Friday, December 30, 2022

A Few Winter Wonders!

A perfect winter day it was, yesterday. And with perfectly wonderful friends to enjoy it with,  delighting in perfectly clear smooth ice on Moreau Lake, and later the perfectly gorgeous ice formations along a tumbling creek.  And my damaged cornea had healed enough to grant me, well, not perfectly clear views of all this beauty, but vision good enough to allow it to fill me with joy. (And my ears, too, granted me joyful pleasure, as I delighted in the eerie pings! and pews! of singing lake ice.)

I also had on the perfect boots, waterproof, warm, and with retractable grippers that kept me from slipping on the slick ice that was strong enough to allow me a few steps away from shore.  The boots were a Christmas gift from my daughter, who knew exactly the perfect gift for her winter-loving old mama.

Here were my perfect companions this day, my dear pal Sue and our newer pals Noel and Tom, all folks who know how to gain the most joy from a beautiful winter's day.  We are walking here along the sun-warmed western shore of Moreau Lake, the sand piled with plates of thin ice blown up on the shore by recent fierce winds.

Although the glistening lake looked beautiful under a radiant blue sky,  we soon left the shore to enter the forest and follow what Sue has named "Zen Brook" as it tumbles down from the mountains that line the lake's western shore.  Despite recent rains, the brook appeared dry, although icy remnants indicated that water had filled it recently.

Ah, but we soon met some rushing water, merrily splashing along before it suddenly disappeared into the earth.

As we walked the relatively dry creekbed, we were enchanted by all the exquisite ways that running water and freezing cold could decorate its course, capturing in crystal-thin or glassily globular ice the memory of the water's movement.  There were swirls . . .

. . . and more swirls!

There were bubbles! Big bubbles and small bubbles and itty-bitty bubbles, all frozen in place, nearly as soon as they formed.

There were ripples and rumples that captured the flow and successional freezes of the current over time.

As we ascended the mountain, following the creek, the water's volume increased . . . 

. . . as did the masses of ice that accrued from the splashing water.

Every brookside rock and overhanging limb was festooned with ice, opaque, translucent, or crystal-clear.

This overhanging limb had sprouted masses of mushrooms before globular mounds of opaque white ice formed along the top.

And drips from this overhanging limb had created a parade of glassy inverted cones.

Up and up we climbed, until the brook narrowed enough for us to easily step across it.

Now we found ourselves amid marble mounds, hollowed out by streams long ago to form interconnecting caves.

Running water still filled the bottom of this particular cave, and the air near the mouth was alive with flying insects, too small and too quick for us to determine the species.  They might have been Winter Craneflies or Winter Stoneflies, both species that live near running water and shelter in caves during winter.  Male Winter Craneflies are known to bob up and down with a bouncing mating dance, attracting the ground-dwelling females to briefly fly up to mate with the airborne males before returning to the forest floor to lay their fertilized eggs among the leaf litter.  

We may not have been sure about the bugs near that particular cave, but we were certainly sure that  Porcupines occupied some of the other caves.  Even if we had not followed their packed trails in other winters back to these same caves,  we could see even now faint trails in this slight bit of snow,  trails that were littered with Porky's hairs and distinctive scat.  In this photo, Sue is searching a trail to see if she could find some quills, as we've often done in years past.

The calcareous nature of the surrounding bedrock here is made evident by the presence of such lime-loving plants as this Rose Moss (Rhodobryum ontariense).  Such a pretty moss it is, its green leaves forming rosettes that resemble tiny green flowers.

Another lime-loving plant is this Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum), which grows on the moss-covered rock overhanging one Porcupine's den.  This unusual fern spreads by establishing new plants wherever the tips of its long narrow fronds touch down, thus "walking" across the surface of calcareous boulders and bedrock.

But Walking Fern also spreads through spores that are produced by its sori, some of which we found today on the backs of just a few fronds.

Several small streams criss-cross these rocky heights, and this one contained many moss-covered rocks. Sue was particularly intrigued by a moss she found streaming underwater and is here trying to photograph.

It's not that easy to photograph underwater plants, since our cameras usually focus on the surface reflections of trees and sky.  But this photo came out pretty well.  I hope Sue's did, too, so she can send a photo to iNaturalist and maybe acquire an ID.  It's definitely one of the mosses that prefers to grow underwater. I wonder if it could be Fontinalis antipyretica (Keeled Water Moss). But many mosses require microscopic examination for accurate identification, so I cannot be sure.

Here was another water-loving plant, but this one covering a rock and although constantly wetted, it still grew above the flow of the stream.  I thought at first it might be a liverwort, but now that I look at this  close-up photo I don't see the overlapping leaves that often distinguish a liverwort.  The individual leaves appear to be sharply toothed, which might be a clue for some bryologist to determine the species. That won't be me, but that's okay. I don't need to know the name of it to enjoy its glossy green beauty, just one more of the winter wonders that filled me with joy today.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

"The Light Shines in the Darkness . . ."

"The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  John 1:5

May the Christmas season bring gladness and hope and love to my family and friends and loyal followers of this blog, as well as to ALL those who live in need of gladness and hope and love.

I realize that I have posted this photo and the same sentiments in years past,  but my Christmas wishes have not changed.  Sadly, though, my eyesight has, following a corneal injury this week that makes it difficult to keep my eyes open long enough to produce a new blog entry.  I have been assured that corneas usually heal quickly and completely, so I  have every hope that by the New Year I will be back with accounts and photos of further outdoor adventures.

