Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Perfect Day, a Pretty Lake, and a Poem The Echoes My Joy

 I can't imagine a lovelier day for paddling a small Adirondack lake than the one we had today: a cloudless sky, crystal-clear water, and only the slightest of breezes to add diamond sparkles to the sapphire-blue water.  My friend Evelyn Greene had told me about finding a rare underwater plant -- Farwell's Milfoil (Myriophyllum farwellii) -- here at Fourth Lake near Lake Luzerne, so I thought I'd come look for myself.  Most of the lake is surrounded by a state campground, which was now closed for the season, but the water was easily accessed by carrying my canoe around the locked gate and down to the beach.

Fourth Lake gets its name by being the fourth lake away from nearby Lake Luzerne, after lakes actually called Second and Third, all joined in a chain along a waterway.  It's my opinion, though, that this should be called First Lake, since it's Fourth Lake that provides the water for the other three, which all lie downstream.  I headed upstream today, tempted by the serene beauty of the inlet itself and the information (Thanks, Evelyn!) that a nice little bog lay not too far upstream.

Yes, I could see that bog, but just beyond reach, thanks to a substantial beaver dam I did not feel like scrambling over, risking death to my camera should I slip in the mud.  I'll try another time when I'm with companions and we can help one another.

Back to the open lake I returned, frightening into flight a quartet of ducks as I rounded the mouth of the stream.  I continued to frighten the same four ducks as I paddled completely around the lake.  I always wonder why birds don't fly over my head and behind me when I'm paddling, so I don't keep disturbing them.  At least this last time, as my photo shows, they headed across the lake instead of ahead of me.

Of course I looked for that rare milfoil, but I doubt that I ever found it.  Trouble is, I've never seen it before and guidebook photos aren't always that telling.  There were vast thickets of this unknown underwater plant clustered at the mouth of the inlet, but the whorled leaves didn't have the feathery formation I associate with milfoils.  I was struck by how clean the foliage was.  Often, underwater plants are covered with silt and algae.  Not here in this lake, though.

 I know that this is a bladderwort, because of all those little white sacs, and the bushy green leaves would indicate it is Flat-leaved Bladderwort (Utricularia intermedia).  But it's rather  unusual to find this floating free,  since normally its stems and bladders creep along the bottom and are often embedded in the silt.  Perhaps it was dislodged by a rooting muskrat or dabbling duck.

This was another species of bladderwort, possibly Purple Bladderwort (U. purpurea), but those jelly-like balls among the leaves are not the sacs of the bladderwort.  I believe they are Nostoc balls, a kind of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that forms colonies of gelatinous orbs.

Well, I did find a patch of what looked like some kind of milfoil, but unfortunately, it had neither flowers nor fruit that would help me identify it.  I brought a piece of it home so I could photograph it more clearly, and maybe one of my more knowledgeable friends will recognize it from its leaves alone.

Finding rare plants always adds a certain frisson to the day's adventure, but on a day like today and on a perfectly pretty pond like this one, there would hardly be room for any more joy.  Just to breathe that sweet clean air, feel the sun warm on my face on an otherwise chilly day, amble along under tree-lined banks decorated with Winterberry and alive with the autumn songs of the crickets -- dear Lord, I am already filled to the brim with sheer delight!

I heard a poem on NPR's The Writer's Almanac this morning that well expressed the kind of joy I was feeling.  I just had to post it here.  The poet may have been writing about the Great Plains, but the sense of transcendent awe applies to wherever we call home.

From a Country Overlooked

There are no creatures you cannot love.
A frog calling at God
From the moon-filled ditch
As you stand on the country road in the June night.
The sound is enough to make the stars weep
With happiness.
In the morning the landscape green
Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass.
The day is carried across its hours
Without any effort by the shining insects
That are living their secret lives.
The space between the prairie horizons
Makes us ache with its beauty.
Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue
To the farthest cold dark in the universe.
The cottonwood also talks to you
Of breeze and speckled sunlight.
You are at home in these
great empty places
along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs.
You are comfortable in this spot
so full of grace and being
that it sparkles like jewels
spilled on water. 

"From a Country Overlooked" by Tom Hennen, from Darkness Sticks to Everything. © Copper Canyon Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


The Furry Gnome said...

Another lovely adventure! I like that poem you quoted. I'm not much of a poetry lover, but it expresses that joy you sometimes feel when you're out exploring.

Raining Iguanas said...

Fine words to end an equally fine day on the lake. I enjoyed both.

Unknown said...

Have you considered that your unknown milfoil may be invasive Eurasian Milfoil.. I can't tell.. but given that it was unknown.. there were "vast thickets" and it was "unusually clean" concerns me. Perhaps you could have some local experts check it out. Eurasian Milfoil has ruined a small lake near me..