Monday, November 28, 2016

It's Getting Frosty Out There!

After holiday hosting duties had kept me indoors most of last week, I was really eager to get outdoors today, especially since the weather was clear and sunny. It seemed a great day to walk along the gracefully curving Spier Falls Road, with the nearby Hudson River reflecting that beautiful blue sky.

At one point I left the road to climb up the course of a waterfall that tumbles down the mountains that rise along the road.

With our lack of rainfall this year, I expected the course of the waterfall to be merely a trickle, but no, there was still enough water in the stream to tumble and splash among the mossy boulders.

I was surprised to find the forest floor here thick with frost on the north-facing slopes, and the frost's starry crystals outlined all the leafy vegetation.  The bright-green of this Marginal Wood Fern's frond looked so pretty rimmed with white.

This mound of Delicate Fern Moss was also spangled with frost.

As were these gold-and-brown fans of Stereum fungus.

One branch of a native Yew shrub hung over the splashing water, and it was completely encased in crystalline ice.

With all this frost and ice persisting well into the afternoon, I wondered if I might find some Frostweed curls in the open areas under a powerline that runs along the top of Mud Pond.  This area is not far away along Spier Falls Road, so I set off in that direction, stopping for just a moment to take in the serene beauty of late-afternoon light on the quiet river.

Since the curls of frozen sap that form at the base of Frostweed stems are so delicate and fine, I hardly dared hope I would find them today.  It was already past three in the afternoon, and the day had been sunny.  Wouldn't they have melted away by now?  But lo and behold, I found many Frostweed plants with these frothy curls still intact!  This action of sap escaping from splits in the stems to form curls of frozen vapor is the very feature that gives this native plant (Crocanthemum canadense) its common name. As far as I know, it is the only plant we have in this part of the country that can do this.

Much of the area under the powerline was still spangled with frost, adding interest and beauty to all the variety of mosses and lichens that flourish there.  I was especially enchanted by this frosted pale violet-gray mushroom rising from amid a patch of Haircap moss.

The bright-red tops of Cladonia lichens are always a delight to find, and today they were made even prettier by the presence of frosty crystals.

I know that it's hard to say good-bye to this late-autumn's lingering warmth.   But finding all these sparkling treasures today reminded me once more that every season has its delights. Even if you have to search a little harder to find them.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Turkey Tail Tales

I was way too busy cooking yesterday (and too pooped at night), to post a Happy Thanksgiving blog. But I hope all my readers had a wonderful day of feasting and family love, without too much friction among folks either happy or mad about our recent election. (Lucky for me and my dear family, our extended members who might want to fight are as far apart geographically as along the political spectrum.) I was hoping to get outdoors today, but the rainy grayness out there is not beckoning me, so I took a walk through my photo files instead.  Since we're finishing off the tail-end of our turkey leftovers today,  how about we look at a few variations of that beautiful fungus called Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)? This is the ruffly fungus shown in the photo above, sharing its fallen log with the vivid orange mushroom called Mycena leailana.  I always thought this particular combination of fungi would make a beautiful centerpiece for the Thanksgiving table.

As the following sequence of photos shows, this is a very aptly named fungus, whether we call it by its common name or its scientific one.  With its fan-shaped fruiting bodies displaying bands of alternating colors, it does rather resemble the spread-out tail of a courting or challenging tom turkey. And as its specific name, versicolor, suggests, it comes in a whole variety of colors.

Probably the most common colors we find are varying shades of tan and brown, from the softest ecrus and ivories and cafe-au-laits to the deepest chocolates.

Then once in a while, we come upon a mass of Turkey Tails with bands of vivid blue and vibrant orange.

Here's one I found with bands of bright orange set off by a wash of avocado green, thanks to a green-algae coating.

Somehow, the green bands in this vividly colorful example, do not look as if they were caused by algae, because that green tint is confined to its distinctly separate bands, rather than spreading across all bands. One gorgeous combination of colors!

Just recently, I stopped in amazement before this gorgeous mass of Turkey Tails with bands of school-bus yellow alternating with bands of blue. This is a combination I had never seen before.

Here's that schoolbus yellow again, only this time alternating with dove gray.

