Monday, November 11, 2013

Wandering a Windy Height

The cold and blustery days we've had of late remind me of Heathcliff and Catherine wandering the windy moors around Wuthering Heights.  Well, we don't have many moors around here, but we do have some windy heights, including a mountainous powerline clearcut off of Spier Falls Road that's been calling to me for years.  So off I went on Friday to explore it.

From the road, it looks a bit daunting, with rocky outcroppings rising steeply and no path marked out to climb them. No matter.  There must be a way, I thought, and started up.

Up and up and up I went, grasping at trunks of gnarly Scrub Oaks to haul me up the steeper spots where my feet could find a foothold in the rocks.  The way soon leveled off somewhat, although I still had to watch where I put my feet as I passed through mats of cinnamon-brown frost-killed Hay-scented Fern that obscured the hidden peril of tumbled rocks.  The wind moved in waves across meadows of tawny Little Bluestem Grass and tossed the boughs of coppery-leaved American Beeches and tall White Pines in the forest that lined the way.  I could have climbed higher and higher, but the day was growing late.  I promised myself I'd come back to see what lies beyond the farthest height I could see from here.

About halfway up, I could hear the gentle music of a little stream rippling and splashing over the rocks in miniature cascades.

When I turned and looked back I could see the whole valley below me, the Hudson River shining in the slanting sunlight, with mountains rising on either side.  I find it something of a marvel how the power company manages to raise these pylons all along these heights, and then keep the forest cleared beneath the lines.

These clearing replicate somewhat the forested areas that once were cleared by fire, creating habitat for many plants that thrive in such open locations.   Although I found the long views of the valley breathtaking, I also enjoyed discovering the abundance of beautiful plants that were happy here.  The Dewberry leaves were a truly striking ruby red.

I don't know the name of this grass, but I loved how its yellow blades complimented the emerald green of the moss it grew out of.

Another lovely composition was this clump of spiky green erupting out of the frothy white mound of Reindeer Lichen, the bright-red shred of a leaf like a ribbon that tied the whole arrangement together.

I love how the  mosses grant us delight in their greenery in every season.  Here's a particularly pretty patch of Haircap Moss.

How aptly named is Delicate Fern Moss!

Another moss, name unknown to me, spread an emerald velvet carpet that completely shrouded some rounded rocks, punctuated by a spiky asterisk of baby pine.

One isolated tumble of boulders must have contributed lime to the soil around it, for here I found such lime-loving plants as this Ebony Spleenwort growing abundantly.

Broad patches of flat rock interspersed with thin soil offered a happy home to many plants of Ovate-leaved Violets, their fuzzy green leaves turned lemon-yellow this late in the year.

Those same thin-soiled expanses were where I also found this patch of spiky plants colored the most unexpected bright pink and green.  Wow!  Here's a new one on me!  Or so I thought, at first.

Nearby were more clumps of similar spiky plants,  but more thickly branched, with pink-stemmed spikes mixed in with twiggy stems of a rusty brown.  Close examination revealed flower heads that resembled those of various species of St. Johnswort.  This leads me to believe that these plants could very well be that miniature St. Johnswort called Orange Grass (Hypericum gentianoides), one of those plants that thrive in barren soil like that on this mountainside.

The teeny-tiny flowers of Orange Grass are actually yellow, not orange, and you have to look very closely to see them.  I have seen them twice before in my life, both times in Massachusetts, but never in Saratoga County.  The New York Flora Association distribution map doesn't record them for Saratoga County, either.  So I shall have to return late next summer to collect a specimen.  And I will be very happy to do so, for this was a wonderful place to explore.  I certainly plan to be back again, and next time make it all the way to the top.

Addendum:  Just for the record, here's what Hypericum gentianoides looks like when it's in bloom.  Very tiny yellow flowers and dark red fruits.  I took this photograph in September, 2011, near the Atlantic coast outside of Rockport, Massachusetts.


Carolyn H said...

Nice: i've climbed a few power cuts, too, just to see the view from the top. Too bad the wires and poles get in the way.

The Furry Gnome said...

It's amazing how you manage to make a hydro cut sound fascinating! Great pictures; you always seem to get the perfect exposure. And I've still never seen Ebony Spleenwort, though I've now met someone who claims to know where it grows - maybe next summer?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Carolyn and Furry, thanks for stopping by. These powerline cuts provide habitat for lots of interesting plants that can't tolerate the shade of the woods. They're where I come to find such wonderful plants as Wood Lily, Frostweed, Blue Curls, Wood Betony, and the more unusual species of Milkweed. The rocks are also home to numerous mosses, lichens, liverworts, fungi, and ferns.

Furry Gnome, if you want to find Ebony Spleenwort, look among rocks made of limestone or marble. Companion plants might be Maidenhair, Walking, or Bulblet ferns.

Virginia said...

Oh, Wuthering Heights for sure!! I took my father out there too. We parked on Spier Falls road and took the path to Mud Pond, but the fallen leaves were so deep that my father was slipping a lot. We turned back and walked on the roadway inside the park instead. But, oh yes, very chilly and blustery!

suep said...

Hey there, I will definitely join you for a trip to the top -- AFTER hunting season !