Wednesday, October 31, 2012

November's Landscape

October ends tonight, and the earth has already taken on a Novemberish look, involving various shades of brown and gray.  Because they are so rare now, flashes of bright color are especially welcome, and I was pleased to find a few on my walk at Woods Hollow Nature Preserve today.

The sandplain part of the preserve looked especially dull of color, with dark clouds lying low overhead and not a single beam of sunlight to brighten up the scene.

The once-radiant Tall Goldenrod now fills the meadow with its seedheads of ivory fluff.

In some ways, the distinctive feathery tendrils of Virgin's Bower gone to seed are more interesting than its rather nondescript small white summer flowers.

The moss and lichen beds that cover the sand are always worth a closer look.  Today I found Earth Star fungi among the Cladonia lichens.

There were many of these rusty colored gilled mushrooms growing right out of the dry sand.

How appropriate for Halloween!   These tiny bright-pumpkin-colored sac fungi were nestled into a patch of Haircap moss.

The forested part of Woods Hollow Nature Preserve has a lovely pond at its center, and here we find a habitat quite distinct from that of the sandplain portion.

Along the shore of the pond, the bare twigs of Winterberry shrubs are studded with bright red fruit.

Partridgeberry carpets the forest floor with its pale-veined shiny evergreen leaves and two-eyed fruits.

Although its pink flowerspikes have now turned brown, Steeplebush still puts on a pretty show with its gold-and-green leaves.

A moss-covered fallen log was sprinkled with these little jelly-like fungi, presenting a beautiful color combination of emerald green and butter yellow.

A log had fallen across the trail, stained with the distinctive color that indicates this wood was infused with the appropriately-named Blue Stain fungus.

We often find rotting logs stained with this dark blue-green color, but it's not so often we find the little ear-shaped fruiting bodies.  I searched this log and finally found a few very small examples.

Here's a surprise:  a baby Black-eyed Susan just coming into bloom, long after all other flowers have called it quits for the year.   At least, I think it's a Black-eyed Susan, with its very dark center disk and hairy-all-over appearance.  I have never noticed petals emerging like this, with the bases rolled up into tubes.

We Were Lucky. Others Weren't.

We were lucky.  Superstorm Sandy hardly touched us here in Saratoga Springs.  We had some wind, we had some rain, a few downed limbs caused brief power outages for only a small part of town, but nothing worse than a typical passing storm.  These beautiful tall White Pines still tower over the Spirit of Life fountain in Congress Park. Not a one came down in the wind.   I gaze at this lovely statue's upraised arms and I raise up my own thoughts of gratitude that we were spared the ravages so many have suffered all along the Atlantic coast.  Unimaginable damages.  The sea just rose up and smashed everything, drowned everything.  Thousands and thousands of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods, and dozens have lost their lives.  Last year it was Tropical Storm Irene that tore through this part of the world with comparable savagery.  What will the next storm bring?  When will the human race realize that we must stop abusing our planet, or Mother Nature will take her revenge on us?  Or is it already too late?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

One More Paddle

My canoe stays strapped to my car all spring, summer, and fall, lest some aquatic adventure beckon to me at a moment's notice.  But now as this so-called "superstorm" approaches, I'm thinking I'd better put my little boat inside, safely away from any falling trees or wind-driven debris.  But first, I had to have one more paddle, especially on this day so soft and warm and still.

My chosen destination was Lens Lake, a quiet Adirondack lake ringed by mountains and forest and studded with many acres of bog-mat islands.  Except for a small flock of Mallards, which took to the air when I rounded a bend into their sheltering cove, I saw not another soul -- human or animal -- the whole afternoon I spent on the water.  Quiet, indeed!

Although the day was dark, with dense low clouds that allowed only about 30 seconds of sun to shine here all the time I was on the lake,  the colors of the bog mats were as bright as if they were lit from within.

