Friday, October 27, 2023

Autumn Color: In Saratoga's Woods and On the Waterways

Sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am.  While much of the world is in terrible turmoil, from savage warfare or scorching wildfires, shattering earthquakes or ravaging hurricanes, death-dealing famines or years-long droughts, here I live in peace and plenty, the weather so far only moderately affected by climate change, among people who mostly solve their differences without killing each other's children.  I also live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, surrounded by millions of acres of forest and mountains made lovely by lakes and rivers and tumbling streams.  And all I have to gripe about is how dull our autumn foliage seems to be this year.  Well, shame on me!  In fact, our autumn is plenty beautiful, as I discovered this past week, while visiting two favorite Saratoga County woods and waterways.  Here's some of the evidence to prove it.

Moreau Lake, Back Bay Trail

One place I'm always sure to visit in autumn is Moreau Lake State Park,  where masses of Black Huckleberry shrubs line the north shore of the lake.  These shrubs are famous for their vividly scarlet foliage in the fall.  But darn it all, they sure looked pretty drab this year!

But just a few steps beyond this disappointing scene, I gazed upon this spectacular sight across Moreau Lake's back bay:  Red Maples in all their autumn glory!  Okay, then, off I headed to walk the trail around the back bay.

Oh my, how gorgeous, to walk beneath these boughs as bright as fire!

And the trailside woods was a lovely crazy-quilt of vibrant color.

What a surprise! In contrast to the disappointingly drab ones out on the sunlit shore, back here in the shaded woods the Black Huckleberry shrubs were as vivid as any I'd ever seen.

When I reached the north shore of the bay, I was delighted to find I could walk along close to the water,  since all summer long, the lake's water level had risen right up to the woods.  My friend Sue Pierce and I call this stretch of the shoreline "the Odonata Shore," because it is always alive with dragonflies and damselflies, but we hadn't been able to walk here yet this year.

And look who was here to welcome me back to our Odonata Shore!  The scarlet abdomen and black-lace wings suggest to me that this was the dragonfly called Autumn Meadowhawk.

Yes, indeed, the trees here were spectacular, but I also enjoyed smaller beauties scattered across the forest floor. These fluffy tufts atop the still-green leaves of Whorled Aster were even prettier than its rather scraggly white flowers had been when in bloom.

The leaves on this sapling Round-leaved Dogwood were a remarkable shade of pinky coral.

I couldn't remember whether this plant was Spreading Dogbane or the related Indian Hemp, but whichever it was, its golden-yellow leaves on scarlet stems were strikingly colorful.

Here was one more delightful find along this shore, although few people would ever notice it, it being invisibly small as well as not at all colorful.  This is one of New York's rarest plants, a miniature flatsedge called Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush (Cyperus subsquarrosus), rated as an Endangered species in our state but abundant on Moreau Lake's shores.

Nearing the end of my circuit around the back bay, I stepped out onto this handicapped-accessible fishing pier to take in one last view of this gorgeous scene. How wonderful that this view of the bay can be enjoyed by even those who must use a wheelchair to access it!

The Hudson River at Moreau

This stretch of the Hudson below the Spier Falls Dam is lovely in every season and every weather. But this day for paddling here with my friends Sue Pierce and Ruth Brooks was so gorgeous it made me weep for joy.  Perhaps a few of those tears were sad because it was our last paddle of the year with Ruth before she leaves for her winter home in Florida. But mostly it was joy I felt, for friends so dear, a day so warm and pleasant, and a place so gorgeous to enjoy these blessings together.

It is truly impossible to imagine a scene more beautiful or welcoming to paddlers than this one was, with the river so still it perfectly mirrored the surrounding forested mountains in all their autumn glory.

We were in no hurry to charge up or down the river, but were delighted to drift along close to the shore, in and out of coves, or mosey around the tiny islands that dot the river in this stretch.

Here, too, the Black Huckleberry shrubs were showing off their vivid autumn color, their beauty so perfectly mirrored in the still water.

This day was warm and partly cloudy, with occasional bright sunlight suddenly flooding the scene with added brilliance!

Deep in this shady cove, Ruth (a serious student of mosses) found much to engage her interest on this moss-carpeted bank.

So lush and lovely and oh, so green!

I knew the names of only a few of those mosses, including this favorite of mine, called Bartramia pomiforma.  It's also known as Apple Moss, because of its apple-shaped spore capsules.

This same shady cove was home to tree-trunks that had fallen into shallow water, eventually to serve as nursery logs for many mosses, lichens, and fungi.  This Orange Jelly fungus looked so vivid amid the gray-green spires of a Cladonia lichen.

To enjoy our picnic lunches, we paddled into a tiny cove made bright by the golden leaves of American Beech, punctuated by a scarlet bough of Flowering Dogwood.  Here we climbed out of our canoes and stretched our legs on the mossy bank, enjoying the warmth of this balmy day, our views of the beautiful river mirroring the surrounding mountains, and the pleasure of each other's companionship.  Such blessings are to be treasured, indeed!