In the meantime, I am wishing all my friends and family and followers and those they love hope and the patience to endure even through the darkest times.  I do believe there is a Great Goodness at the core of creation and that all things arise from love.  May peace and joy be with you now and throughout the coming year.

Sending love to all,

Jackie Donnelly

Thursday, December 15, 2022

A Fine Frosty Morning

Our first single-digit-cold dawn!  And no wind during the night.  Tuesday offered us exactly the kind of morning my friend Sue and I wait for each year, when we find the first glassy ice along the shore of Moreau Lake.  So we each donned our longjohns, heavy socks, and warmest coats and met at the lake, thrilled by the beauty of a bright blue sky and drifting fog and a shelf of crystal-clear brand-new ice along the shore.

A flock of Canada Geese was crowding the ever-shrinking patch of open water, source of the rising mist that touched every twig of the shoreline trees with sparkling hoarfrost.

Icy puffs of frost had formed at the base of every reed that protruded through the thin new ice along the shore.

We felt glad to have arrived early enough before a warming sun could melt the fragile, filigreed crystals.

These frosty stars were a brilliant white against the clear black ice.

As we proceeded around the lake, we found the north end mostly open, with tiny wavelets lapping against the ice-lined but still watery shore.

But beyond the bridge, the back bay was completely frozen over, and wind-drifted snow had swirled  across its opaque surface.

Here and there, mysterious "ice spiders" spread their transparent black arms through the older ice, which was rendered opaque by an earlier snow that fell on the newly formed very thin ice.  These spidery shapes are most likely formed when water wells up through weak spots in the ice and branches outward, melting the opaque ice and then freezing clear.

As we crossed the bridge that divides the main lake from the back bay, we noticed a remarkable texture to the snow atop the railing.

The original soft snow appeared to have sprouted feathery ice crystals.  Was this a kind of hoarfrost atop the snow? 

The trees were certainly whitened by hoarfrost, the result of fog rising from the open water that froze on every twig and needle in the bitterly cold overnight air.

I  even had to admire the despised invasive Phragmites, its fluffy seedheads rendered beautiful by the frozen mist.

The  evergreen pine needles appeared starkly white against the deep-blue sky.

These chalk-white pine needles glittered in the sunlight.

Some needle tufts held marshmallow-soft clumps of snow.

The rich-red Highbush Blueberry buds were rendered especially beautiful by clinging crystals of frost.

Despite the morning's bright sun and our extra-warm clothing, the frigid cold started to feel as if it would freeze our cheeks and toes. So we were delighted to see smoke rising from the Warming Hut's chimney.  A blazing fire would be waiting inside to warm us. 

And so it was!

Sunday, December 11, 2022

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Winter!

I woke this morning to soft snow, silent snow, big fluffy flakes gently wafting down, a Christmas-card-beautiful snow that clung to every twig of our neighborhood trees.

These fluffy tufts made the scarlet Winterberries in my yard look even more holiday-festive than usual.

This snow won't last, of course, since the daytime temps this week are predicted to rise into the mid-30s. And unless it truly melts to clear water, the snow has probably canceled any chances we will have this winter to enjoy the kind of crystal-clear ice that sometimes forms on our lakes.  I was elated just yesterday to find that kind of clear ice forming along the shore of Moreau Lake's back bay.

The water on the main part of the lake was still wide open, as was much of the water in the middle of the back bay.  But the ice that had formed close to shore was clear as glass and almost as smooth.

As I expected, the ice was still too thin to walk on, which I discovered with my first tentative steps. Crack!

No matter, I could still enjoy a few of the ice's marvels while walking the sandy shore.  A few methane bubbles had already started to form and be captured in the ice. Over time and as the ice continues to thicken, subsequent frozen bubbles will appear like of stacks of silver coins.  The gas they contain arises as the underwater vegetation decomposes.  (This blog post from 2015 has some photos of how beautiful those silvery stacks can be.)

I was intrigued by the lacy pattern that formed around this small hole in the ice as water oozed up and spread across the frozen surface. I wonder if its surprisingly blue color would fade beneath a grayer sky than the radiantly blue one of this day.

As the lake began to freeze the night before, every ripple of the wind-swept surface was preserved as rippled and wrinkled ice. Such fascinating formations!

I also stopped by the small creek that enters the lake after it passes beneath this bridge. We had had significant rain a few days ago, so I wondered if there would be water or ice in the creek.

Just a few dribbles of liquid water remained of what must have been a significant flow just a day or so before.  Thin sheets of ice resting on empty space gave evidence, though, that water had collected in this creekbed very recently.  I am always fascinated by how these gracefully and curvaceously striped plates of ice can capture signs of the flow and incremental freezing of that water, even when no water remains to flow beneath them.

On my way out of the park, I noticed the signature arching siliques of some Green Rock Cress (Borodinia missouriensis) bending over the side of the road, the pale dimpled pods quite visible against the dark shade of the background woods.

Since Green Rock Cress is a Threatened species in New York State, I'm always delighted to find an uncharted population of this rare plant.  I pulled over to count how many individuals made up this population, locating at least 20 specimens in the stretch of roadside pictured here.  

Green Rock Cress is actually easier to spot in the winter, when its pale and abundant seed pods are much more evident than are its small green leaves and tiny white flowers during the growing season.  So this was just one more example of the delightful surprises we can still find on a walk in the wintry woods.  Or along the shore of an icy lake.