Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Yes, a VERY Big Tree!

While getting a haircut and gabbing with my hairdresser yesterday, I told her about finding those big old Black Tupelos in Moreau Lake State Park, and she told me about a big old tree she herself had seen:  an ancient Sugar Maple standing along the side of Parkhurst Road in Wilton.  "It's supposed to be the largest in the state," she said.  So of course that's where I sped off to, as soon as she brushed the hair clippings from my neck.

I know Parkhurst Road very well, a lovely rural woodsy road that lies along my route to the Hudson River on the other side of Mount McGregor.  I couldn't remember any trees there as being especially large, but this time I traveled slowly along, searching for one that might stand out from the rest.

"Aha!  I'll bet that's IT!" I thought, catching a glimpse of this gnarly old giant while searching for a place to pull over on the shoulderless road.

As I approached the tree on foot, I could see that someone had attached this plaque to the trunk.  How appropriate that the plaque was signed by someone calling himself (herself?) The Lorax, a character in one of Dr. Seuss's books who claims to speak for the trees.

 I wish I knew who that person was, so I could ask how he came to assert this claim and what measurements had been taken.  When I googled "largest sugar maple in new york state," I found a reference to another tree in Ontario, NY, over in Wayne County on the shores of Lake Ontario.  That Sugar Maple, which stands on the grounds of the Heritage Square Museum, was measured and dated in 1996, with a circumference of 17' 10" and an age of 368 years, about as old as a Sugar Maple can get.  I guess I will have to come back with a tape and take this Parkhurst maple's measurements.  I wonder if any core samples were taken to determine its age.  That may be difficult to do, for, as a recently sawed-off limb reveals, the tree may very well be hollow at its core.

I tried taking some photos of this impressive giant, but it's very hard to give any idea of its size and presence from a photograph.

While I crouched in the middle of the road peering up, a passing driver slowed down to ask if I needed help, which gave me the opportunity I needed.  "Would you be willing to snap my photo standing against this tree?" I asked, and the very nice lady obliged me.

I think she, too, was impressed by the size of the trunk and delighted to learn about this tree, which she had passed every day without a second look.  As had I.  My world grows larger and more fascinating every day.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

It Might As Well Be Spring

Although the morning was cold -- around 10 above zero when I came down for breakfast -- the sun shone strong today from a clear blue sky.  We're only about 3 weeks from the vernal equinox, but it seems very strange to be looking forward to spring when we haven't yet had much of a winter.  That heavy snowstorm we were promised on Thursday and Friday turned out to be nothing but a dusting that's long gone by now, as this photo I took this morning on Bog Meadow Nature Trail reveals.  Not a trace of snow remains.

There was some new ice, however, in the tiny stream that follows the trail.  The ice's crinkly texture made an interesting foil for the Skunk Cabbage now opening its swelling red-mottled spathes at the edges of the stream.  The first flower of spring, the earliest I've ever found it.

Another sure sign of spring is the deeper reddening of the Red Osier Dogwood's branches, in radiant array today against that sapphire sky.

The willow's branches are almost as yellow now as the dogwood's branches are red, making for quite a colorful display in the early spring marsh.

I even found a few willow buds, sleek packets of silky gray,  getting ready to puff out into fluffy catkins.

Not a sign of spring, but a reminder of the glories the summer will bring: this dried pod of a Canada Lily has a beauty all its own,  its neatly divided parts still held together by a delicate crochet-work of fine threads.

The day remained so gloriously dazzling, I convinced my husband to come out for a walk around Moreau Lake after lunch, promising him that I wouldn't insist on stopping every five minutes to take a photo.  I did manage to snap a few shots on the run, however, such as this view of the melting ice along the eastern shore.  No more ice fishing this year.

The back bay of the lake is almost completely open now, its sparkling water partaking of the color of the sky.

Before the ice melted along the northern shore, it looks like it gave quite a shove to the sand along the beach, pushing up a snaky ridge like none I have seen before.  I wonder if this is the result of those 50-mile-per-hour winds we had yesterday, driving a still-thick ice sheet hard against the shore.

