Monday, December 31, 2012

Boys Just Wanna Have Fun!

I went for a walk in Congress Park today, just a block from my home in downtown Saratoga Springs.  Although the fountain called "Spirit of Life" is shut off for the winter, I'm glad the beautiful figure, sculpted by noted American sculptor Daniel Chester French, remains open to view.  The sight of her always lifts my spirits.  Even when I'm not feeling low.  She just makes me smile.  Today she looked like she was wearing an ermine cape and bonnet.

Here was another sight that brought a smile to my face: a bunch of boys having lots of fun.  When my children were young, they used to delight in sledding down the hills in Congress Park, but now the city has banned sledding, probably for fear of lawsuits should someone get injured.  But it looks like these snowboarding boys have rigged up a way to have a few thrills on their own,  attaching a long bungee cord to a lamppost and piling up show to make a ramp against a wall.  Here, one boy gets ready to fly on his board, while his buddies hold the bungee tight.

There he goes! He drops the cord once it goes slack, and he heads toward the ramp.

Up he goes, and then down again.   Looks like a lot of fun.  I watched while they tinkered with their design, trying to perfect the track and slide.  They were very engaged in their project.

I'm sure once the city's Public Works guys discover what these boys are up to, they will have them dismantle their ramp and take their boards elsewhere.  And that's probably as it should be, considering the damage they might do to that lovely old wall.  But it did my heart good to see these kids so involved in creating their own diversion and having such fun in the snow.  I was almost tempted to ask them to let me try.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Snowy Woods at Potter Point

Perfect!  Just perfect!  Soft fresh snow, a bright cold day with a radiant blue sky, a beautiful woods to walk in, and my good buddy Sue to have fun with.  And the roads were clear enough today to drive to our favorite places.  Who could ask for more?

Sue and I met at the end of Potter Road in Moreau, where we entered the woods to snowshoe down to the Hudson, then along the banks to reach a quiet bay that today was completely frozen over.  The main river was mostly ice-covered, too, with just a few open areas here and there.

In the shelter of the woods, all of the trees were thickly laden with snow.  Even leafless limbs bore heaps of it, precarious narrow ribbons of snow so thin that the sunlight shone through.

Tufts of White Pine needles holding fluffy puffs of snow resembled little hedgehogs dangling from the branches.

Except for a few deer trails, we saw little evidence of animal traffic through the woods.  We did find a couple of spiders, though, which I found kind of amazing.  How can such a tiny cold-blooded creature manage to stay mobile on sub-freezing days like today?

This set of tracks across the frozen bay had us puzzled.  Instead of leaving depressions in the snow and slush ice,  this creature revealed its passage with heaped-up bumps, like those the Star-nosed Mole will make in the mud. 

When my husband saw this photo, he suggested that some creature left this trail when the snow on the ice was deeper, compressing the slushy snow beneath its feet.  Then when the wind swept the loose snow from the surface of the ice, the compressed footprints remained and collected more snow as the wind blew across them.  Yeah, I guess that's possible.   But I've never seen such a thing before.

While we were standing on the shore of this bay, the wind began to gust, blowing snow from the trees in misty clouds that rose toward the sky like smoke.  The effect was especially pronounced on the mountain that rose from the back of the bay, but photographing the scene was made difficult by the angle of the sun.  I was going to toss this photo, but then I noticed those spectacular clouds in the sky above the mountain.

I did manage to get one shot that showed the smoky effect of the blowing snow.

Here's a brief video, too, that also records the sound of the wind that came roaring out of nowhere, and just as suddenly stopped.  The effect was quite dramatic, with the mountain and forest engulfed in smoke-like mist, as if a forest fire were raging through.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

MORE Snow! Yay!

It snowed all day long today.  Not heaps and heaps of it, but enough to make the roads too slippery to venture very far from home for a walk in the woods.  I made it to Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton and decided I'd better stop there, rather than trying to make it over the mountain to the Hudson River.  But Orra's place was lovely enough, with marshmallow banks along a rushing stream.

You can't tell from the photos above nor from the photo right below that the air was filled with snow gently falling, falling, falling, showering a mist throughout the forest and prickling my cheeks made warm and rosy from huffing and puffing through deepening drifts.

