Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Next Best Thing

I love Christmas and all the busyness of the season, with gift shopping,  festive food preparations, entertaining at home, and travels to be with dear family members.  And above all, I celebrate the message that God has come to dwell within and bless all of creation, even the most humble.  But all this has kept me out of the woods for a couple of weeks.  Now I'm free to head outdoors, but the weather is nasty and so is my cold.  So I'm sitting here at my computer instead of walking the trails.  Happily, though, a friend posted online a wonderful painting by American Impressionist Childe Hassam, called "A Back  Road."   While evoking the pleasures of wandering wide green meadows under a dramatic sky, the painting also reminded me quite distinctly of one of my photos of a trail across the Saratoga Battlefield, which I rummaged around in my photo files to find.  I  am keeping both the painting and the photo on my computer screen for the time being, getting my "nature fix" from these visual representations until my cold runs its course and I can get out for real.  The image of a road also seems an appropriate symbol for heading into a brand new year.  Here's hoping all our roads lead to many blessings in the coming year.  Happy New Year!

"A Back Road," by Childe Hassam

The Wilkinson Trail at the Saratoga National Historical Park

(This photo was taken on a cold autumn morning, when fog lay thick along the Hudson River, which lies just beyond the trees.)

Monday, December 24, 2018

May the Light Shine!

"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.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Mist on the River

Forested mountains fall to the banks, and little islands dot the water.  The Hudson River at Moreau is beautiful in every weather.  Even on a gray winter's day, when mist fills the air following rain.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Solstice Meditation (Redux)

How can it be that I haven't been out to the woods in over a week?  I could blame the weather, especially the warmth and rain that have ruined the little snow we had and weakened the newly formed ice on the lake.  But frankly, I've just been too busy with holiday preparations, as well as hindered by old-age aches and pains that exacerbate my fear of falling on ice or the misery I feel when a cold wind worms its way into my ears.  To console myself a bit, I looked back over my blog posts of previous years to remind myself that winter holds more delights than discomforts for me.  I particularly liked a meditation on winter I posted in 2016 on Winter Solstice, and I'm posting it again as Winter Solstice is upon us once more.

The Sun Returns as Winter Begins
Tomorrow, on Winter Solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year, the sun begins its journey back to warm us. Moment by moment, day by day, its light will shine brighter, its rays will grow stronger, its presence will last measurable minutes longer.  And yet, each day, as the winter goes on, the cold will grow deeper, along (so I hope) with the snow.

I do love winter.  Especially ones with deep cold and deeper snow.  I want the lakes and the river bays to freeze thick and hard, so that I can safely cross their frozen expanses and make my way back into the swamps and marshes and bogs too muddy for exploring in summer.  I want the snow deep and soft in the woods, so that I can marvel at how many creatures pass there, coyotes and minks and foxes and fishers and bobcats and more, animals I would never know lived in these woods, if not for their tracks and trails.  I want nights so cold and clear I can see all the way to heaven, with stars so bright they pierce the eye, and sub-zero days with deep-blue skies and frost-spangled air that glitters with sequined snowflakes.

So yes, I do celebrate the return of the light and the promise it holds of warmer seasons to come.  But I also delight in all of the beauties of winter.  Without that cold, I could never find hoarfrost stars exploding from the surface of clear black ice.

Splashing creeks are lovely in every season, but only in the coldest winters can I find crystal chandeliers overhanging the banks.

The warmer seasons gift us with a riot of colors, from the earliest spring flowers through midsummer's multicolored meadows to autumn's glorious display. By contrast, winter offers mostly a monotone palette of blacks, grays, and whites, like this full-color photo of a crabapple covered with snow.

All the more powerful, then, is the brilliant red of Winterberries, glowing through the snow.  What a jolt of joy to behold!

I wish all my readers comparable jolts of joy as we celebrate this holiday season, whether you spend it cozy and warm by an indoor fire, or warmed by the effort of huffing and puffing through snowbanks.  Here's one more photo to remind me of the pure beauty and exquisite silence of a snowy woods, when even at midday, the sun casts lengthening shadows across the snow.

Happy Solstice to All!  And a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year, too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Fun on a Frozen Lake!