All of these examples display the strikingly zonate bands of contrasting colors that are typical for this fungus, and a closer look would reveal that these zones are often different in texture as well as color, with fuzzy zones alternating with smoother ones.  This fuzzy or velvety texture of the cap, as well as the starkly contrasting color zones are among the features that distinguish this species of Trametes from other similar members of its genus.  Another distinguishing feature of Turkey Tail is that the fresh caps are thin and flexible, not rigid and hard.

The Turkey Tail  is one of the polypore fungi, meaning that its fertile surface consists of many pores instead of gills.  We have many other species of polypores, but in the case of Turkey Tail, these pores, while visible, are very tiny, presenting as many as 8 pores per millimeter.

This fungus grows on the deadwood of hardwoods and only rarely on conifer logs. And to the delight of hikers in every season, it can be found year-round.  I'm hoping the weather clears a bit soon and my flagging energies revive so that I can get back out to the woods. Perhaps I will come upon a beautiful arrangement like this:  vividly striped Turkey Tails sharing a mossy log with gray-green lichens.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

One Last Lovely Day

I'm told it might snow tomorrow.  I found that hard to believe today, as I strode the sun-warmed sandy shore of Moreau Lake, basking in what might be the last of our summer-like days this late fall.

That broad cerulean sky and surrounding forested mountains were perfectly reflected in the lake's still water, unruffled except for the occasional duck skidding in for a landing or a happy dog splashing in after a stick that was tossed by one of the many other folks enjoying this balmy day and this beautiful lake.

Most of the lake is edged with broad sandy beaches these days, but in some of the coves the shoreline consists of deep mud.  To avoid the treacherous depths of this mud, I moved up close to the tree-shaded banks, which is where I spotted this rotting log.  The log's damp and punky wood was paved with green algae and whiskered with the tiny white fungus called Multiclavula mucida.

Multiclavula mucida has the common name of Green-algae Coral, an appropriately descriptive name, since this miniature fungus is always associated with green algae.

Out on the mudflats close to the water I found abundant masses of green leafy plants.  Some were the basal rosettes of some species of bittercress that will bloom next spring, but others had flower stalks that still held a few of this year's tiny blooms.

Very tiny blooms, indeed!  And some were pink, not the typical blue I usually see on Small-flowered Forget-me-nots (Myosotis laxa),  our native Forget-me-not.

There were a few small groups of waterfowl out on the lake, too far away for my poor eyes to discern as to species.  But evidence of the birds' presence here on the lake could be seen in the occasional feathers scattered across the mud.  I was entranced by the tiny water droplets that clung to this downy plume without actually wetting it.

The day's summery warmth lulled me into forgetting how early the sun slips behind the mountains these days.  I was barely half way around the lake when I noticed the darkening shadows, and I picked up my pace as a chill began to creep out from the depth of the woods.  But I did slow my steps to take in this view of white birches and the mountain's profile reflected in the dark still water.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Seeking Solace in Nature

It wasn't a good week.  I'm sure most of my blog readers can guess how I feel about the presidential election, but there were other sadnesses, too, including the death of an old friend and encountering the grief of her children.  But there were happy times, too, when our daughter came home to console her childhood friend, and later in the week our son and his darling children arrived just to spend some fun time with us.  And in between death duties and family activities, I did manage to get outdoors.  Nothing lifts my spirits more than wandering the woods or being by water. Here are some of the places I went this past week to soothe my soul.

Actually, the low water levels of Mud Pond at Moreau, are more like a source of worry than consolation, but I still enjoyed walking the shore of the pond under a clear blue sky. At some points, I could almost cross the pond by jumping across a narrow channel that connects the back bay with the major body of the pond.

It amazes me that flocks of geese still find enough water to rest on at Mud Pond.

On my way home along Spier Falls Road, I stopped to fill my senses with this gorgeous view of the Hudson River meandering among mountains beneath a vast blue sky.

Last Thursday, I joined my friends in the Thursday Naturalists for a very pleasant walk along the Shenantaha Creek near Malta. Although a chilling wind was blowing in the open areas, back in the sheltering woods along the creek we found the weather quite pleasant.

We were especially pleased that our friend Sue Pierce had the day off from work to join us.  Sue is famous for her eagle eyes, and none of us would have seen the Spotted Salamander Sue is pointing to here, if she hadn't spotted it first.