Along the swimming beach, where shallow water lies over clean sand,  I could see through that crystal-clear water to these trails traced on the lake bottom.  I've heard that they're made by snails, but I've never seen a snail in the process of making one.  They almost look like someone is drawing letters, leaving us a secret message.  Maybe the snails are just doing a merry dance to celebrate spring, now that the ice has receded and the sun is pouring its warming rays directly on the sand beneath the water.

On the way home from the lake, I saw a robin running across a lawn.  We used to think that sighting a robin was a sure sign of spring, but now we occasionally see robins all winter, even winters that are cold and snowy.   So seeing this one this early, after a remarkably warm and snowless winter, was hardly a surprise.  But nevertheless, it did give me a little jolt of joy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bright Spots of Color in the Dull Winter Woods

I missed getting outdoors this bright beautiful morning, since each Tuesday morning I volunteer at a local hospice home, and by the time I was free to head to the woods the sky had clouded over.  Oh well, I thought, nothing but dull dead browns and grays out there, anyway, so I'll just go to the nearby Skidmore Woods and give myself a bit of a workout hiking the hilly trails.

The Skidmore Woods is remarkable for its limestone substrate, which provides a rich habitat for an amazing variety of rare and beautiful wildflowers.  Of course, no wildflowers are blooming now, but the rocks that leach their minerals into the soil are evident throughout the woods, their pitted surfaces covered with velvety green mosses.

Some of those rocks are a most remarkable blue.

Today I came upon a fallen log that appeared to be covered with velvet of a most remarkable red.

Closer inspection revealed that that red velvet was composed of what looked like tiny dreadlocks, the plaited leaves of a liverwort called Nowellia curvifolia.

Sharing the same log was a nice cluster of a lovely moss with a flower-like shape, possibly the moss called Mnium hornum.  Those ruddy threads arising from the center of each moss stalk are most likely the immature spore stalks.

This time of year, one does get greedy to find any traces of color in the woods, which perhaps explains how I happened to spy this tiny dot of orange at the base of a rotting tree.

With my bare eyes, I could not really see this cluster of cottony orange balls resting in tiny cups, so I tried a number of macro shots with my camera, then blew up the image to see it better.  The photo's not quite in focus, but it gave me enough information to recognize it as similar to a slime mold pictured in one of my books, Hemitrichia clavata.  These little puffs would be the fruitbodies (sporangia) of what my book calls a "common and widespread" slime mold.    Widespread and common it may be, but I had never seen it before.  And who would think to look for fruiting bodies of any kind in the very dead of winter?  Those empty cups on the lower left and the yellow dust beneath seem to indicate that some spores have already been spilled.

Here are some of the brightest spots of color I found in the woods today, two girls and a boy, the 8-yer-old triplet children of their mother pictured here, too. They were coming along the trail while I was crawling around in the woods and,  curious as to what I was doing, they gathered close while I showed them my photos of what I had found.  I just love how excited kids can be when they experience cool stuff in the woods.  As they scampered off to see if they could find that orange slime mold for themselves, I sent my blessings with them.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Sparkling Day on the Mountain

Bright sun, blue sky, and just a dusting of new snow on the mountain trails at Moreau Lake State Park:  conditions were perfect Sunday for a hike to the Spring Overlook and beyond to the Tupelo Swamp.  My friend Sue met me at the trailhead on Spier Falls Road, and off we climbed, Yaktrax on our feet to keep us upright on the steep, icy, snow-covered trail. 

Although the day promised to warm to above-freezing temperatures, the newly fallen flakes were still cold enough when we started up the trail to dazzle us with their multicolored sparkles.  It's an interesting phenomenon, and one I can't explain, that sometimes the snowflakes behave like tiny prisms, flashing all the colors of the rainbow.  It's hard to capture this effect with a camera, but these two shots (the second with boosted saturation) show something of what we saw with our eyes.