There!  I took a flash shot of the same scene as above to show how the air was just filled with falling snow.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Snow!  Glorious snow!  Soft and white and fluffy and wonderful snow!   For many of us (myself included) who live where winters are long and dark and cold, snow is our consolation and compensation.  We had more today than we had all last winter, and I heard we should get more tomorrow.  Hurray! And so far, it hasn't been spoiled by rain.

Of course, I had to get out there and play in that snow, so I dug out my car and started out driving north toward the river.  I hadn't gone more than a block or two, though, slipping and slewing at every stop sign, when I decided I'd better stick closer to home until the roads were cleared.  So I headed instead for Saratoga Spa State Park at the southern edge of town, where I walked beneath the majestic White Pines.  Ah, what cathedral could be more hushed and resplendent!

The dried heads of Queen Anne's Lace held the snow as if in a chalice.

The red-velvet clusters of Staghorn Sumac seeds added a touch of color to the wintry scene.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rejoice in the Light!

Winter Solstice!  As of today, the darkness will start to recede, and life-giving light will begin its return to us.

While searching through my files for an appropriate celebratory image,  I came across this photo of sunlit ripples moving across the sandy bottom close to the shore of Moreau Lake.  The photo was taken in early March on one of the first days the ice had begun to retreat from the shore.  Free of its frozen constraints, the water seemed to be dancing for joy at its liberation, vibrating with life and warmth, the sunight waving bright ribbons of gold along the sand, the tiny wavelets acting as prisms that cast flashing spectra of brilliant color.  Struck dumb with delight, I stood and gazed and was overcome with gratefulness and joy.  How could it be that such treasure was mine, strewn at my feet, freely given, and all I had to do was open my eyes and see?

In many ways, this is also the Christmas message.  The Divine One, the source of all life,  dwells among us on earth and can be found in the humblest, most ordinary of circumstances.  God is not "out there" in high heaven, but right here, right now, love freely given, like treasure strewn at our feet, and all we have to do is open our hearts and see.

I wish you all a joy-filled Christmas season and a wonderful new year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Winter Weeds: An ID Challenge

 Gray and gusty today.  Not the nicest day for a walk, but hey, it wasn't raining!  I needed to take a break from holiday busyness and get a little exercise, so a walk along nearby Bog Meadow Nature Trail seemed just right.  Close to home, easy walking, and I could work up a little aerobic speed, since there's nothing to bring me to a halt this time of year.  Right?  Nah.  There's always something out there that requires close inspection by us nature nuts, whatever the season.

My amusement today was trying to identify the dried-up remains of summer's flowers and other curiosities.  Some of them I knew right away, others I'm not so sure of.  I thought it might be fun to let you, my readers, guess what these are, then compare your answers to mine when I return to label the photos in a day or so.  I'm hoping some of my botanist friends will fill in my knowledge gaps.  So take a stab at this and leave your guesses in the comments.  Have fun!

Update:  I've posted the answers in the comments, but don't let that stop you from still trying this quiz.















Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hiking an "Elder-Growth" Forest

A fine day, a fun bunch of folks, and a hike to a lovely old Adirondack forest -- it just doesn't get much better than this!  On Saturday, my friend Evelyn Greene invited a few of her friends -- all of us of "a certain age" -- to test out the accessibility of a stand of old trees near The Glen north of Warrensburg, and I'm happy to report that all of us made it there and back with energy to spare.

One of Evelyn's acquaintances is involved in a project to locate patches of old growth forest that could be easily accessed by the general public (including the elderly and the non-athletic), once trails could be built to accommodate their abilities.  This particular stand of trees, we found, was quite easily reached by following old roads that are still relatively passable, despite having been abandoned 120 years ago when New York State designated this particular woods as part of the permanent Forest Preserve.  Obviously, some improvements would need to be made to allow folks of limited ability complete access to the area, such as a bridge across this little stream that we all managed to cross on stepping-stones.