What a beauty, with those vivid yellow spots on a licorice-black body!  Spotted Salamanders usually hide out under logs, so we rarely get to see them.

Another fun moment of our outing this day was finding a patch of Atrichum moss and observing how quickly the leaves curl up when plucked, an attribute that is diagnostic for this moss.  The crinkled-up leaves on the left had been in my hand for less than half a minute, while the freshly picked ones on the right had not yet begun to curl.

When our youngest son and his family came to visit, we all made a visit to Schuylerville to meet our oldest boy, who lives there. Together, we all went for a walk along the old towpath that lies between the Hudson River and the now-abandoned barge canal.  It was blustery cold, but we bundled up in mittens and scarves and kept warm by trying to keep up with frolicking children.

Today, November 14, was the warmest day we've had in some time, close to 60 degrees and with clear blue skies and lots of sun.  I pulled my canoe back out of storage and set out for a paddle among the Hudson's quiet coves at Moreau.

Except for some oaks with their cinnamon-brown leaves, very little autumn color remains. But the Highbush Blueberry shrubs with their scarlet leaves still glow along the shore.

I can't imagine a sight more conducive to promoting feelings of peace than this river running serenely within its embracing forested banks.  I just wish our next President might leave his gilded tower for a day and let natural beauty like this convince him to do everything he can to protect our earth.

What a glorious explosion of color I found in this Winterberry swamp along the Corinth Mountain Road! Last year I had to search and search to find any berries at all, but this year the shrubs are making up for that dearth, big time!

And what an amazing moon is sailing across the sky tonight!  The biggest and brightest moon we will see for decades to come!  What magic powers does the moon possess, that we still stop and gaze at her, entranced?  I wish that her silvery glow that softens the edges of things in the night might inspire us to soften our battered hearts and help us to treat one another with kindness and love.

I think that this poem by Wendell Berry is one we could take to heart:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things" from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Late Fall on the River, Redux

Because of other obligations, I haven't been able to get out to the river this week for at least one last paddle before cold weather sets in.  But Facebook reminded me I ought to get out there soon, when a blog entry I posted five years ago appeared as a "Memory" on my timeline.  I was so delighted to see these photos again, I decided to re-post this entry from November 7, 2011.  How lucky I am to live with such ready access to so much natural beauty!

November 7, 2011
The Hudson gleamed silver under a pearl-gray sky when I slipped my canoe into its quiet water this morning for what may be my final paddle of the season.  But maybe not.  I am very reluctant to store my boat away for the winter, so long as the river's beauty still beckons.  Here was the view today from the boat launch site along Spier Falls Road in Moreau.  The beeches and oaks still hold their leaves, turning the forested mountainsides into a crazy quilt of colors.

Except for the beeches and oaks, most trees have shed their leaves by now.  This is true for American Hornbeams as well, but their clusters of winged seeds still dangled from the branches. 

The seed pods of Hop Hornbeams also still clung to the trees, dangling like ornaments over the water.

Witch Hazel has shed its leaves but not its flowers, which today were unfurling like yellow stars against the dark green background of conifers.

One of my destinations today was a cluster of three small islands that lie just upstream from the boat launch site.   I have my own names for them -- Birch, Azalea, and Sweet Fern -- indicating the preponderance of plants that grow on each.

I would guess it's obvious why I called one of these islands Birch.   The one I'm standing on is Azalea Island, named for the many Early Azalea shrubs that bloom here in May, scenting the air with their sweet fragrance.  As these rosy-red shrubs reveal, I could have called it Blueberry Island, too, except blueberries and huckleberries grow profusely on all three islands.

One shrub of Highbush Blueberry was especially vivid today.

Sweet Fern Island lies just upstream from Azalea Island, across a narrow rock-filled channel. 

I noticed the Sweet Fern had already sprouted the catkins that will winter over to bloom in the spring.

Bright-yellow Meadowsweet provided a stunning contrast to the rich red of the Silky Dogwood that surrounded it.

What a charming little cluster of Wintergreen, set off so prettily by a green mosaic of lichens and mosses!    I find it somehow reassuring to think that, even as winter closes in,  these little plants will all keep their vivid colors under the snow,  to greet us again with their beauty unchanged come spring.