Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Coping Through a Covid-constricted Winter

This was the scene outside my breakfast window this morning:  ice everywhere, on top of frozen snow.  Later, even if I hadn't been exhausted from prying chunks of frozen-solid wintry mix off our front sidewalk, I would not have ventured out for a walk in the woods today.  But come to think of it, I probably wouldn't have ventured out even if the day had been gloriously clear and sunny.  I've just been in a funk.  Activities I used to love are just not drawing me. And I know I'm not alone, feeling anxious and sad and lacking in energy, due to nearly a year of coping with Corona-imposed isolation.  There's even an article in the NewYork Times Science section today about how this pandemic is affecting our mental health, even we who have not fallen ill from it. 

I'm embarrassed to admit how down I feel, considering how others are truly suffering from illness and death and lack of livelihood. After all, I'm still healthy, I've lost no one I love to this disease, and our income is more than sufficient (thanks to pensions, savings, and Social Security) to meet all our needs. And yet, I feel lonely and sad, missing not only my closest friends and family members, but also my community life:  my pew mates at church who also like to sing out loud, the friendly fellow who takes our tickets at our local cinema and is willing to hold up the line a moment to gab with us about film, the familiar folks who welcome us as if we were family to our favorite Indian restaurant, and especially my naturalist pals with whom I used to meet every week to explore some nature preserve together.  When I walk downtown Saratoga Springs on what used to be one of the most thriving main streets in the nation, my heart breaks for the owners and employees of the many shops and restaurants now closed for good. 

 At least I think I can glimpse some light at the end of this terrible tunnel.  The vaccines are on the way (I've had my first shot and hold an appointment for the second), although the efforts to obtain appointments to receive the vaccinations are truly daunting.  I have wept bitter tears of helpless rage, while maneuvering through various websites that led me to only dead ends.  Ah well, some day this pandemic will ease, and our society's healing can begin.  If we're still alive, that is. And sadly, for many, without their lost loved ones by their sides.

In the meantime, I do get outdoors now and then, even if I have to push myself to do it.  There are places near home with paved and plowed paths, and I'm truly grateful for these. The Spring Run Trail at the edge of town is the option that tempts me most frequently. And I've found a way to access this trail from an apartment complex with a plowed parking lot and a stairway leading down to a midpoint in the mile-long one-way trail.

The Spring Run trail runs through a wooded wetland, crossing the Spring Run Creek two times.  Even though the busy streets of the city of Saratoga Springs are well within earshot at times, the sound of the rushing creek dominates, and the trail feels wonderfully woodsy and watery. And I don't have to strap on my snowshoes to navigate it!

I do sometimes leave the paved trail to wander a wooded section along the creek. I find the trails of deer and foxes and other wildlife in this woods, and often the trees are full of winter-resident birds.

Since the Spring Run Trail follows an old railroad right-of-way, the long-ago-disturbed trailside soils are mostly inhabited by invasive species like Japanese Knotweed and Asian Bittersweet.  But a few native species manage to find a foothold here, including a thicket of Highbush Cranberry Viburnums, shrubs that retain clusters of bright-red berries well into the winter.

Our native Evening Primrose also thrives here, and the distinctive remnants of its flower stalks shone brightly gold in the low sunlight when I took this photo.

The trailside woods holds many leafless snags, dead trees that still stand tall, providing shelter for various wild animals in their hollowing interiors.  These snags also serve as perches for raptors surveying the surroundings for prey, as well as heights from which other birds sing out their territorial claims when nesting season arrives.  This trail is a favorite site for birders, especially on early mornings in spring.

I frequently spot hawks atop these perches.  I didn't this day, but I did get a photo of one on another day. My photo is not clear enough for me to ID this hawk, although the dark-and-light stripes on the tail and  what look to be narrow horizontal ruddy stripes on the breast suggest a Cooper's Hawk to me.  Corrections would be most welcome!

Another favorite nearby spot for a brief mood-lifting walk is Congress Park in downtown Saratoga Springs, just one block from my home.  It's a lovely park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same landscape architect who designed Central Park in New York City.  There are mature and young trees of many selected species (mostly native), beautiful floral gardens and statuary, ornamental pools, fountains, and trout ponds, and acres of open green lawn for lounging and frisbee playing and listening to concerts and watching summer Shakespeare performances. A notable addition this pandemic year was the placement of many picnic tables scattered at safe distances across the lawns, so folks could observe "social distancing" while picnicking under the trees.  This time of year, the paths through the park are plowed, making for easy walking, even in winter.

Three ponds in the park attract hundreds of what used to be wild Mallard ducks, which fail to migrate south each winter, preferring to crowd the half-drawn-down ponds.  I guess they know where the easy eats are, despite signs that ask folks not to feed the ducks. The free lunch continues all winter, since folks do frequent this park all year, bringing children who cannot resist tempting the ducks with foods they really shouldn't be eating.

