Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Light Shines in the Darkness

"The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  John 1:5

Wishing all my friends and family and those they love peace and joy and hope and the patience to endure even through the darkest times.  I do believe there is a Great Goodness at the core of creation and that all things arise from love.  May the peace and joy of Christmas be with you now and throughout the coming year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It Might As Well Be Spring!

For the first full day of winter, it sure felt more like spring today!  It was nearly 60 degrees, soft and balmy, following an all-day rain yesterday. Such a nice day for a walk on Spier Falls Road along the Hudson River, even though the clouds were low and fog was resting on the water.  I parked at the trailhead for the Spring Overlook Trail and walked the shoulder of the road, heading toward the Spier Falls dam.  (By the way, I was excited to see an excavation crew working on a parking lot for this trailhead, one that will offer safer parking than the small pull-off currently available.)

One of the great pleasures of this walk is the opportunity to explore the large boulders that line the road.  Watered by springs and jagged with cracks and crevices, these boulders are covered with beautiful mosses, ferns, and flowering plants.  Although the flowers are no longer blooming, the mosses remain brilliantly green, and today those mosses were dripping with tiny rivulets of water splashing and dancing from ledge to ledge with a delightful musical sound.

The sounds of splashing water reached a thundering crescendo when I approached the long waterfall that tumbles down the mountain almost directly across from the dam.  A few weeks ago, the creek that feeds this waterfall was virtually dry, but today that creek was as full to its banks as it would be in spring, leaping and dancing its white-water way down the mountainside.

Testing the strength of my recovering knee and supported by my cane, I scrambled up the course of the falls, pushing my way through the dense woods that crowds its banks.

One of the many delights of this climb is to see the wondrous variety of mosses, lichens, liverworts, and ferns that decorate the constantly dampened stream-side boulders.  Here was a beautiful mat of two mosses, each one presenting a remarkable contrast in color and texture.  (The starry one I know to be a Haircap, but I'm not sure of the second one.)

Two more mosses of contrasting shape, the smaller one a Sphagnum Moss and the larger one the aptly named Tree Moss.

Here was a lovely bronze-tinged carpet of Delicate Fern Moss, punctuated by a beautiful clump of a jade-green Cladonia lichen.

The fine leaves of this bright-green clump make me think it quite likely a Broom Moss, dripping with crystal drops sprayed up by the waterfall.
CORRECTION: the starry leaves and especially the tiny brown, perfectly round spore capsules discernible near the bottom of the clump  distinguish this as Apple Moss (Bartramia pomiformis).  

As I struggled up the steep slope of the mountainside, I reached for sturdy young tree trunks to give me some leverage.  As I grasped the trunk of this young Striped Maple, I came close enough to notice the bright-blue stripes on the bark, a color I had never noticed before.

Here was another surprise on some bark:  bright-orange spherical dots covering the dead branches of a shrub.  I have seen many different fungi in all my years of woodland exploring, but I do not recall ever seeing these.  I will try to find a name for them and come back with an update if I do.

Update:  I received this information from Kathie Hodge,  mycologist from Cornell University:

"Looks like coral spot, Jackie. The dots are the asexual state (Tubercularia) of a Nectria species that parasitizes a range of hardwood trees. Here's a photo from George Barron (the colors are off, but trust me!) showing sexual and asexual states of the same fungus. Each coral dot is making thousands of tiny spores." .

At least I think it's safe to call this fungal cluster Turkey Tail, looking especially striking against the chalk-white bark of a birch log.

As the afternoon wore on, rafts of fog lifted from the river's surface and wafted up toward the mountain tops.  A beautiful sight, reflected in water as still as glass.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

'Tis the Season!

It's been raining and raining all day today.  Just think what a white Christmas we would have if this were snow!  If it HAD been snow, I would have been outdoors taking photos, hoping to find a Christmassy scene to share with my dear blog readers as my way of a holiday greeting.  As it was, I've been indoors all day, doing stuff to prepare for Christmas, and in the process I found a box with these old salt-dough ornaments I made many years ago when our children were small.  They had lots of fun making Santas and Christmas trees and stars and other ornaments, and so did I ( I especially had a ball making Raggedy Ann and Andy with garlic-pressed dough for their yarn hair).  Unfortunately, the children's efforts were stored in the attic, where dampness and mice destroyed them, but somehow the ones I made stayed downstairs in the back of the dining-room buffet.  I found them again just today, and I thought they made quite a cheerful array for a Christmas greeting.  So I post them here, along with my hopes that all of you have a wonderful holiday season filled with love and peace and joy, and that the New Year brings only good things to you and your families.

