Monday, October 31, 2022

Autumn Along the Road

Despite one frosty-cold morning this week, the daytime temperatures have continued unseasonably warm here in Saratoga County, inviting me outdoors to enjoy this beautiful season. The crazy-quilt tree-leaf colors have mostly faded to a uniform cinnamon brown by now, but I remembered that the roadside rocks along Spier Falls Road support a marvelously colorful variety of plants late into the fall. Offering views of both mountainside forest and the Hudson River, this is always a beautifully scenic place to walk, but never more so than in autumn. So off I went to enjoy it.

The Palmertown Range of mountains rises dramatically from the riverbanks here, with steep ledges of exposed bedrock crowding the roadside.

Trees, ferns, mosses, lichens, wildflowers, and woody shrubs all thrive in this rocky habitat.

I wasn't sure about the identity of this shrub, but that didn't prevent me from admiring its vivid pink foliage.

For vivid leaf color this late in the fall, few shrubs can rival the Round-leaved Gooseberry (Ribes rotundifolium) that springs from cracks in the rock.

Combining shades of orange and pink and purple and gold and touches of green, the gooseberry leaves achieve an almost neon glow.

Few wildflowers remain still in bloom, so this Aster with tiny purple blooms was quite a surprise.

The ruby-red fruits of Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) added a colorful accent to the rock-dwelling vegetation.

As I walked along the road, the sound of splashing water alerted me to the presence of tiny rills that danced from ledge to ledge as they coursed down the mountainside.

Many sections of bedrock were constantly wetted by springs that welled from within the rock, creating a perfect habitat for many species of moss.

Numerous mounds of Fountain Moss (Philonotis fontana) provide a constantly dampened home for the evergreen basal rosettes of Early Saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis). In early spring, clusters of snowy-white flowers will emerge from these leaves, transforming these rocky ledges into breathtakingly beautiful rock gardens.

Here's another beautiful moss that thrives on these constantly spring-watered rocks. Beads of sparkling water are visible among its sharply-pointed star-shaped leaves. Its colloquial name, Marsh Cardinal Moss, is much easier to remember how to spell than is its tongue-twister of a scientific name, Ptychostomum pseudotriquetrum!

Masses of Common Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune) spring from cracks in the spring-dampened, lichen-adorned bedrock.  I find this very common moss in drier habitats, too, but it looked especially fresh and lovely here on this constantly watered site.

Here, where water sheeted across the bare rock and small patches of green algae bloomed, I discovered dozens of tiny, pale, worm-like creatures, quite likely the larvae of some creature I might recognize in its adult form. But I sure did not know what that adult creature might be. 

Here's a little closer look at those worm-like creatures, one that reveals some antennae-like structures protruding from one end.  I also could see  tiny legs that extend the entire length of their bodies, similar to the legs on a millipede. So maybe they are the larvae of a millipede.  After looking at many images of millipedes on Google, I did find one that resembled these creatures,  one called Greenhouse Millipede (Oxidus gracilis). Informed opinions would be welcomed!

Heading home, I never fail to stop along Spier Falls Road to gaze at this picturesque view of the Hudson,  small pine-covered islands and forested mountains now bronzed by late-autumn colors. So beautiful, in every season!

Friday, October 28, 2022

One Last Paddle?

 Maybe my last paddle this year.  We'll see.  Once frost has faded the riverbank flowers, and the brilliant fall foliage actually falls, and the water turns cold enough to convince me to don my clunky PFD, the lure of the river starts to lessen.  Also, water is starting to seep through the much-abraded bow of my boat, so I probably should take it up to Hornbeck's to be patched.  But the paddling season sure took a beautiful farewell bow this past week, with summer-warm temps and spectacular vistas all along the Hudson River at Moreau.  And best of all, my friend Ruth joined me last Tuesday to mosey along the banks and poke into quiet coves and basically immerse ourselves in the last-gasps of the glory that is autumn on the river, as witnessed from our seats in our solo canoes.

And to think that I almost cancelled this paddle! An hour before we'd agreed to meet, the rain was pouring down hard in Saratoga.  But Ruth, on my call to see if she wanted to cancel, assured me that the rain would soon stop.  And so it did: leaving just some remnants of mist to rise through the riverside mountains, only to amplify the gorgeousness of the scene.

We entered the river by following a steep path through the woods that leads to some quiet backwaters behind an island.  Here, the water lay mirror still, reflecting the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding forest and bouldered shore.

The general riverbank glow of ochre and orange and old-gold was punctuated by pops of brilliant scarlet, thanks to the many Highbush Blueberry shrubs (Vaccinium corymbosum) that thrive on these banks.

The radiance of this frieze of young American Beeches (Fagus grandifolia) made me feel as if I were drawing near to glowing embers as I paddled into one of the quiet coves along this shore.

