Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A Paddler's Paradise

One definition of Paradise is that it's a state of being where joys never cease.  That's basically the way I feel about a section of the Hudson River I've been paddling for nearly 30 years now. It's a place of unspoiled bouldered shores and deep green forest, of mossy banks and quiet coves, a habitat for some of the loveliest native plants that can tolerate occasional flooding, a sheltered place behind an island, where quiet waters mirror the shoreline beauty, even if wilder winds are whipping up whitecaps out on the open river. Whenever I carry my canoe down through the woods and slip it into the river here, a feeling of peace and joy comes over me. No matter how many times I have paddled here, this happiness never grows old.  Before I start to paddle, I sit and breathe in the beauty along with the pine-scented air.

I was especially happy to be here this week, for my friends Sue and Ruth had joined me this day, dear companions who share my love of nature and bring along their own deep appreciation of the plants and animals that inhabit this place. We never hurry, but mosey slowly along the shore, observing what plants have found a home in the bedrock's nooks and crannies, resting our paddles to hear what birds may be calling high in the trees, or quietly skirting some fallen log where waterfowl might be resting.

The diversity of the the plant life covering the banks invites us to linger and try to greet each plant by name.  Here, a large patch of lime-green, shaggy Sphagnum Moss shares a bank with several deeper-green mosses and a carpet of red-berried Partridgeberry vines.

I love how the spiky stems of Haircap Moss poke up between the small oval leaves of the Partridgeberry.

Aside from some late-season asters, few flowers are blooming now.  But the deep-scarlet seedpods of Marsh St. John's Wort are just as lovely as its pretty pink flowers had been.

Closed Gentians thrive along these shores, and we were lucky to find a few with royal-blue blooms still glowing, although most had already begun to fade toward their withered dark purple. These tiny white asters accented the gentians' beauty.

Our destination today was to paddle upstream toward a marsh that lies behind this small rocky island. My personal name for the island had been "Three Pine Island," named for the three giant White Pines that once towered over the smaller trees that clung to its rocks. Fierce straight-line winds tore through this valley over a year ago and toppled many, many trees along the river. Among those many toppled trees were two that had made up this islet's namesake trio.  The uprooted trees now lie with their browning branches in the water, their huge root masses rising like sheer walls above the rocks.

I also have a personal name for the small marsh that lies behind that small island.  Dozens of Black Tupelo trees line the shore, so I've called it the Tupelo Marsh.  Sadly, most of the tupelos' trunks have been girdled by beavers, so I imagine their years are numbered, now that their bark can no longer deliver nutrients to their leaves. I'm amazed, though, by how long they persist in leafing out, producing the glossy green leaves that turn the most spectacular scarlet early each autumn. These two reddening trees in particular have maintained their leafy splendor.

As the sunlight illumines the tupelo's boughs, the glossy leaves shine like rubies.

This damaged tree even continues producing its beautiful blue-black fruits that are borne on hot-pink pedicels.  I have read that these fruits are the favorite food of turkeys and grouse.

Here, my friends Ruth (yellow boat) and Sue (black boat) make their slow way among the sedges and other emergent plants that populate this otherwise open marsh.   Dragonflies  -- mostly  bright-red Autumn Meadow Hawks now -- zip about, skimming the water and occasionally landing to pose for a  photo.

I  love the shimmering reflections of the green Soft-stem Bulrush and the tawny Tussock Sedge.

Several Sassafras trees line the shore of the marsh, including a few that had borne fruit.  The dark-blue berries are mostly gone now, devoured by birds, but the deep-red, goblet-shaped pedicels that once held the fruits remain.

These bright-red Winterberry fruits will remain on the branches well into the winter, though. Low in fat and sugar now, the berries' nutritional value as well as their palatability will increase after several freezings, and the fruits will then provide late-winter food to birds when few other sources remain. Lucky for us, we get to enjoy their beauty throughout the fall and even past Christmas. 

As we head back downstream, we paddle around this rocky promontory I have named Rippled Rocks Point, due to the beautiful pattern of wavy stripes in the stone. (This photo was taken earlier in summer, but these rocks looked just as beautiful today.)

I don't know what species of ferns these are, since growing out of one of those rippling cracks in the rock, they remained too far out of reach for me to closely examine them. But I don't need to know their name to admire their bright-green beauty against the dark rock.

The same applies to this line of frosted-green Cladonia lichens that also had found a home among the curvaceous cracks in the rippled rocks.

A beautiful tuft of tall grass -- could it be Big Bluestem? -- was bending with the breeze as I rounded the point of Rippled Rocks.

Downstream, we explored quiet coves, where the sunlit green leaves and stately trunks of surrounding trees were mirrored in shimmering reflections.

A Flowering Dogwood stood tall among this cove's shoreline shrubs, its coloring leaves spangled with  brilliant-red berries.

Alas, household duties were calling me home, but as I prepared to paddle back to where I'd put in, I paused to salute West Mountain, rising against this lovely blue sky beyond the far side of the river.

Hoisting my lightweight canoe on my shoulder, I started up through the woods to return to my car.  But Ruth called out to Sue and me to come see this profusion of cherry-stemmed Red Pinesap decorating the forest floor. Oh my!  What a sight!  Never had any of us seen such an abundant patch of this late-blooming Red Pinesap (Hypopitys lanuginosa), a separate species from the Yellow Pinesap (Hypopitys monotropa) that blooms earlier in the summer.

Neither species of pinesap bears any green leaves nor possesses any green coloration to photosynthesize, so both species parasitize fungal mycelia in the soil, indirectly obtaining their nutrients from surrounding trees. Studies have shown that this parasitic relationship causes no harm to either the trees or the fungi. A simply gratuitous gift from one life-form to another! Now that was a happy thought to carry with me as I left this special place, topping off this happiest of paddles in my own personal Paradise!


Jibmo said...

Beautiful photos and a wonderful read! I've just started my canoeing adventures in the Pawcatuck River watershed here in Rhode Island.

The Furry Gnome said...

Must be wonderful to have a beautiful place like that to explore, and good friends to paddle with. I still can't get over the Hudson as a quiet peaceful river, but obviously parts of it are.

wash wild said...

Paddled down from Spier to swim here on Saturday. The water was still warm for the middle of September. Have you ever seen the big pothole in the rock point out past the rope swing? It holds enough water to sustain a variety of aquatic plants. There's another one on-shore not to far away. Neat.