Friday, January 14, 2022

Good Ice on the Lake, At Last!

I do believe this is the crummiest winter I've experienced since moving to Saratoga Springs in the fall of  1970.  Granted, that winter of '71 would be a hard one to top, with record cold and snowfall that haven't been matched since (28-below each night for several January weeks and 120 inches of snow over the course of the winter). Luckily, we then were living in Skidmore faculty housing, where we didn't have to pay for heat or shovel the walks or repair the damage when a roof caved in from the weight of wet snow on it. So I  thought all that snow and the consistent cold were truly great. As were the persistently sunny days that set all that fresh clean snow to sparkling.  REAL winter, man!  Not like this one, with freezing rain one day and single-digit temps the next, then back to rain, followed by too-cold-to-tolerate days that have been keeping me indoors. And one gray day after another. It was really getting me down.

Well, it was still pretty gray yesterday, too, but several close-to-zero nights had frozen-up Moreau Lake really well.  And with daytime temps approaching a balmy 30 degrees, it was a perfect day for getting out on that iced-over lake to see what was happening at Moreau Lake State Park.

I wasn't the only person celebrating those strong six-inches of ice from shore to shore.  Many fishermen had wasted no time getting out there with their tip-ups and tents to try their luck.  I have  noticed that they are almost always fisherMEN, too.  Why is it, I wonder, that so few women choose to spend the day sitting for hours on the ice? Hmmm.

See the smiles of the faces of this pair of fellows?  That's Ben on the left and Bob on the right, and they had a very good day.

Three beautiful big Rainbow Trout (14-16 inches).  And they weren't done fishing yet!

Both Ben and Bob were happy to show me their bountiful catch, and Ben was eager to chat with me when we started talking about foraging for wild food. As it turned out, Ben's a skilled and enthusiastic  mushroom hunter, so we spent lots of happy chatter as he showed me many of the amazing finds he keeps photos of on his cellphone. I think he was a bit surprised that I knew the name of nearly all of them.  Such a happy encounter, indeed! It's so much fun to meet by chance someone who shares your passions.

As I continued my walk around the lake, I spied  these tiny mushrooms growing on a shoreline shrub, and I almost ran back out on the ice to tell Ben about them.  But maybe he wouldn't have been that excited about Split-gill Fungi, since they're not edible.

How did I know what species they were?  All I had to do was turn them over, to see the split gills that suggested this mushroom's name.  (Schizophyllum communis, its scientific name, also refers to its distinctive split gills.)  I was impressed by how furry these specimens were, as if they had grown a winter coat to make it through the winter.  This is indeed a species of fungus we can find intact all winter long.

Here was another furry find, this one faunal instead of fungal.  And quite a surprise, too, since I would never expect to see a colony of Woolly Alder Aphids this far into the winter. But then, we did have a very warm fall and a very late frost, followed by days of unseasonable warmth that even brought some spring wildflowers into bloom in October and even November.  So maybe this clonal group just kept on cloning more and more generations of aphids, a species that exudes waxy threads that look like fur.  This waxy fur protects the tender insects from predators as well as inclement weather.  But it could not protect them from temps as bitterly cold as the cold that froze this lake solid in just a few days.  These aphids were frozen solid and definitely dead.

My particular destination today was to check on the skating rink I'd learned was being created near the swimming beach.  I'd been wondering for years why the park did not offer this winter activity, so I was delighted to see this work in progress.  Park staff are now smoothing the ice with makeshift "zambonis", hoping to open the rink for skating by Saturday, January 15.  I've heard there will be benches set near, as well as some fire rings kept burning to help skaters keep warm.  What a great addition to winter activities at this already wonderful state park!

I'd been hoping all day that the sun would break through the clouds to add some sparkle to the afternoon. Ah well, the sun did manage to cast a golden path on the ice just before it descended behind the mountains. Knowing that darkness would very soon follow, I hurried across the ice toward where my car waited at the opposite end of the lake.  I noted that none of the fishermen were yet packing up their gear.  Very persistent fellows, those fishermen! So full of hope!  And as I left the lake much happier than when I'd arrived, I think some of their hope had rubbed off on me.


Woody Meristem said...

I think we're experiencing the kind of winter we'll be experiencing for the rest of our lives. I really enjoy snow and cold, but having slipped on ice, fallen on my camera and broken six ribs in the process I hate having to walk on ice.

My wife would say that the reason few women ice fish is because they're smarter -- she's usually right.

The Furry Gnome said...

Looks cold to me!

threecollie said...

What a delightful encounter! I love it when that happens.