The Sphagnum moss that forms the bog mats comes in many colors: red, yellow, green, pink, brown, and purplish.  I love when several colors intermingle, creating patterns as pretty as Persian carpets.

The Cottongrass nodded and bobbed by the thousands above the bog mats.

Although all the summer flowers had long gone to seed,  the bright-red tubes of the Pitcher Plant leaves were still much in evidence.

Cranberry plants covered much of the bog mats with leaves of both green and purple.  But where were the berries?

Among all the thousands of Cranberry plants I saw today, these were the only berries I found (not counting the one I popped into my mouth).  Where are all the berries this fall?  I haven't seen any Winterberry, either, or Highbush Cranberry or Shining Sumac.  Have they already been eaten up by hungry creatures, who found few summer fruits earlier this year?

I found this little stump covered with Bog Lycopodium today, in the same spot as when I paddled here just a year ago.  At that time, I was puzzled by what flower could have produced the  tulip-shaped seed pods.  I now know that the flower in question is Marsh St. Johnswort, which was abundantly blooming when I last paddled Lens Lake this past August.

After exploring the bog mats, I paddled closer to the forested shore, where the smooth black water mirrored the wooded boulder-strewn banks abundant with Leatherleaf and Sheep Laurel.

With every turn of the convoluted shoreline, I was met with another beautiful vista of mountain, forest, and mirroring lake.

A single Tamarack stands out in all its golden glory against a backdrop of dark-green hemlocks, cedars, and pines.   Although the Tamarack is a conifer like all of its neighbors here, it is the only conifer that is not evergreen, turning a beautiful yellow before shedding its needles each fall.

Ah, who could not feel at peace contemplating a scene such as this?  Although the day was growing late, I was loathe to leave and just put down my paddle and drifted under the sky for a while, overwhelmed by feelings of reverence and gratefulness and pure joy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Before the Storm

Well, we're supposed to get walloped with a double-whammy of a storm in a couple of days:  Hurricane Sandy joining forces with a big nor'easter to slam us with lashing wind and rain and possibly sleet and snow.  Sounds bad.  There will probably be power outages all over the Northeast.  So did I spend today making preparations to ride out the storm and its aftermath?  No, I did not.  Instead, I spent the day chasing after what's left of autumn's colorful foliage, since this storm will most likely strip all the trees of whatever leaves still remain.  The winters here are long and dark and dreary.  Gotta soak up that gorgeous color while we can.

As it happened, my friend Sue and I had already planned to visit our favorite bog this week, so that's where we met to start the day today.  Low, dense clouds darkened the sky and shrouded the mountains from view, but here in the bog the Tamaracks filled the air with a golden glow, as if the sun were hiding out in here until the clouds cleared.  A ruby carpet of Sphagnum was dotted with dancing  puffs of Cottongrass,  bobbing and swaying on long thin stalks, in constant motion, even when there was no breeze.

Whatever scarlet leaves still clung to the Highbush Blueberry shrubs were reaching skyward, like tongues of flame.

Bog Rosemary leaves had changed from their soft blue-green to knock-your-eye-out red.

The masses of Leatherleaf shrubs were a marvelous mix of red and green, providing a beautiful foil for the Tamarack's golden boughs.

This little mushroom, too, held a rosy glow, tucked in among cordovan Sphagnum and touched by a slender stem of Large Cranberry.

 After walking about in the bog for an hour or so, and then later exploring the woods and rocks around the site of the original Ft. William Henry on the southern shore of Lake George,  Sue had to leave to get ready for work, but I still had the rest of the day to chase after the remnants of autumn.  I decided to drive up the western shore of Lake George to Hague, then take Rte. 8 west through the mountains to Brant Lake,  and then take the Northway home.  Everywhere I looked along the road I was met with beautiful vistas.

I stopped in Bolton Landing for lunch, then walked down to the public beach to view the lake and the mountains.

The day continued cloudy and dark, but Lake George is gorgeous whatever the weather.