From the back of that cove, I could see West Mountain rising above the far shore of the Hudson.

The Hudson River here flows in a northeasterly direction between two Adirondack mountain ranges, the Luzerne Range to the north in Warren County and the Palmertown Range here on the Saratoga County side. Because of the mountains falling directly to the river, much of the riverbank here is composed of bedrock, most of it eroded by flowing water into interesting and beautiful promontories.

As we moseyed close to these rocky shores, we enjoyed the multi-colored array of many different rock-clinging plants.  This bedrock bank was adorned with a lime-green Sphagnum, a patch of red-fruited Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), a starry-leaved mound of Common Haircap Moss (Politrichum commune), and down close to the water's edge, a glossy dark-green patch of a liverwort called Scapania nemerosa.

So many beautiful shapes and colors and textures of various plants adorn these rocky shores! Here, the evergreen fern called Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) curves over a fine-leaved cushion of Apple Moss (Bartramia pomiformis). A patch of shaggy Big Red-stem Moss (Pleurozium schreberi) joins the scene on the right.

A closer look at the spore capsules of that Bartramia pomiformis reveals the apple-round shape that suggested both the scientific and vernacular names of this moss.

Carpeting the exposed bedrock here was a vivid multi-colored patch of Small Red Peatmoss (Sphagnum capillifolium), surrounded by low-spreading Eastern Hemlock boughs (Tsuga canadensis).

As we returned to our take-out spot, I lingered a while, simply savoring the exquisite beauty of this place on the river, realizing it might be my last paddle here this year, before freezing weather arrives. But I also took comfort in hoping I might return again next spring to this very site, which has remained basically unchanged over the 30 years I've been paddling here. A comforting thought, indeed!

Monday, October 24, 2022

Autumn's Splendor Still Persists!

Occupied as I've been by obligations that kept me out of the woods and off the river for far too long, I was afraid I had missed much of the splendid but ephemeral beauty of autumn here in Saratoga County. Thankfully, much of that beauty still persists, as I discovered yesterday while walking a powerline high on a mountainside above the Hudson River.

The shorn vegetation under the power lines reveals the voluptuous curves of the land, rendered kaleidoscopically colorful by autumn-altered native grasses and ferns and wildflower remnants.

Acres of pale-tufted Little Bluestem Grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) outlined the plunging curve of this steep hillside.

Here's a closer view of the fluffy tufts that catch the light among the Little Bluestem Grass's stems.

Although most of the masses of Hay-scented Ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) that thrive on this mountainside have dried to a rich cinnamon brown by now, a few curving fronds retained their bright-green color.

The silken tufts of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) are readying to waft the seeds on the air.

I was surprised to find a few fresh-looking flowers amid the otherwise gone-to-seed plants of Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea).

A carpet of golden leaves covered the ground beneath a stand of Quaking Aspens (Populus tremuloides), and most of them bore the tell-tale green patches that indicate the larva of a tiny moth of the Ectoedemia genus is living within.  This larva secretes an anti-senescent substance that prevents the chlorophyll from retreating from part of the leaf, so that some of the leaf remains alive long enough for the larva to continue feeding until it is ready to pupate for the winter. The adult moth will emerge from the leaf in the spring.

As I descended one mountainside height to ascend to another, I passed through this open woods brightly colored by Red Maple saplings (Acer rubrum).

This height offered spectacular views of the multi-colored mountains across the Hudson River.

I ascended this particular height because I knew I would find here some abundant stands of Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).  This native grass forms tall clumps of golden leaves, topped with lacy sprays of finely textured seedheads.  The prairie-like conditions under some powerlines provide the ideal conditions for this gorgeous grass to thrive.

Here's another clump of that lovely Switchgrass, this one with leaves a more vibrant yellow, set within masses of Tall Goldenrod's pale and fluffy floral remnants.

Here was another spectacular grass (Foxtail?), whose curving seedheads and sunny-yellow color looked so beautiful against a backdrop of gorgeous autumn foliage as far as the eye could see.

More autumn gorgeousness awaited as I made my way home along the river road.

While driving over Mt. McGregor, I pulled over near a small cattail swamp to enjoy the beauty of this Witch Hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana) in full and abundant flower.

In that same little swamp, I was delighted to note that the Winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) were abundant with fruit this year.  These scarlet berries will persist well into the winter, to provide not only food for wild creatures when other sources grow scarce, but also great beauty for us humans to enjoy, long after this splendid autumn has yielded to snowy cold.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

I'm Still Here!

 I've been so occupied with other projects the past two weeks, I've hardly ventured out to my favorite woods and waterways and have seriously neglected this blog.  I will be free of other obligations soon, but in the meantime,  here's one of my favorite finds on a recent brief outing.

