Saturday, February 28, 2015

Blue Sky, Busy River, Deep Snow

Yet another sub-zero morning on Friday, but man, that sky was BLUE!  I just had to get outdoors.  So off to the river I went after lunch, waiting until the temps reached the double digits.  Whenever I walk down through the woods at the end of Potter Road and come out onto this scene of West Mountain rising against the sky and the quiet coves lined with stately pines, I'm always glad I made the effort to get here.

Indeed, it did take quite an effort to make my way through deep snow in the woods, but I didn't feel it was safe to go out on the ice where the snow wasn't so deep.  Because the river rises and falls with dam operations, the ice breaks at the edge and water pours over the surface, weakening the ice. It was obvious from their tracks that many animals had ventured out there, quite likely to drink from the only liquid water to be found for miles around.

Lots and lots of trails on the river today, and I'm guessing that almost every one of them was made by minks.  I don't know where the coyotes and foxes and fishers are traveling these days, but not through the deep snow of these woods.

One reason I think that minks made these trails (aside from the aquatic habitat) is that they made  tunnels through the snow of just about the same size as a mink's diameter.

Here was a different track!  Looks like a bunch of turkeys were wandering out on the ice.

This imprint of a turkey's tail feathers confirmed my guess.

I was struck by the stark beauty of these alder twigs silhouetted against the snow, reminding me of Japanese ink drawings I have seen, perhaps of plum blossoms. (Ah, plum blossoms!  Spring!)

Here was a flash of bright color in these snowy woods!  Some vivid orange-red growth has infested the bark of this birch tree.  From a distance it looked as if blood was streaming down the trunk.

Is this a fungus?  Or is it a lichen?  I wonder if someone can tell me.

More odd stuff.  Fungal blobs proliferating on the trunks of Hop Hornbeam trees.  Looked like a family of hedgehogs climbing the trees.

I couldn't pry up the frozen ruffles to examine the underside, so I don't know how to ID these growths, either.  The tops look a bit like Turkey Tail, but I've never seen that fungus form tight blobs like this.

Update: A very helpful fellow blogger named Don Butler ( has suggested that the red stuff oozing from the birch bark could be the fungus Phlebia radiata, and that these blobby fungi on the Hop Hornbeams could be Sweet Knot (Globifomes graveblens).  Two new fungi for me, and a wonderful new blog to follow as well.  Thanks, Don!

When I first started out through the woods today, I was freezing.  But after trudging through this deep snow, it didn't take long before I started stripping off scarf and hat and unzipping my coat.  Oof!  Hard work, indeed!

Heading home, I was glad to step out of the woods onto this plowed road for the last couple hundred yards to my car.  I've been hunkering down too much this frigid February, and I can tell my endurance has suffered.  But hey, it's MARCH on Sunday!  Winter will soon be over.  Won't it?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Frozen River

Darn, but it's cold! And it just keeps being cold.  Every morning, below zero, accompanied by wind that makes the cold so much worse.  It's really put a cramp in my winter outdoor activities.  I started out on a walk today, but after only a few minutes my face went numb and the cold kicked up the ocular rosacea that makes my eyes burn.  Tears began to wet my frozen cheeks.  Very unpleasant!  So I jumped in my car instead, turned up the heat, and drove up to The Glen north of Warrensburg to see what the frazil ice was doing after all these sub-zero nights.

Well, the frazil's not doing much at all, since the Hudson River is frozen solid above the bridge.  It's here in the turbulent waters that frazil forms, the turbulence tossing super-cooled droplets into the frigid air, where they freeze immediately and fall back in the water, forming mats of slushy ice that can dam the river and pile up in prodigious heaps along the shore.  With the river's surface frozen over, no new frazil can form.  There was plenty of frazil in the river (now covered with snow), but nowhere near the monumental heights that can block roads and topple trees, as I've seen occur in years past.  No excitement here today.

I followed the iced-over river south through Stony Creek to Hadley/Lake Luzerne, and here I found open water at last, where the Hudson falls through a gorge at Rockwell Falls.  This is the view from the bridge at Lake Luzerne.

A beautiful view, yes, and I found the long shadows across the deep snow added considerable interest to the scene.