I don't know if I will be posting another blog until well after New Year's, since we will be traveling just after Christmas to join our son and his family for a week in the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos.  I can't wait to explore a biota that will be totally new to me.  So stay tuned for reports from the tropics.  Since we can't seem to be enjoying an old-fashioned winter up here in northern New York, I might as well go experience some sunshine and palm trees and sand dunes and surf. Plus building sand castles with my grandkids.

Monday, December 21, 2015

We Welcome the Light!

Well, tonight is the longest night of the year, but it sure is not the coldest. Mild and rainy tonight, and temperatures are predicted to rise to a high of near 70 degrees by Christmas Eve. Unbelievable! No white Christmas for us this year, but it will be Christmas just the same, just as it has been for centuries now:  a time for Christians all over the earth to celebrate the Light that came into the world, and for all people  in the northern hemisphere, of whatever religion or none, to celebrate the return of the light to our earth with the lengthening of days, beginning tomorrow.

Because I keep Advent -- the four weeks preceding Christmas Eve -- as a quiet time of waiting as the darkness deepens, I have only now, after the last Advent Sunday, begun to prepare our house for the Christmas celebration.  Although we won't put our tree up until Christmas Eve, I have strung some sparkling lights around our door and throughout the house, and I've brought some boxes of well-loved old ornaments down from the attic.  In the same way, I've searched the "attic" of my blog and found in my archives this Solstice meditation from a few years ago.  Just as I'll hang the same shiny balls and glittering stars that we always hang on our tree, and have set up the same treasured Nativity sets in their regular places of honor, I am offering this same meditation again.  I enjoyed re-reading it, and I hope my blog's readers will, too.

Winter Solstice!  As of today, the darkness will start to recede, and life-giving light will begin its return to us.

While searching through my files for an appropriate celebratory image,  I came across this photo of sunlit ripples moving across the sandy bottom close to the shore of Moreau Lake.  The photo was taken in early March on one of the first days the ice had begun to retreat from the shore.  Free of its frozen constraints, the water seemed to be dancing for joy at its liberation, vibrating with life and warmth, the sunlight waving bright ribbons of gold along the sand, the tiny wavelets acting as prisms that cast flashing spectra of brilliant color.  Struck dumb with delight, I stood and gazed and was overcome with gratefulness and joy.  How could it be that such treasure was mine, strewn at my feet, freely given, and all I had to do was open my eyes and see?

In many ways, this is also the Christmas message.  The Divine One, the source of all life,  dwells among us on earth and can be found in the humblest, most ordinary of circumstances.  God is not "out there" in high heaven, but right here, right now, love freely given, like treasure strewn at our feet, and all we have to do is open our hearts and love.

I wish you all a joy-filled Christmas season and a wonderful new year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Why Is Moreau Lake So Low?

After visiting that pretty Lake Bonita this week and noting that its waters were brimming right up to the shoreline vegetation, I began to worry about Moreau Lake.  Both lakes are part of the property belonging to Moreau Lake State Park, but while Lake Bonita seems just as full as it should be, despite low rainfall this summer, it looks as if someone has pulled the plug on Moreau Lake, allowing its waters to drain away at an alarming rate.  These next three photos, all taken within the last week, reveal how low the water has fallen, uncovering wide swaths of beach where once the water lapped almost up to the treeline.

It's not unusual for Moreau Lake's water levels to rise and fall rather dramatically, since it is what's called a "kettle lake," formed when the miles-thick ice sheet that once covered the region carved depressions out of the land as it retreated.  These depressions were filled with melting chunks of glaciers and have no significant inlets or outlets, so yes, this kind of lake will tend to vary in depth much more than, say, a springfed lake would do.  In the more than 40 years I've been visiting this lake, I have seen significant fluctuations.  But never have I seen the water so low.  And neither have state park officials, I learned, after reading a newspaper article in The Saratogian.

In a December 11 Saratogian article written by Paul Post,  state park officials expressed their concerns about why water levels are currently as much as four feet below normal.  Drought and beaver dams could be part of the cause, they allowed, but suggested that other factors, such as regional construction that impacts water tables could also be contributing to the problem.  The officials announced that a hydrological study will be undertaken this winter, led by State Parks Natural Resources Steward Casey Holzworth, with the assistance of staff from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey.