Technically, the patch of woods we reached can't truly be called "old growth," since the site was logged-over during the nineteenth century.   But a hundred-and-twenty years is long enough for pines to reach an impressive size and for the surrounding forest to achieve that open, underbrush-free quality that is distinctive of old-growth sites.  Perhaps we could call this an "elderly-growth" woods.  The diameter of this particular White Pine was measured to be about four feet.

In addition to some very big old trees, we also found a nice sphagnum swamp there in the middle of the woods.  Evelyn (in red pants) has a particular interest in mosses and liverworts, so she was able to point out and identify a number of different species of the bryophytes that constituted this emerald-green carpet.

Historically, one of the reasons these forests were placed off-limits to logging was to protect the watershed of the nearby Hudson River and to hold back much of the run-off from spring rains, thereby helping to prevent severe flooding of areas further downstate.  We continued our hike through the forest until we reached the banks of the Hudson along a stretch of river that white-water paddlers call "Racehorse Run."   One of our companions is an avid paddler of these waters, and he explained that this stretch of whitewater provides a rollicking up-and-down ride similar to that of a ride on a galloping horse.

An interesting historical remnant at this site is the presence of old stone abutments, all that remains of a toll bridge that during the nineteen-hundreds offered access across the river.

A bit further downstream, the river widens and deepens into a relatively still pool that local folks refer to as the "Washburn Eddy,"  a favorite swimming hole in summer as well as a great fishing site, with deep cold spots for trout to hide in.  On this particular brisk cold day,  the sun-warmed rocky banks made a wonderful spot for us to enjoy our picnic lunches and just sit and enjoy the music of the river.

Rather than return through the woods the way we had come, a few of us continued our hike downstream along the sky-blue river, taking in the beauty of the scenery and breathing the sweet cold air as the sun warmed our backs.

Eventually, though, the shoreline narrowed as rocky cliffs began to rise ever closer to the water's edge, so we reluctantly turned away from the river and found our way through the woods and back to our waiting cars.  All in all, a splendid day in the forest and along the river!

Here are just a few of the colorful little treasures we found along the trail.

These Blue Cohosh fruits had us stumped for a bit until I picked one and discovered it was not really a berry, but rather a hard seed coated with a thin blue skin.  Very blue skin!

This dead White Birch limb covered with tiny Lemon Drop Fungi looked extra colorful lying next to an emerald-green frond of Wood Fern.

This vividly red Lacquer Polypore certainly drew attention to itself, even though it was hardly bigger than a 50-cent piece.

It's always a sweet surprise to encounter the beautiful mottled leaves of Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain, one of our native orchids that is very much at home in old piney woods.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Scenes of the Season

If I needed a snowy scene for a Christmas card, I'd be out of luck.  No snow out there.  But I did find a few things that were Christmassy-pretty today as I prowled the mountainsides along the Hudson River near Spier Falls Road.

I often pull off the road by the dam, to explore the rocky cliffs that rise steeply up from the roadside there.  The niches and cracks and shelves in these cliffs support lovely gardens of mosses and lichens, watered by springs that seep down the rocks, which today were cold enough to turn that dripping water into cascading icicles.

Some of the mosses that grow there have put on their Christmas colors of red and green.

Nestled in among the moss were pretty rosettes of Early Saxifrage, next spring's flowerbuds tightly furled and tucked at the center of a ring of rosy ruffled leaves.

This Beech leaf was sealed to the face of the rocks by a thin sheet of ice that intensified its rich golden bronze.

Further along the road, a sprightly little waterfall tumbled down the mountain, its splashing waters reinvigorated by this past week's frequent rains.  I made my way into the woods at this point to follow the waterfall's course up the mountainside.

The splashing droplets created glistening icicles along every overhanging streamside branch.

This streamside boulder, covered with Greenshield Lichen, appears to have been decorated with frosted Christmas greenery.

Carpets of moss appeared as festive as patterned Christmas wrap.

Even this dead baby pine seemed to get into the spirit of the season when a sunbeam turned its normally dull-brown needles a startling red.

Normally, I truly hate Asiatic Bittersweet for its terrible habit of overwhelming native trees with its masses of strangling vines.  But who could not be struck with delight by the sight of these ruby orbs turned luminous as Christmas lights by a ray of late-day sun?