Monday, October 11, 2010

Back to the Center

Morning mist on Pyramid Lake in Essex County, New York

Pyramid Lake is certainly one of the jewels of the Adirondacks. But this crystal-clear wilderness lake encircled by forested mountains means far more to me than just a pretty place to spend a holiday weekend. This lake is the home of Pyramid Life Center, a spiritual retreat center to which I fled in the summer of 1991, full of anguish over the war my nation had started against Iraq, angry and sad that my fellow Americans were so excited and proud and happy to go to war. And here, at a retreat with Jesuit priest and anti-war activist Daniel Berrigan, I found I was not alone in my feelings of alienation. And more than that, here I found heroes -- social workers, drug counselors, healthcare providers, advocates for the homeless and poor -- whose witness gave me the courage to choose for myself a more authentic way to live. I left a job that required me to be very nice to the very rich just because they were very rich, to learn how to care for the dying as a nursing assistant for Hospice -- a choice that has brought me far more joy and spiritual riches than I ever dreamed possible. So yes, my love for Pyramid Life Center runs very deep, indeed.

This love for Pyramid LIfe Center is why I return each spring and fall to help open and close the center's facilities. My usual fall job is to ready the bedrooms for winter, covering mattresses and upholstered furniture with plastic, a task that often takes a couple of days. This year I came up early so I could show my friend Sue around before I started to work. Sue is the author of the beautiful nature blog Water Lily, and she has posted an account of our day, complete with terrific photos, which my readers can visit by clicking here. Sue and I had hoped to paddle all around the lake, but a fierce wind out on the open water kept us confined to a sheltered end of the lake in the lee of the mountains. Here the lake narrows to a small stream that leads into a cedar swamp, where hummocks were covered with cranberry plants and baby trees, like this little rosy Red Maple.

I had hoped we could paddle to the other end of the lake, where rugged and monumental cliffs loom steeply over the shore. But we couldn't make it, even in our low-to-the-water boats. I managed to paddle there the next day, when the wind was a little calmer and the late afternoon sun lit up the golden birches.

Since paddling was no fun with the wind rolling whitecaps over our gunwales, Sue and I opted for a hike instead. We chose a trail that led through woods toward the next lake to the east, Eagle Lake.

Along that trail we found the biggest Amanita Muscaria I have ever seen, and one of the prettiest, too. That mushroom was as big as a birthday cake.

Our trail led to a dam that forms the outlet for Eagle Lake, where the water was rushing with great force, thanks to recent heavy rains.

Later that day, we visited another waterfall that thundered down a rocky cliff with a roar that drowned our voices. Sue has a great photo of the entire waterfall on her blog, but I managed to capture only a small -- if resoundingly energetic -- portion of it.

Except for the wind, the weather the whole weekend was spectacularly lovely, sunny and warm during the day, clear and frosty cold at night, with the Milky Way clearly visible across a moonless star-spangled sky. On Friday, when Sue and I were walking together, she pointed out this unusual cloud, with its furry edge so different from the puffy cumulous clouds around it. But it wasn't until I enlarged this photo on my computer screen that I noticed the colors at the edge. My husband has told me that this phenomenon is called a "circumhorizon arc" and is caused by sunlight passing through ice crystals in the cloud. I boosted the saturation of this photo a bit, the better to see those colors.

The foliage colors this fall are a bit disappointing, since this summer's rain shortage caused many of the maple leaves to wither before their colors turned. But here and there were bursts of vivid color, made even more intense when reflected in rippling water.

I was so enchanted by these reflected colors, I sat in my canoe and gazed at them for a long time. The word "psychedelic" comes to mind, even though I never took LSD back in the 60s.

All weekend I noticed this little brown bird with an ochre crown hopping about the sandy beach, quiet as a mouse. I guessed it was a sparrow but could not decipher the species until I got home and studied my bird books.

And I am still puzzled. My best guess is that this is a White-throated Sparrow in its fall plumage, which looks quite different from its breeding plumage. Don't White-throated Sparrows fly south for the winter? Maybe, like me, this little bird was reluctant to leave this magical place.


swamp4me said...

Perhaps your bird is a first winter white-crowned sparrow...if you have Sibley's guide look on page 386.

Carolyn H said...

I agree that your bird could well be a white-crowned sparrow. I'm not entirely sure, but that's my first guess, too.

I love your photo of the mist rising off the lake--and your psychedelic reflections too!

Carolyn H.

Unknown said...

Interesting you made the comment about never taking LSD while finding the Amanita Muscaria, a mushroom that has psychoactive properties!

suep said...

aha, NOW you see what I was talking about the colors in the clouds !
it was fun sitting with you on that day and just groovin' on sparkles, colors, cloud shadows, etc.
No Stephen we did NOT partake of that mushroom that day !

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, Swampy and Carolyn for your input about the sparrow. I did look at the bird guide's pictures of White-crowned Sparrows and thought my sparrow's crown was too brownish a color. But the resemblance is certainly there.

Yes, Stephen, I've heard that this mushroom can mess up your brain, which is why I would never eat it. Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment.

Yes Sue, I did miss seeing those colors until I enlarged the cloud on my computer screen. But you know how blind I am. It sure was great to see my special place through your eyes and your blog photos. We don't need no stinkin' mushrooms, do we, to get high on nature's amazements.