The Big Tooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata) is a splendid tree in every season, but never more so than in autumn, when these trees will drop leaves of an amazing range of colors.  While walking a leaf-littered trail recently, I gathered together as many different color variations as I could find in just a small area, so I could include them all in a single photo.  So beautiful!

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Autumn Pilgrimage

"Pilgrimage" is indeed a word I would use to describe my annual autumn paddle on Lens Lake, an isolated, quiet body of water surrounded by mountains, made especially beautiful this time of year by colorful fall foliage.  The word means "a journey to some sacred place as an act of spiritual devotion," and that definition certainly conveys how I always feel about visiting Lens Lake.

The soothing kindness of this calm, warm day, the spectacular beauty of the landscape, and the ease of silently slipping my boat through crystal-clear, smooth-as-silk water certainly amplified my personal belief in a God, not as that far-off "old guy in the sky" I learned about in Sunday School, but rather as the ever-present inherent source of all "Great Goodness" that lies at the core of creation. Adding to my joy today was the companionship of my dear friends Sue Pierce and Ruth Brooks, who joined me to mosey slowly along the shrub-lined banks, and to nose our small canoes through the narrow channels of the acres of boggy islands this Adirondack lake is famous for.

I held Ruth especially close to my heart this day, aware of how she so recently has suffered great loss because of Nature's violence: the raging winds and waters of Hurricane Ian that destroyed much of her winter community on Sanibel Island, Florida.  Not only had Ruth lost her beach-front house, but also her life there with long-time friends and neighbors, who had joined her in working to preserve the fragile environment of that barrier island. I did so hope that Ruth might find some comfort and reassurance here, among the peaceful beauty of this day and place.

The shoreline trees were certainly doing their bit to amplify the splendor here, their vividly colored leaves so beautifully reflected by the shimmering water.

On every sphagnum-carpeted bogmat, white tufts of Cottongrass seedheads danced and bobbed with the slightest waft of a gentle breeze.

Clusters of Northern Pitcher Plant leaves (Sarracenia purpurea) had achieved their maximum ruby-red saturation.

Two different species of sphagnum moss mingled their vibrant Persian-carpet colors of red and gold on a hummock.

After so much brilliant color surrounding us, the soft pink of this shoreline mound of Small Red Sphagnum (Sphagnum capillifolium) seemed almost restful to my eyes. Feathery tufts of lime-green Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens) poked up through the sphagnum's small, round, compact heads.

The soft-gray filigree of these spent flower clusters of Leatherleaf shrubs (Chamaedaphne calyculata) also contributed their quieter beauty to the shoreline.

As we paddled close to these thickets of Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), we were delighted to see bright-pink flowers among the green and yellowing leaves.

Here's a closer look at those Sheep Laurel flowers, a remarkable sight this time of year, since this species of laurel first blooms in June. But we often do find Sheep Laurel blooming again each fall, here on Lens Lake, at least.

What looked like tiny pink "pinecones" at the ends of Labrador Tea twigs are not buds that will burst into bloom this fall. These cone-like structures are actually the protective winter bud scales that will fall away in spring to release this shrub's clusters of small white flowers. Meanwhile, they look quite pretty crowning the clusters of bright-green in-rolled leaves.

The sun grew so warm by midday that we were glad to seek shade at the back of this quiet cove, where we pulled in close to shore to eat our lunches and gaze with wonder at this gorgeous view.  

Each fall when I come to paddle Lens Lake, I hope to see the Merganser family I have often seen before at this very time of year.  In other years, I have found them arrayed atop a large boulder, as if posing for their portrait.  This year, however, they kept their distance and were constantly on the move, well out of reach of my camera's best zoom range. I was nevertheless delighted to see them, just as we were about to leave.

Here is my favorite pose of Mergansers at Lens Lake, taken some years ago. I doubt the members of this family are the same individuals every year, since I assume it's a mom and her maturing brood.  But I am amazed that I see a similar family each year, the rusty brown of their head feathers so compatible with all the autumn colors that surround them.

Before I drove home, I continued along the lakeshore road until I reached the end of the lake, delighting in the spectacle of autumn foliage along the road.

When I parked along the road, these pretty pink Sand Jointweed flowers (Polyganella articulata) greeted me as I stepped from my car to the sandy verge.

In the forest that crowded close to the road, I could see so many different and beautiful denizens of the Adirondacks.  Here in this limited stretch of roadway I spied the glossy red-turning leaves of Northern Wild Raisin (Viburnum cassinoides), the warm-brown fronds of fading Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum), the butter-yellow autumn leaves of Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum),  and the soft evergreen needles of an EasternWhite Pine (Pinus strobus).

And what could be more quintessential of autumn in the Adirondacks than the blazing-red leaves of Red Maple (Acer rubrum) and the glossy dark-green needles of a Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)? I only wish I could share the scent of those balsam needles warmed by the afternoon sun.  Heaven!