Continuing north toward Hague, I remembered a waterfall off in the woods that my son had taken me to many years ago.  I wondered if I could still find it, so I stopped in a parking area near Tongue Mountain and set off into the woods.  It wasn't hard to find at all; I simply followed the sound of rushing water.

Just south of Hague is a road that leads down to Silver Bay, a historic retreat center now operated by the YMCA.  I didn't stop at the center today, but enjoyed the rustic beauty of the road itself.

Not to mention the beauty of the lake views visible from the road.

The trees near Lake George still held many more of their colorful leaves than did the trees in the mountains I passed through to reach Brant Lake.  At Brant Lake, most of the forest colors were muted, except for a few explosions of gold I could see on the hillsides across the lake.

Just beyond Brant Lake is the hamlet of Horicon, whose most distinctive landmark is this tiny stone library that's built out into the water.  Picturesque, indeed, but I would think all that dampness would not be good for the books.

Another pretty building in Horicon is this sweet little church, which used to serve a Catholic congregation but which is now for sale.  I was enchanted by its beautiful windows.

Despite the frost we had a couple of weeks ago, I found a few flowers still bravely blooming at various sites I visited today.  This pretty Herb Robert was growing in the rocks that lined the Warren County Bike Path near Lake George.

Great Lobelia added its intense blue to a still blooming flowerbed on the beach at Bolton Landing.

Bright yellow Dandelions starred the grass near the public beach at Lake George.  Renowned as one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, this sturdy little weed will again set bloom when the daylight hours in fall are similar to the length of days when Dandelions bloom in spring.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In Praise of the Untidy

 Yes, I know.  My garden's a mess.  Rather colorful now, with the neighbor's maples ablaze and my Monkshood exploding in radiant blueness, but it sure wouldn't win any prizes for tidiness.  And that's exactly the way I like it.  More importantly, that's the way the wee creatures like it:  those micro-insects that munch away underneath the unraked leaves, turning them into nourishing mulch and drawing new nutrients into the soil; the various larvae that burrow into the dead flower stalks where they'll spend the winter and then serve as food for baby birds next spring; and the wintering birds that will feast on the seeds of spent asters and goldenrods and sunflowers, whose stalks I won't be cutting down until spring.  My garden won't be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, that's for sure, but it does meet the standards the National Wildlife Federation sets for establishing a Certified Wildlife Habitat.  I even have a plaque to prove it.  (Your garden can meet those criteria, too.  Just go to their website to learn the easy instructions.)

Since my Certified Wildlife Habitat pretty much takes care of itself, I'm free to go visit Mother Nature's gardens more often, and today I went out to the Gick Farm section of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park.   I love the many muted colors of various grasses that thrive in the sandy soil of the oak/pine savannah habitat here.

The trails also move through a conifer woods, where the dim understory is brightened by the golden leaves of many baby beeches.   When I look around, I can find only the dark trunks of mature White Pines and not a single silvery trunk of a mature American Beech.  How do these little ones get here?

This patch of Black Raspberry puts on quite a show of dazzling red each autumn.

The Hazelnut shrubs have all shed their leaves by now, the better to see the little greenish male catkins.  These catkins will hang on the twigs all winter before expanding to shed their pollen next spring, when itsy-bitsy red female flowers will emerge to receive that pollen.

I kept seeing these tiny fuzzy blue dots wafting about in the air and finally managed to capture one in my hand.   Remember that fluffy white clump of Wooly Alder Aphids I pictured a few posts back?  This is the winged form of those same aphids. 

When the wingless aphids have depleted the resources of the alder twig they are feeding on, they will sprout wings to go in search of fresh twigs.  Somehow they must shed quite a bit of that long-stranded wooliness, since all that remains is a trace of fuzziness on its tiny rear.  Wooly Alder Aphids are not considered to be serious pests of alder trees, since they only weaken a few twigs at a time.  I'm glad to know that, so that I may more freely delight in their absolute adorableness.