Saturday, January 11, 2020

Odd Finds in a Once Off-limits Woods

Since our so-far snowless winter has deprived me of most of my usual winter fun, like snow-shoeing and animal tracking, I've been feeling a little desperate for SOME kind of woodland adventures. So I decided to do a little trespassing today, and headed over to the former Finch Pruyn lumberlands that will soon become part of Moreau Lake State Park.  Last time I went there, the property was surrounded by high chain-link fences posted with No Trespassing signs.  But today, I didn't have to be sneaky at all about entering these lands.  A gate stood wide open, and an obvious lane led me right to an old cemetery in the middle of the woods.  And I mean a REALLY old cemetery!

Even if the date had not been posted on that sign, it was obvious from the state of the gravestones that they were very old. Most were tilted, some were broken or fallen over, and all were weathered or covered with lichens sufficiently to obscure the names and pertinent dates of those whose bones lay beneath them. I certainly could not read a word on these two stones.

Ah!  If I looked at the other side of those stones, I COULD see some names inscribed.  But they were too obscured by lichens and weathering for me to read them.  Perhaps if one made rubbings from these stones, the inscriptions would be clearer.

Of all the stones in this graveyard, the only one that had a clearly legible name was this one.  And poor Jane doesn't even get a last name of her own, only the notice that she was the wife of E.H. Wood.  At least she was able to live to a ripe old age of 65, pretty old for a woman of her time.

This stone, too, had a semi-legible inscription, but I wasn't able to make it out through the dark stains.

Mother Nature had inscribed these next two stones with some beautiful lichenous growths.

I felt an odd peacefulness, gazing at these stones made lovely in -- and by -- their decrepitude.  No one alive today would remember either the good or unpleasant things that characterized the folks whose flesh once surrounded the bones that now lay beneath my feet.  Perhaps it is right that our names disappear from our gravestones as the details of our lives disappear from living memory and our mortal bodies return their elements to the soil that embraces them.

I had last entered these woods back in July, when the shrubby undergrowth was in full leaf and the woods closed in densely around us.  I remember we had to push our way through bushes to reach the creek where we'd come to assess a population of rare wildflowers, and we weren't sure which direction would take us there most directly. But today, with the bushes bare and sightlines clear, I could see the creek from where I stood in the graveyard, and promptly walked right to its banks.

With the temperature approaching 60 degrees F. today, most of the snow was gone from the woods, as was the ice from the creek.  A gentle rain began to fall, decorating the surface of the creek with dancing circles.

It surprises me how much green remains in the winter woods, with so many evergreen ferns and mosses retaining their vivid color.  What could be prettier than the starry sprouts of Haircap Moss poking up from the brown leaf litter?

The rare wildflowers my friends and I had come here to assess last summer were still in evidence today. Called Great St. Johnswort (Hypericum ascyron), the plant lives up to its name by being of considerable stature.  It holds its large bright-yellow flowers on erect stems that stand over four feet tall, and the dry seedpods of those flowers were as evident today as those flowers had been last July.

I think these large tulip-shaped seedpods are almost as handsome as the flowers were when in bloom.  And this particular cluster held a mid-winter surprise today, with the presence of an active spider hiding among the seedpod's segments.

Returning home along Butler Road, I pulled over to observe the extent of logging now taking place within this large parcel of land that will eventually become part of Moreau Lake State Park.  This particular plot is being groomed to become open land planted with Wild Lupine, Horsemint, New Jersey Tea, and other pine-barren plants that support many beneficial insects, including the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly.  The transformation of the land is being conducted by the Open Space Institute, which currently owns the land and can sell the timber as it is harvested. Once the timber is cleared, the park is expected to take ownership of the land and begin planning trails throughout the hundreds of acres, with access to the adjacent Hudson River.

I continued home along the river, where fog lay thick over the water, transforming the landscape into a marvel of beauty on this most unseasonably warm January day.


Anonymous said...

Your pictures are amazing. and you are quite the writer.

Woody Meristem said...

In many old cemeteries women were always designated as Jane, or Mary, or ... wife of John Smith. That was back in the days when women were often treated like property. Unfortunately there are some people, even some in power, who would like to go back again.
It's always fascinating to explore "off limits" places -- have done it a few times myself.

Callithrix said...

In memory of
Sally, daughter of
Elisha and Claudette Danforth
who died June 30, 1826
Aged 3 years, 5 months
and 21 days

(4 line epitaph truly illegible)

Tom Walker said...

Great article, Jackie! Nice that you can access it now..or soon, as the case may be. Tom W