I found out how deep that snow was when I tried to climb down to the falls to take a closer look.  Up to my thighs!  Even if I'd worn snowshoes, it would have been slow going.  But I struggled on, getting as close to the falls as I dared.  In summer, I will stand right over the falls on the rocks, but now I couldn't be sure I wasn't standing on an ice shelf that might give way.  So I kept a little distance.  I was still close enough to feel the mist on my face.

How beautifully that mist has accumulated along the banks, creating fairy castles of cascading icicles!

Lovely, indeed!  Well worth the cold-numbed, tear-wet cheeks to see.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Outdoors at Last!

Sunshine!  Blue sky!  Warm!  Well . . .  sorta warm. Way below zero when I got up, but by noon on Wednesday it was close to 20 degrees and, most important, NO WIND!  I could get out for a walk at last!  I felt like I'd been sprung from prison when I strapped on my snowshoes and trekked down to the Hudson shore at the boat-launch site below Spier Falls.

And trek was the word for it -- meaning, a difficult journey.  Even though it's only a hundred yards or so from the parking lot to the Hudson shore, that snow was DEEP!

My snowshoes sank in a least a foot, so it made for rather slow going.  And quite a bit of huffing and puffing.  I hadn't been out hiking for too many days.  Darn, but it doesn't take long to get out of shape.!

When I reached the shore and found the river solidly frozen over, I decided to save my energy the way the coyotes did, by traveling on the ice where the snow lay only a few inches deep.  I don't know if these tracks are those of a single animal retracing its route several times, or if the creature was joined by traveling companions, but I was happy to stride along the same route, enjoying that lovely blue sky, dazzling snow, and the view of forested mountains.

I amused myself trying to identify the trees hanging over the bank, and I was especially delighted to find the brilliantly colored twigs of many Striped Maples.  As colorful as a Milk Snake!

I walked as far as to where I knew a creek spilled into the river.  Although the creek was frozen solid and hidden under several feet of snow, I knew I'd reached my destination when I saw a cluster of Leatherwood shrubs on the riverbank.  This is a shrub that usually indicates the presence of lime in its soil, and it's quite unusual to find it growing along the river, where the rocks tend to be granitic, rather than limestone or marble.  A rocky mountainside rises steeply behind where these shrubs are growing,  so perhaps there are marble boulders among them, leeching their calcareous minerals into the surrounding soils.

This is one of the boulders that appears to have toppled down from the heights above.  I remember finding it covered with Red Trillium and Hepatica in spring, two wildflowers I often find in forests with limey substrates, although they can thrive in neutral soils as well.

While exploring this site, I chanced upon the tracks laid down be an earlier snowshoer, so I was grateful to have my route eased as I made my way back to my car by walking through the woods.  Almost there, I stopped to enjoy the music of another snow-covered creek, only this one had a few little pools of visibly  -- and audibly -- open water.  At each of these open sites, numerous animal tracks were in evidence, as the woodland creatures sought out one of the very few places to drink that was not frozen solid this bitter winter.  As for me, I was rosy warm by now, and glad to sit in the snow to rest, enchanted by the muffled silence of the snowy woods, the only sound the cheerful gurgle of this little creek rushing among the rocks.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Dreaming of Spring

Another morning well below zero!  Brrrr!  I meant to get out today, I really did, and I even suited up for it in my warmest winter wear (see photo above).  But just while walking out to my car, the roaring wind kept finding a way to make me miserable, so back inside I scurried.  Ah well, I have projects I need to work on at home, anyway.

I'm working on a magazine article about spring wildflowers, and also preparing a slide presentation about the plants that populate the banks of the Hudson.  So I'm spending hours going through photos that remind me that spring will come.

I'm sharing some here.  Perhaps they will help keep our hopes up.

One of these days, my little boat will carry me back out onto the river.

Clouds of Bluets will tumble over the banks.

Violets will vie with the Bluets to carpet the woodland paths.

Roadside ditches will explode with gold when the Marsh Marigolds come into bloom.

Hepaticas of many colors will burst into bloom in the woods.

Fringed Polygala is also called Gaywings, a most appropriate name for this flower that looks like a tiny bright-pink airplane, propeller awhirl.

Bloodroot will pay us the briefest of visits before the tree canopy closes in and steals the sun from the forest floor.

I'm still looking forward to enjoying what's left of the winter (if only it would warm up just a bit), but it's nice to be reminded that spring will be our reward for enduring the cold.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Just Like Old Times. Sort Of.

