Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year, New Friends, New Adventures

Wow! Almost 50 degrees! The first day of January was more like the first day of Spring. As I walked around Mud Pond yesterday through the now-snowless woods, I felt a little sad that Winter seemed to have come and gone already. But mostly I felt a great gratitude that I have this wonderful Moreau Lake State Park to explore, whatever the season or weather. This park, with its forests and mountains and lake and ponds and tumbling streams and majestic Hudson, has provided me with the most amazing nature adventures over the years, including the last two years of my blogging about them. I remember, just one year ago, wondering if I could find enough new to fill another year of nature blogs. Silly me! There's always something new in the woods and along the waterways.

Each Winter day, the little streams present an ever-changing array of beautiful ice formations.

When the snow begins to recede in Spring, the Wood Frogs croak their songs in melting woodland pools -- and to our amazement, we learned this year they would answer us when we croaked back at them!

Soon the forest floor springs to life with the Spring ephemeral flowers, which we joyously greet as if for the very first time.

Summer arrives with its long hot days, and the deep cool river water refreshes us.

Autumn returns with its ravishing display of glorious color, and everywhere we look we are stunned by beauty.

Now Winter has come around again, to work its magic way of turning water into crystal.

The best part of the year just past has been the wonderful friends I have made, fellow nature lovers I've met through my blog who have shared their special places with me and shown me plants I had never seen before. Thanks to them, I explored many new territories and was able to add 49 new species to my wildflower life list, including several rarities that had never been documented in Saratoga County, and some that had not been found in other counties for many years.

My most constant companion has been Sue Pierce, who lives close by, so that we can meet almost every week -- usually at Moreau Lake State Park, where Sue showed me where to find a whole array of gorgeous Wood Lilies.

Sue also took me to Dunham's Bay on Lake George, where we paddled for hours through miles of marshland, finding turtles and herons as well as unusual insects and water plants.

Together, Sue and I hiked the Warren County Bikeway from Glen Lake to Lake George, a six-mile stretch that took us more than seven hours because there was so much to marvel at along the way, including this Hummingbird Moth exploring the blossoms of Glaucous Honeysuckle.

The Betar Byway runs along the Hudson River at South Glens Falls, and this is another of Sue's favorite haunts. It's here that Sue took me to show me some Grass of Parnassus, one of those flowers for which there had been no record of occurrence in Saratoga County. Until now. And it sure grows prolifically here, in shale cliffs the color of coal.

Another rarity along the Betar was this flower that floats on inflated pontoons, Utricularia radiata or Small Inflated Bladderwort. We found many individuals holding their pretty yellow blooms above the water near where we launched our boats. I received permission from the New York Natural Heritage Program to obtain and press a specimen of this bladderwort and send it to them, so that they could now include it in the floral atlas for Saratoga County.

Of course, I showed Sue some of my favorite places, including the splendid wilderness area around Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks (click here to read all about it) and the Bog Meadow Nature Trail near Saratoga Springs, where we found a thriving population of Nodding Trillium, a species reported to now be in decline. Dear faithful Sue was one of only two people who showed up for a nature walk I volunteered to lead near Ballston Creek, and we had quite a reward that day: an amazing display of a parent Osprey trying to lure its fledged youngsters back into flight.

But no matter how far afield we roam, we always come happily back to our dear home territory, Moreau Lake State Park. And can you blame us? Just look at the view from one of our favorite destinations in the park, the Spring Trail Overlook.

We were celebrating Summer Solstice that day, joined by park staffers Cliff and Rebecca. Sue also writes a nature blog, called Water Lily, so it's always fun to re-experience our adventures together from her perspective and through her amazing photographs.

A second grand companion this year was Evelyn Greene. She lives in North Creek, a bit of a drive from Saratoga, but all she has to do is ask, and I'll follow her anywhere, because she knows of the most amazing places. I'm sworn to secrecy about some of these places, because of the rarity of the plants that grow there, but frankly, their difficult terrain should serve to protect them from all but the most intrepid. And Evelyn is nothing if not intrepid. Here's a photo of Evelyn leading me into a bog in search of a rare club moss that we never did find, but we had a marvelous time nonetheless, despite bugbites and scratches and sweat and muck to our knees. She's just such darn good company. And boy, does she know her plants!

Other adventures with Evelyn took us deep into dark cedar swamps, where we scrambled over moss-covered blowdown, slipping from hummock to hummock through sucking mud in our search for orchids, including this rare, solitary, and astonishingly beautiful Showy Lady's Slipper.

In another, even more inaccessible Essex County swamp, which we had to approach by canoe, we found a large population of Pink Pyrola, a species that hadn't been found in that county since 1941. So yeah, we felt kind of pleased with ourselves about that. Once we found our way back to our boats.

Probably the rarest and most beautiful orchid we found was Dragon's Mouth (Arethusa bulbosa), and we didn't even have to struggle much to find it. Just carry our canoes a half mile or so to a hidden boggy pond, paying no attention to the guy with big dogs who might yell at us for trespassing across his land. Orchid hunters have to be single-minded in pursuit. (Actually, we had permission.)

We had many other adventures, too, including the discovery of a bog that -- for once! -- was easy to get into and walk upon, and where White Fringed Orchids dotted the sphagnum mat like dandelions on the lawn. This was definitely my year for finding orchids!

Although Evelyn's primary passion is plants, she became fascinated this year with some very odd formations of weathered granitic rock called tafoni, most of which she discovered near Snowy Mountain in the Adirondacks. But a single such boulder was carried by the glacier to a woods near Thirteenth Lake, which is where Evelyn led us late this fall to marvel at its structure.

Once again, Evelyn proved we can always count on her to show us something we've never seen before.