PS: I love the row of lovely old homes that line the east side of Circular Street atop the steep banks of Congress Park. Each of the stylistically varied homes is an architectural gem in its own right.

A relatively recent addition to Congress Park is this amazing carousel, with beautifully carved and painted horses by the noted master carver of carousel horses, Marcus C. Illions. During the early part of the 20th Century, Illions created over 6,000 carousels, fewer than 200 of which exist today.  Of these, the one in Congress Park is the only two-row in existence.   Although this carousel has remained silent and unmoving since the Covid pandemic changed all our lives a year ago, we can still enjoy the beauty of the painted ponies by peering through the glass of its locked enclosure.

Of course there have to be mineral springs in a city called Saratoga Springs, and Congress Park offers several of them, including the Congress Spring, still offering (even in winter) its crystalline waters beneath this magnificent pavilion, a reproduction of one that protected this same spring back in the 19th Century.

The Congress Spring waters flow through pipes that are housed in a handsome ceramic structure that was created by noted potter Regis Brodie, a Saratoga resident and art professor at Skidmore College.

Whenever I walk in Congress Park, I always make sure my route takes me past this magnificent fountain that features the exquisite statue called The Spirit of Life.  Holding both a sprig of White Pine and a bowl overflowing (in warmer months) with water, this graceful statue was sculpted by Daniel Chester French, the same sculptor who created the famous statue of Abraham Lincoln that resides at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  A powerful presence always, this monument holds special meaning for me and others this year, as many struggle to survive this life-threatening epidemic or deal with the grief of having lost ones they loved.

There's another presence in Congress Park that speaks even more hopefully of life and survival, and that's this majestic American Elm, raising its splendid branches toward the sky like arms that are lifted in prayer.  This tree is a true survivor of yet another disease, the Dutch Elm Disease, which destroyed almost all of our native elms.  I believe even this one was once infected, but with the help of intensive treatment it has survived and flourishes.  What a spirit-lifting symbol this tree presents!

On my way home from the park, I passed this scene that was also spirit-lifting,  both for the exuberance of the vine that has spread so symmetrically across the brick wall, and also for the vividly colorful  combination of red bricks, chartreuse window frame, and blue berries that continue to cling to the vine, well into the winter.

Here's a closer view of those vibrantly blue berries.  The fruits resembled those of Virginia Creeper, but the undivided leaves most certainly did not.  I was content to simply enjoy these beautiful colors, even if I didn't know the name of the vine.

Update: Readers of this blog (see comments) have suggested that this vine is Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata). (Thank you, dear readers!) I confess I considered that species, but dismissed the possibility because I thought Boston Ivy was evergreen.  But a little research informed me that the leaves of Boston Ivy do die off in winter.  Despite the Boston part of its name, this vine is Asian in origin and not native to our continent.  Although a prolific spreader, Boston Ivy does not usually survive competition from our native Virginia Creeper and so is usually not considered to be seriously invasive in the wild.


New Hampshire Gardener said...

I believe the vine with blue berries is Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) which isn't from Boston nor is it a true ivy.

virginiabt28 said...

I agree. Going into the second year of anxiety and countless restrictions is much harder than it was last year. Like you, I have also found much respite in natural areas. I am definitely going to have to check out Spring Run! And I will look more closely at that sturdy elm. Your photo of the wall/window/berries is gorgeous. While I have thoroughly enjoyed our wintry winter, I look forward to days when we can see our friends and family outdoors where we are safer socializing. Thanks for this post, Jackie.

Sara Rall said...

Those Boston ivy berries are glorious. I also very much like the shot of highbush cranberry. And how neat that the spring is still running even with the water frozen in its basins.

This is always the most challenging time of year for me, and this year so much more so, and with extra snow, no less. There is a crocus in my yard that has never bloomed later than March 25, and I keep telling myself I just have to make it until then, and it will finally be spring. 5 weeks, 35 days. I can do this.

The Furry Gnome said...

That's a magnificent big elm tree! I've stayed sane this winter by learning all about the Canadian Arctic, and writing about it. I've also prepared a presentation on waterfalls and I'm working on one about wildflowers. The mental work is what occupies me and keeps me sane.

threecollie said...

Oh, how perfectly you have described the way we feel these days. I have to force myself out to bird, and barely want to bother with blogging. A moment of normal kindles a spark of joy that feels so unfamiliar that I wonder what it is. Well done and thanks. Thanks also for the carousel. I have a Facebook friend who restores the old horses with great heart, skill, and passion and brings them back to life. I love seeing them.

Woody Meristem said...

Thanks to COVID we've all been restricted to one degree or another and are quietly going mad. Those of us who enjoy the natural world and can get outside are better off than most.