I was eager to show Sue the big old Black Tupelos that my friend Laurie had taken me to last week, which are growing in a swamp way up in the Palmertown Mountains.  We would get there eventually, Sue and I, but first we had to stop to explore the gigantic rock formations that tower over the Spring Overlook.  These rocks are watered by little seeping springs that create lovely icicle spills in the winter and also create perfect habitat for a rich variety of colorful mosses, lichens, and liverworts.

We stopped for a snack while we took in the splendid view of the Hudson River from the overlook, and then proceeded to the swamp that lies in a central area of the Palmertown mountains.  Our trail took us through beech and hemlock stands, each forest type with its own quality of light and companion vegetation,  and we then left the trail to follow a rock ledge down into the swamp where the tupelos grow.  I was eager to show these trees to my friend, but I also wanted to make sure that I myself could find them again.  And I did.  But it took a little searching.  It's hard to believe that a tree that towered over all others in this swamp would be hard to find, but the surrounding hemlocks did their best to hide this tree's distinctive twiggy crown from view until we were right beneath it.

These tupelos are of such an unusual size (for tupelos) that I hope we can interest some dendrologist in doing core sampling to determine their age.  This part of the country was so extensively lumbered over the past centuries, hardly any trees of great age remain.  It would be quite exciting to know we had some ancients among us here in Moreau Lake State Park.  In a neighboring state forest a few miles away, Black Tupelos there have been dated at 600 to 800 years old.

I don't know what kind of ancient fallen tree has formed a nursery bed for these vividly colored Turkey Tails.   Whatever it is, it has produced a fungus of remarkable beauty.

On our descent from the mountain heights, we passed a row of craggy cliffs adorned with spectacular ice formations.

Below these cliffs lies a powerline access road, well traveled by both hikers' feet and power-company vehicles.  In the very middle of this hard-packed dirt road are several patches of Pink Earth Lichen, whose dainty appearance and diminutive size belie its extreme hardiness and tolerance for abuse.  I always go out of my way when I'm near this road to stop and admire these tiny pink lolllipops, so minute that most folks would walk right over them and never see them.  I don't know how I, with my very bad eyesight, ever came to see them in the first place, but I'm really glad I did.  And they're there, unchanged, in every season, seemingly as unaffected by the weather as they are to pounding traffic.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Walk on the Ridge

What an awful dream I had last night!  I was supposed to get to my job in Glens Falls by hopping on foot all the way from Saratoga (that's about 20 miles), but after a few blocks I just couldn't make any progress because I was so exhausted, with legs as heavy as lead.  So when I woke up, I was already feeling tired.  Oh boy, I think that dream was a message that I need to exercise more.  So I made myself go for another hike that took me up and down hills, the Red Oak Ridge Trail at Moreau Lake State Park.

This trail is probably my favorite in the park, requiring enough effort to get my heart pounding at times, but also with relatively level stretches that allow me to enjoy the walk and look around at the scenery.   During the leafy seasons, that scenery consists mostly of close-by trees and dramatic rock formations, but this time of year you can look right through the trees to the lake below and mountains beyond.

I had planned to keep up a good pace on this hike, not expecting to find much along the trail to interrupt my stride.  But I did have to stop to take a closer look at the abundant growth of mosses adorning these rocks with different textures and colors.

One of those "mosses" (the one on the right side of this photo) turned out, on closer inspection, to be not a moss, but a liverwort called Scapania.  This is one of the very few liverworts I know the name of, thanks to my friend Evelyn Greene, who first showed it to me.   The moss on the left I believe is one of the Dicranums, possibly Dicranum scoparium.  Liverworts and mosses are related, both being bryophytes and lacking in vascular tissue, but I would be very hard pressed to give a simple explanation of how to distinguish them from each other, other than what they look like. Something I need to study up on.

Here's a closer look at that liverwort, showing its individual leaves.

During this season of dull browns and grays, the vivid green of the moss on these boulders certainly catches the eye.

A closer view of that vivid green moss, most likely Dicranum scoparium.