My pal Sue and I like to kid each other about being "cheap dates":  it doesn't take much to amuse us when we're out together in nature.  And since some of our greatest amusements can be found on a frozen lake, we were truly primed for fun when we visited Moreau Lake last Sunday afternoon.  The lake was covered with ice, gleaming beneath a bright-blue sky!

Well, most of it was, anyway.  We could tell there was still some open water even before we arrived on shore, from the cacophony of honking geese arrayed around an open area out in the middle of the lake.  We could hear their racket even before we could see the lake. (But why are they up on the ice, and not in the water?  Hmmm.  Good question!)

There was definitely ice near the shore, ice that had frozen clear as glass.  We could see the minnows darting away from out footfalls as we approached.

In some places, the ice was so clear and smooth, we almost weren't sure if the water was really frozen.  Turned out that it was, but not yet thick enough to bear our weight.   See how it cracked as soon as I stepped on it:

When we rounded the shore into the cove, however, we found the ice was much thicker.  Back here in the sheltered cove, the surface had been frozen for nearly a week, allowing us to venture safely out at least a few feet from shore.

And here the fun began!  Here, the lake bottom is mucky, rather than sandy, with the muck releasing lots of methane bubbles as it decays.  Those bubbles freeze in descending layers as the water freezes over time, creating displays of icy beauty.  In this photo, the topmost bubbles were encrusted with crystals of hoarfrost.

The bubbles come in many sizes.  The big ones here were between two and three inches across, the smallest ones no bigger than the head of a pin.

Some of the bubbles look like stacks of silvery coins.  And see the threadlike streams of tiny bubbles, too.

Whoa!  These streams of tiny bubbles look as if they were exploding!  It sure remains a mystery to me how this configuration could occur.

Or this one, that looks like a furry snake!

Of course, we found many fallen leaves embedded in the ice.

But what happened to the leaf that once was embedded here?  Did it somehow sink to the bottom? Or was it merely resting on top of the ice and eventually blew away?   Lots of puzzles, most of which we will never know the answers to.

Did I mention before, that we are easily amused? Just turn me loose in a winter cattail patch and see how happy that makes me!  (Sue took this video.)

Friday, December 7, 2018

Ice Can Be Nice

I intended to hike the Waterfall Trail at Moreau Lake State Park yesterday, but I couldn't even get up the Spring trailhead hill to access that trail. It was way too icy underfoot for me to make any headway, and I had neglected to bring my ice grippers.  Oh well,  I decided, I'll walk along Spier Falls Road instead, for the spring-watered boulders that rise steeply from the roadside here offer plenty of waterfall beauty, now that the temps fall below freezing.  The views of the Hudson River here are also wonderful.

Whether coming or going, the ice was pretty spectacular.  Some looked like bridal veils.

This formation looked like a fairy's (or is it a witch's?) castle.

Flat rocky ledges were adorned with sparkling icicle fringe.

Twigs that had sprouted near splashing water were encased in pearlescent ice.

I encountered the most spectacular ice of all when I approached the quarry where rocks had been blasted from the mountainside to provide building material for the Spier Falls Dam that spans the Hudson just across the road.

As the winter progresses and springs continue to water the rock, the ice will build to impressive thickness, attracting ice climbers from around the region.

Standing beneath this sheer wall of rock, I found the ice pretty impressive already.

On my return walk, I studied the rocks to discover many evergreen plants that thrive among the well-watered cracks and ledges.  This clump of glossy green Fountain Moss was studded with some tiny Wood Strawberry leaves.  (I also see a wee little flower-shaped bract that must have fallen from a nearby Witch Hazel shrub.)

These dusty-green leafy rosettes will sprout Pussytoe flowers come spring.

The evergreen leaves of Early Saxifrage look as if they were cut with pinking shears.

The leafy stems of Common Speedwell drape across the boulders, the flower stalks still holding their tiny heart-shaped seedpods.

This cluster of puffball fungi had long ago puffed out their spores, but their leathery and wrinkled remains persisted.

This sheer-faced boulder was coated with a thin coat of glassy ice, which intensified the shapes and colors of the crustose lichens that covered the rock.  I thought the pattern they made was really beautiful.

Here's a closer look at those lichens.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Poor Heron!