Big heaps of snow!  Below zero nights!  Icicles almost reaching the ground!  We haven't had a winter like this in what seems a long, long time.  It reminds me of our first winter in Saratoga Springs, back in 1971, a year whose records for snowfall and cold have not been broken yet.  Even though we had come here from Michigan, I had never known such a cold and snowy winter, and I really loved it!  Of course I was then in my 20s, and we lived in Skidmore faculty housing, where guys from Buildings and Grounds came to shovel the walks or repair the roof that caved in from the weight of the snow, and we didn't have to pay for heat, so we cranked that thermostat up to a true comfort level.  Now, I'm in my 70s, and I and my husband have to shovel that snow despite aching backs and shoulders, and we had to pay big money for guys to come knock the ice dams from our eaves so the water would stop running down our inside walls and dripping from our upstairs ceilings, and our house is so cold we have to wear longjohns and polarfleece even indoors.  But I still love it. Sort of.

Yes, the discomforts of winter mount as we age, but I still love that sweet cold air and the silent beauty of a snowy woods.  Today I had that woods all to myself as I snowshoed around Mud Pond at Moreau without seeing another soul.

I was glad, however, that others had been here before me, tamping the knee-deep snow in the trails with snowshoes and skis, so I could proceed with relative ease, rather than exhausting myself wading through untrodden heaps.  No wonder I saw few animal tracks today.  I think the poor creatures must hunker down until hunger drives them out to hunt, daunted by the effort it takes to travel through deep snow.

That snow was truly beautiful, though, flashing all the colors of the rainbow today.  I had to darken this photo and enhance the colors in order for my photograph to reveal them, but I could see these technicolor sparkles with my naked eyes, and they were dazzling!

At one place, the texture of the snow changed from tiny sparkling points of light to these large flat flakes covering the surface.  Just in one spot, close to the south end of the pond.  Odd!  I wonder what atmospheric event created flakes like this.

I loved the stark contrast of Sweet Fern branches dark against the pristine snow, and the muted shadows cast by a cloud-veiled sun.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Back to the Big Old Pines

The thermometer might have inched up above zero by the time we set off through the snowy woods on Friday morning, a group of hardy folks brought together by our friend and guide Evelyn Greene to explore a section of state forest preserve near Friends Lake, known to harbor some impressive old White Pines.  Yes, it was cold, but the snow lay deep and untrodden, so the effort quickly warmed us up as we made our way along old logging roads that led us deep into the forest all the way to the banks of the Hudson River.

We knew we had reached the forest preserve, unlogged since 1928, when we sensed the pines towering way up toward the sky, with the surrounding spaces nearly clear of the small understory trees that typically populate forests of younger age.

We felt truly dwarfed by the height and girth of these majestic old giants, many now approaching 90 years old.

Most of the birches that once thrived among these pines had long toppled from old age.  But here and there we found some still living, including this one that Bonnie is climbing into, the trunk perched aloft on tall serpentine roots that doubtless  first sprang to life atop a stump long rotted away, leaving a vacancy within.

Most of our group were eager to keep up a steady (and warming!) pace,  glad that the nature nuts among us did not find much along the wintry trail to slow us down.  But I couldn't help myself when I saw many trees covered with some kind of fluffy growth.  I just had to call out to the experts among us to help me figure out if this stuff was a moss or a liverwort.  I knew that Evelyn would know, and so would our friend Nancy Slack, an expert bryologist.

Turned out, this fluffy stuff was BOTH a moss and a liverwort, growing together on the same trunk.  From a distance they looked quite a bit alike, but a close look revealed they were quite different.  This is the moss, a tiny-leaved species called Neckera, which prefers the bark of old-growth trees.

Intermixed with the moss was this Porella liverwort, whose overlapping leaves give its stems a braided appearance.  Both moss and liverwort are green, with stems that curl away from the tree, so it is easy to confuse them at first sighting.

When we reached the banks of the Hudson, some of our party were brave enough to venture out onto its frozen surface.  I'm sure that ice was really thick, but I am always wary of river ice, especially in stretches where the current is swift and turbulent, which it is in this part of the river.  But everyone returned safely, for which I am grateful.  By now, I was growing cold and hungry, and we had at least a mile and a half to trek back to our cars, which would carry us all to the fireplace-warmed tavern of the Copperfield Inn in North Creek, where our rosy-cheeked bunch had a hearty, convivial lunch.