I wish them well, and I hope they find a problem that is capable of being resolved.  As this photo I took today of hundreds of Canada Geese swimming on Moreau Lake reveals, I'm not the only one who loves these beautiful waters.

I also love its beautiful shores, and truth be told, it has been delightful to be able to walk completely around the lake this year on broad sandy beaches. All kinds of interesting natural phenomena can be found on these shores, and this green-algae-covered log spiked with tiny fungi was one I found this week.

I wasn't surprised to find it, since I've been finding it here in the very same spot for more than five years, seemingly unchanged.  Well, the log has rotted away considerably, but the tiny fungus called Multiclavula mucida persists undiminished through all seasons and weathers, despite its small size and delicate appearance.  This fungus can only grow in the presence of green algae, which the rotting log it grows on has generously supplied.

Other treasures also can be found now out on these sandy stretches, such as these two clumps of deep purple leaves.  I am truly stumped to name them however.  So I just enjoyed their graceful beauty and lovely color.  Perhaps some of my readers recognize them and will inform us in a comment.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lake Bonita is muy bonita!

My exploratory walk to Lake Bonita last week was cut way too short by impending sundown, so I just had to return this past weekend to continue my explorations.  This pretty little lake sure lives up to its name (bonita means "pretty" in Spanish), so I feel really happy that it and the forest that surrounds it now belong to Moreau Lake State Park.  Although this property is not yet officially open to the public (there is no safe parking nearby, for one thing), I was pleased to see that flagging for trails has already begun, making it quite easy for me to find my way around the lake.

That flagged trail closely follows the north shoreline of the lake, offering scenic views of the water and the little islands that stud its surface.  On Saturday, when I returned to the lake, the surface was still as glass, perfectly mirroring the sky, those shrubby islands, and the mixed-hardwood/conifer forest that surrounds the lake.

About halfway along the north shore, large boulders jut into the water, offering perfect sitting spots for lingering to enjoy the view.

One of the prettiest views was of this tiny stone cabin that sits at the east end of the lake.  I did not continue my explorations to reach this cabin, but I assumed it was one of the buildings that were included in the state prison property that previously occupied this site.  How wonderful that a property as lovely as this will now be part of a state park and open for all to enjoy, instead of a place for incarceration of criminals.

I did wander off-trail for a bit, following a stream that led to an open wetland deep within the forest.  I look forward to returning in summer to discover what wetland plants might be thriving here.

In the meantime, I could identify a certain number of the plants that are growing along the shore, even after their flowers had long dropped their petals and gone to seed.  These pretty tulip-shaped pods belong to a species of St. Johnswort, most likely Marsh St. Johnswort, which will have small pink flowers in summer.

This plant could be identified by its leaves alone, distinctively those of the shoreline shrub called Leatherleaf.

No leaves remained on this shoreline shrub, but its distinctive cone-like buds immediately identified it as Sweet Gale, a shrub that bears wonderfully fragrant leaves in season.

These spent flower-heads could only be those of the shrub called Steeplebush, which has tight clusters of deep-rose flowers in the summer.

Nestled among the depressions in the shoreline boulders were numerous plants of Pale Corydalis, their clusters of lacy leaves still green despite numerous below-freezing mornings.  Beginning in spring and continuing until late in the fall, these plants will bear dainty bright-pink flowers that are tipped with yellow.

Sharing the boulders with those Pale Corydalis plants were low sprawling shrubs of Low-bush Blueberries, still holding on to the brilliantly colored leaves so distinctive for blueberries.

Many different kinds of beautiful mosses decorate the shore with their vivid greenery that will remain vividly green all winter.  This clump was mostly the ferny-looking Brocade Moss with a few sprouts of the starry-shaped Haircap Moss intruding.

Here's a larger patch of that Haircap Moss, this time curving around a clump of shaggy lighter-green Sphagnum Moss.  I was surprised to find large areas of shoreline densely carpeted with Sphagnum, usually the sign of bog-like conditions, even though I found no evidence of any plants that require an acidic bog habitat.

There's some more moss here, the tiny starry stuff tipped with brown.  I think it may be a species of Atrichum Moss, here being engulfed by the very hairy leaves of Pussytoes.

