So much for signs of Spring!


Anonymous said...

March is a crazy month

threecollie said...

Glad you were able to get out. Other than the contagion, my biggest fear is having the outdoor places closed to us. Of course we have the farm to walk over, but I love the river, swamps, and ponds so much. What a year for pussy willows! I don't think I have ever seen so many before. And, as always, your coltsfoot is weeks ahead of ours....which is fine. I get to marvel over yours and then enjoy ours. Take care and stay well.

Woody Meristem said...

Never fear, spring is on its way. The future of humans on the planet is another question. In modern humanity's arrogance the fact that nature bats last seems to have been lost and COVID-19 is just a warning that much worse may well happen in the future. Humans haven't been around as long as dragonflies or cockroaches and there's no reason to believe we'll come anywhere close. 'nough of that -- the peepers and wood frogs have been calling and the wood frogs have already laid their eggs -- and the sun will come up tomorrow.

The Furry Gnome said...

Gorgeous picture of the Coltsfoot! But Hepatica this early?