There was actually some sunshine today, and occasional glimpses of pretty blue sky.  And temps rose into the 40s, too! A good day to get outdoors, and what better place to go but over to the Sherman Island Boat Launch on the Hudson River at Moreau.  The new state-park lands that I announced in my last post will adjoin this area (which is already part of the park), so I thought I might walk about these woods and imagine where the trails might start that would take us up into the surrounding mountains.

I set off along the stream that runs into the river here, hoping to find a spot narrow enough for me to jump across and explore the woods on the other side.  But I stopped in my tracks at this sight.  Was that a REAL Great Blue Heron standing there on the bank?  How odd!

Not wanting to frighten the bird, I stood quietly for a while, observing the heron from behind a tree.  The bird did not move.  Did it know I was here?  Well, of course it did!  I've never in my life been able to sneak up close to a Great Blue Heron before it opened its huge wide wings and flapped away, trailing it legs behind and quickly moving beyond the focal range of my camera.  I decided to edge in closer.  Perhaps its leg was caught in fishing line, and maybe I could release it.

As I approached, the bird turned its head to look at me, but did not move any part of the rest of its body.

I moved as quietly as I could, hoping not to frighten the bird as I circled it, wanting to examine the situation from all angles.

I could see no ensnaring line, nor any obvious injury.  But the bird never budged when I moved in close, except for turning its head to keep at least one yellow eye on me.  This seemed to be very disturbing behavior for a Great Blue Heron.  I decided to report what appeared to me to be an ill or injured bird to the park officials,  so I quickly returned to my car and headed over to the park's main office.

One of the park managers, a man named Al, came back to the site with me and observed the situation for himself.  He then contacted a regional wildlife rehabilitation organization, and he told me the word had gone forth to alert potential rescuers.  Messages had been left, anyway, although not yet responded to by the time I left for home.  So I do not know the fate of this creature or what could have happened to make it behave so strangely.  Herons are fish eaters, so it's possible they can be poisoned by eating fish that have swallowed lead sinkers.  Or maybe it's just an aged bird, come to the end of its life. Whatever the case, I sure hope it does not have to suffer long.  If I learn the bird's fate, I will come back to add a note to this post.

UPDATE:  I called the park office this morning (12/4) to inquire about the heron's status, and I was told that the bird was not there today when park staff went to observe it.  So perhaps the heron was just resting and eventually flew away, or maybe a coyote shared a nice breakfast with its pack.  We'll never know, but at least we know we did what we could to help it.

UPDATE 2:  I sent a photo of this heron to Bob Henke, who writes a wildlife column for the Glens Falls Post Star, asking him what he thought might be wrong with this bird.  He responded thus:  "Probably starvation. 50% of fledglings do not survive to migrate. Many simply never catch on to hunting procedures. Often we see older birds that are too weak to migrate but this one looks like a juvenile. 

"On the other hand, there are also several birds that stay on the area all winter. There are some spots that never freeze over so they can hunt all winter and avoid the energy costs of migrating.

"But...being that tame bodes ill. " 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Even More of Moreau!

Here's terrific news for those of us who love Moreau Lake State Park! Just last week, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the addition of 131 acres of land to the park, bringing the park's total acreage to 6100 acres.  And this new land is not just any old patch of ordinary woods, but rather a gorgeous expanse of mountainous forest, with rocky heights offering spectacular views of the Hudson River and surrounding mountains.  The photo above (provided by the park) shows one of the vistas, looking upstream past a group of small islands toward the Spier Falls Dam in the distance.

This new parcel, called the Baker Property, adjoins land already included within the park and will connect the mountainous riverside lands that run all the way downstream to Potter Point.  Construction of new trails will begin in the spring, and they will be accessible to bicyclers and equestrians as well as hikers.  Hunting will also be allowed, in season.  Connections to existing trails will create new long-distance hiking opportunities, including the planned Palmertown Range Trail, which would link the state park to Saratoga Springs. A new trailhead and parking area will be constructed eventually near the Sherman Island Boat Launch on Spier Falls Road.

I have not yet explored this new parcel, although I have climbed a high powerline that adjoins it, and so I can personally attest to the wondrous qualities of these forested mountains. 

The views are spectacular, of course, but equally of importance to a wildflower enthusiast like me are the plants I find on these heights, plants that I have found nowhere else in the county.  I have posted a number of blogs about my exploration of these heights, and here's a link to just one of them:  Plants of a High Rocky Clearing.