A third friend who enlarged my life and expanded my range of exploration this year is Ed Miller, field botanist extraordinaire and delightfully nice guy.

I've known about Ed for years, since his passion for plants is renowned throughout the capital district, but it was only this year that we started adventuring together. He showed up for a nature walk I led at Bog Meadow Trail this spring, and several hours later, after everyone else had gone home except for Ed and Sue and me, we found we just couldn't get enough -- of the trailside plants or of one another. So we met again many, many times, exploring each other's favorite haunts.

Here's Ed looking for a Ragged Fringed Orchid, which was growing among the rocks at the Ice Meadows, a remarkable grassland habitat along the Hudson River upstream from Warrensburg.

Ed has carefully documented all the plants he has found along this stretch of the river, many of them rare species uniquely adapted to this habitat made harsh by huge heaps of ice each winter. On this trip, Ed not only showed me that orchid, he also showed me a great place to swim where the current swirled among the rocks, carrying us back again to where we jumped in. Whee!

Other special places Ed took me to see included Joralemon Park in Coeymans, a multi-acre patch of calcareous woodland rich in lime-loving plants that Ed himself purchased to donate as a nature preserve. He also gave me a personal tour of a native woody plants exhibit he has almost single-handedly created at the Landis Arboretum in Esperance. (Ed is a guy who walks the walk as well as talking the talk, when it comes to preserving nature.) To reciprocate, I wanted to show Ed one of my special places, and so invited him and his friend Nan Williams to join me for a paddle at Pyramid Lake in Essex County, where I had easy access to the lake through a private camp. Ed had last seen this lake 50 years ago, when he'd had to hike in from over the mountains. Here, Ed and Nan paddle toward the east end of the lake, where I showed them a thriving patch of rare native bur-reeds, Sparganium natans, a species that hadn't been reported in the county since 1931.

In addition to the pleasure of Ed's always wonderful company, one of the benefits of knowing him is that he has introduced me to his group of friends called the Thursday Naturalists. Comprising both professional botanists and deeply knowledgeable amateurs, this group meets weekly to explore natural areas all over the capital district (and sometimes beyond). Here's part of the group as we set off to explore the Woodlawn Preserve, a pine-barrens preserve in Schenectady. Obviously, we didn't get far before we discovered a plant that called for closer examination.

With an open invitation to join this group each week, my world continues to expand in ways I could never have imagined when I started keeping this blog. So I think I'll keep on blogging. Perhaps I should change the name to simply Woods and Waterways, since it seems I am venturing far beyond Saratoga County now, thanks to all my new and delightful nature-loving companions.

While I'm celebrating all these new friendships, I can't forget another dear friend, Ellen Rathbone, whose own blog, Adirondack Naturalist, was the inspiration for me starting my own, and whose companionship on many adventures I will always remember with joy. Here we are sharing a paddle along the Hudson River at South Glens Falls.

State budget cuts eliminated Ellen's nature educator position at the Adirondack Visitors' Interpretive Center in Newcomb, so she had to seek employment elsewhere, and ended up far, far away from here in Michigan. While I wish her well in her new situation, I sure do miss her. Happily, we can still stay in touch through Ellen's new blog, An Adirondack Naturalist in Michigan State.

Happy New Year to you, dear Ellen, as well as to all my old friends and my newfound nature companions, and also to my loyal blog readers. I am so grateful to all of you who take the time to leave a comment. I would certainly keep on blogging even if I didn't hear from you, but it sure brings me joy when you do. Thank you.


Louise said...

Oh, I did so enjoy this entry. What a lovely retrospect on 2010. Beautiful pictures and words illuminate the joy of wandering in the woods.

You, and Ellen, are my inspirations. Every time I think about how silly it is for an old, fat lady to be tromping around in the woods, I think about all the beauty you two have found. And, I want to see it too. So, on I go, into 2011, wanting and planning on learning more and more, thanks to you.

I'm off, today, as a matter of fact, to see if I can find some liverworts, which I never heard of until I read about them here.

Ellen Rathbone said...

What a delightful summary! Hm...maybe I'll do one, too. It's a great idea in a time of the year when there seems to be a dearth of subject matter out there.

Did you see that the VIC is now reopened, as the AIC? Not to be confused with the AEC, which is next door and the defacto "owners" now!

Jens Zorn said...

Thank you, Jackie, for continuing this wonderful blog into 2011. I'm among the many who admire your expressions of joy in nature. Moreover, you show by example that this joy can come to each of us if we will only look more carefully in our own neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

Happy new Year to you, so glad you are up and blogging already. Nice to revisit your favorite spots in this retrospective post.
I'm having my first alone day for a loooooong time, the small ones are back in school, and I am spending my time doing nothing, daydreaming about spring a little!
best wishes for the new year,
├ůsa, your faithful follower in Boston MA

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Louise, it is always so great to hear from you, you have such wonderful enthusiasm and eagerness to learn new things. I'm an old fat lady too, but when I'm in the woods I forget about that and feel like a kid again. The Zen Masters have a term for this: Beginner's Mind. And they mean it in the very best sense, as of one coming new to the world with openness and curiosity and a sense of wonder.

Hi Ellen, I enjoyed so much your own year's review on your blog. Nothing can ever replace the joy of wandering the woods together, though. Yes, I did see that the VIC is reopened. Do they have paid staff? If so, why couldn't they have kept you on?

Jens, I am always so glad to hear from you. Thanks for all your support these past two years. Two years! Time flies when you're having fun.

Hi again, Asa. Ah, I remember the relief I used to feel after a long holiday vacation when my four kids were young. I wish you a happy new year, too, but urge you to enjoy winter even while looking ahead to spring.