These were just a few of the jewels in the treasure chest this gorgeous property represents.  How lucky we are,  those of us who love Moreau Lake State Park and partake of its wondrous natural offerings on a regular basis, to have even more of our park to explore and enjoy.  I certainly feel blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the world, with so much unspoiled natural beauty all around me.  This grateful feeling was reinforced by this view of distant mountains that greeted me as I made my way out of the forest that surrounds the muy bonita Lake Bonita.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Walking with My Husband

My husband, Denis, subscribes to a site called "poem-a-day" (, and he just sent me a poem that he found uncannily descriptive of the way we often walk together:   he striding purposefully ahead to accomplish the distance we had set for ourselves, while I am dropping to my knees every few feet to photograph the naughty bits of a flower or waiting for that dragonfly to return to the perch my presence frightened it from.  It's kind of a joke between us, these different styles of walking, and it's probably the major reason we rarely go walking together, at least in nature.  There's quite a sad note to this poem, however, and it makes me want to walk as long and as often as I can with my dear husband.  Even if I do fall "three, fifteen, forty steps behind."

The poem is called "Bogliasco" by Robert Polito, the title referring to a small Italian village where Polito and his wife had visited -- and walked -- together.

by Robert Polito

I’m always running ahead of my life,
The way when we walk you are always

Three, fifteen, forty steps behind
Taking a picture, or inspecting

A bottlebrush tree, a cornice, the sea
As it breaks white on the striated rock,

As though I can’t dare look, and
I’m always running away from myself

The way when we walk you are always
Asking me to slow down, and what will happen

When one of us dies, and, if it’s me first,
There’s no one’s back in our photos anymore.

*  *  *

Here are a few more photos, with my dear husband's back in each of them.  We do get around.  Just walking at different speeds.

At the Saratoga Battlefield

At the beach in Montauk, Long Island

At Moreau Lake State Park

Friday, December 11, 2015


What the heck is WITH  this weather?!  Sixty degrees today, and almost nearly that every day this week.  I even found a whole row of the tiny white flower called Galinsoga blooming today, pushing up from a crack in the sidewalk.  No doubt this warm weather is a boon to the throngs of Christmas shoppers I met crowding downtown Saratoga Springs today, but I don't like it.  Sure, the warmth is more comfortable, but I worry about what it means for the plants and animals that in ordinary years would be settling down for the winter by now.  They have evolved to do this.  Don't they need their period of rest during the cold of winter?  Ah well, what will be will be, and I can't do anything about it.  But I sure hope the climate talks going on in Paris now bring about some real efforts to address climate change in meaningful ways.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


The sign said No Trespassing, Prison Property, but I knew that wasn't true.  The woods along Corinth Mountain Road now belong to Moreau Lake State Park, so I figured I wouldn't get shot by prison guards if I slipped through a gate and followed an old service road through the woods.  I was looking for the Lake Bonita I could see on the map but had never laid eyes on in person.  The park will eventually lay and mark trails to the lake through this recently acquired property, but my accident this year taught me that I can't always count on the future, so I set off to find that lake on my own while I still have the strength to do it.

My guess is that there's been a road here for a long, long time, since I found these old cellar holes deep in the woods.  I always wonder what stories they could tell about the folks who once lived above them.

It sure was a glorious day for a walk in the woods today, with a clear blue sky and mild temperatures edging toward 50 degrees.  I doesn't seem right to have such warm weather here in December, but hey, I'll take it as long as it's given to me.  The wide unrutted road offered easy footing for me with my bum leg, and it wasn't long before I could spy glimpses of bright blue through the trees, indicating the lake was nearby.

I left the road and scrambled down some steep banks until I came out of the woods on the shore of this gem of a lake, gleaming sapphire-blue beneath a cloudless sky.  I'd love to carry my canoe down here and paddle out to those little islands.  It looks like they're covered with blueberry bushes and maybe a  bog plant or two.

Returning to the road, I followed it around the end of the lake, where it stopped at the dam that holds back the water that forms the lake.

The dam was releasing some of the lake water into a little stream, which I followed downhill, enjoying the splash and tumble of little waterfalls along the stream's course.

I could have lingered much longer along that lively stream or detoured into adjacent wetlands for some botanical explorations, but gosh, that sun goes down early these December afternoons! Time to head home before dark.   Perhaps by the time Daylight Savings Time begins again, I won't have to feel like I'm trespassing to return to this pretty little lake, but will be able to walk official trails to find it.