Lots of different mosses can be found along this trail, including this delicate fern-like moss.

And these cute little hedgehogs of spiky green.

Aha!  I found another moss I do know the name of:  these cute little green "posies" are called Rhizomnium punctatum.   Without any snow cover this winter to protect them, they look a little frayed around the edges.

Here's a photo of another, less tattered R. punctatum I took in the spring two years ago.  See how the center is filled with shiny black sperm, just waiting to be splashed out by falling rain.

One-way, the Red Oak Ridge Trail is about 1.35 miles from start to finish, where it descends the mountain ridge to meet the road that circles the lake.  But of course, that terminus is just about that far again from where I parked my car near the park office.  Since the day was growing late, I tried to pick up my pace, a difficult thing to do when descending a steep rocky trail.

While I was completing the last stretch of the trail, it began to snow, just a flake or two at first, and then, by the time I reached the beach, the air became filled with flakes falling straight down, soft and silent and oh, so beautiful!  How I have missed the experience of snow this winter, the way it softens the edges of things and absorbs all sounds!  Maybe we'll get our fill at last, I thought as I hurried around the lake toward my car.  But then, by the time I got home, there was not a trace left.  Ah well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New Trail, Old Legs

Today was damp and grey but mild, a good day to get out there and work up a little sweat.  I've gotten a bit out of shape and really NEED to challenge my muscles a bit, including my heart muscle.  Where could I go that I hadn't been before?  I decided to try the Cottage Park Trail in Moreau Lake State Park, accessed from Spier Falls Road near the Sherman Island Boat Launch.  I hadn't walked this trail before, but I could tell from the map that it would take me up a mountainside to intersect with the Western Ridge Trail in about a mile and a half.  I should be able to do that, I thought, so I grabbed my hiking pole and Yaktrax and headed to Moreau.

The stone walls that mark the Cottage Park trailhead are all that's left of a small community of cottages and a hotel that were built in the early years of the 20th century to accommodate employees and visitors who came to witness the building of the Spier Falls Dam on the Hudson River, just across the road.   That this is a popular trail was evident from the packed ice that covered it, making me glad that I'd worn those Yaktrax grippers on my feet.

After passing through a mixed hardwood forest for a while, the trail emerged onto a flat grassy area kept open by the company that maintains the power lines carrying electricity generated by the Spier Falls Dam, one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the country.  Although the walking had been easy so far, I could see the mountain ahead of me through the trees, so the challenge was about to begin.

At least my muscles had had a chance to warm up, before being put to the test by some unrelentingly steep parts of the trail.  I was grateful that the beauty of the woods and the curvaceous landscape offered compensation for my efforts.  Except for the sound of my labored breathing, the forest was amazingly quiet, no chirps or flutters or rustles, not even a chickadee in all those hemlocks.  I did see one chipmunk, however, and was quite surprised to see one so early.  Maybe he came up from his den to see what had happened to winter.

Up and up I went, to where the bedrock emerged dramatically, like bones protruding through the earth's thin skin.

Some of the hemlocks up here are huge, and as tall and straight as pines.  I doubt very much, though,  that they could be old growth, since the presence of stumps everywhere attests to the area having been lumbered over.   This stump must have been a very big tree.  It now provides a nursery for that little baby hemlock at its center.

I was fascinated by the complex burls the bark of this stump had made, even after the tree had been felled.

When I entered an area populated by Big-tooth Aspens, the forest floor became quite colorful.  It's amazing how these leaves hang on to their autumn ruddiness throughout the winter.

Well, I didn't make it all the way up to the trail intersection, since when I was about two-thirds of the distance, it started to rain a little.  I had my raincoat, so I wasn't worried about getting wet, but I did think that those icy trails might become even slipperier when wet with rain.  Also, I was bushed.  Going down steep icy trails is even harder then going up, so my legs were pretty shaky when I reached my car.   But I didn't hurry home just yet.  The rain had stopped and the river was running calm and serene and just begging me to sit for a while and enjoy its beauty.  Which I did.