We'd seen so few mushrooms along the banks, but here was an old stump adorned by tiers of beautifully striped Turkey Tail Fungus.

Paddling back to our launch site and our good-byes to our dear friend Ruth, we were blessed with one more remarkable gift, a single perfect bloom of Closed Gentian, still fresh and royally blue, when all other gentian flowers had darkened and withered. May this be an omen of goodness for Ruth, who soon returns to her Sanibel Island winter home still not yet completely restored from last fall's horrific hurricane damage.

Heading home, I pulled off the road to take one more long gaze of this mirror-calm river and its fall-foliage-beautified banks.  What an image of peace and well-being! Would that all who are suffering so terribly in our world could come to know such well-being and peace.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Off the Couch, Back Outdoors!

When I woke up yesterday morning, it was as if a cloud had moved away from the sun.  I actually felt pretty good, after 10 days of upper-respiratory misery that was threatening to move down lower into my lungs. But it seems to have stopped. I didn't yet feel ready to climb a mountain, but I did feel well enough to take an easy walk along that same rolling powerline height I had featured in my last post. I wondered if it would appear as spectacularly gorgeous as it had on that October day 10 years ago.  

Well, not quite. (Check the same view in my previous post.) But gorgeous enough, even if the foliage is not as brilliant this fall.  But the rolling hills, surrounding mountains, and multicolor landscape sure offered a more pleasing sight than the four walls of my sick rooms.


The Hay-scented Ferns were as lovely as ever, even in their decline, with curving fronds of lime green, golden yellow, and cinnamon brown.

The summer flowers may be but a memory now, but their seed-holding remnants offered nearly as much of beauty as their flowers had when in bloom.  In fact, if I did not know that these pretty tufts of Pearly Everlasting held seeds instead of disc florets, I would have assumed I was still looking at flowers instead of  seedheads.

These arching flowerheads of Rough Goldenrod still graced the landscape, even after trading their yellow florets for tufts of fluffy seeds.

Virgin's Bower vines had long-ago dropped their demure white flowers to make way for these voluminous puffs of silky down,  each delicate golden fiber shining in the sun.

Okay, I will grant that the cardboard-brown chambered domes of Wild Bergamot's seedheads could not compete for loveliness with the puffs of pale-purple, arching florets their stiff slender stems once held. But they still displayed a sturdy and handsome presence, standing tall above the green and gold grasses of this high meadow. Extremely minty-smelling, too, if you pinch one and breathe in its scent.

From up here, I could see across the trees that lined the Hudson River below, all the way to the tops of the Luzerne Mountains that rise from the far riverbanks. It sure looked as if there will be lots more colorful foliage to come, judging from all the green.

I could also see patches of bright blue shining through breaks in the branches of the trees directly below.  Time to make my way down these hills to the shore of the river.

Ah, my beautiful Hudson, winding among forested mountains, its waters studded with tiny islands, some big enough to be home to tall pines, others offering just enough space for a ruddy patch of Marsh St. John's Wort to find a home.

An American Hornbeam arched its boughs over the water, each twig adorned with dangling clusters of coral-colored seedpods swaying with the breeze.

I have described these American Hornbeam seed clusters as "stacks of angel wings" that adorn their branches as prettily as any ornament on a Christmas tree.

As I walked back to my car, I glimpsed this wild Asparagus plant along Spier Falls Road, with feathery green leaves and bright-red berries.

Here's a closer look at that beautiful Asparagus fruit. Too bad the shiny red balls won't persist until Christmas. I have read that birds love to eat them.

Seeing tons of invasive Oriental Bittersweet climbing the trees along Spier Falls Road reminded me to go visit a small patch of our native American Climbing Bittersweet that grows sprawled on the ground under a powerline that runs just north of Mud Pond, so that's where I went next.  I saw a nice patch of its bright-orange fruit almost as soon as I stepped from my car.  The orange husks will soon split and peel back to reveal shiny scarlet berries within. This native bittersweet grows rarer and rarer as the invasive non-native encroaches on its habitat. I feel very lucky to know where this grows.

Growing along a powerline trail near the bittersweet, these shiny blue-black fruits on hot-pink pedicels looked especially beautiful, backed by the mottled-rose and lime-green leaves of Maple-leaved Viburnum. The green on the leaves will eventually yield to an intense coral-rose, a unique color that distinguishes this forest shrub from all other colorful shrubs in the autumn woods.

In search of even more colorful leaves, I ventured further along this powerline trail to see if I could find some clumps of baby oaks, which are noted for producing leaves that possess every color of autumn in each single leaf.  Sadly, lots of rain this past summer encouraged lots of fungi and molds that have disfigured many tree leaves.  Most of the baby oaks I found were quite unlovely, but this little clump was less disfigured than others, and its leaves displayed something of that multicolored magnificence I remembered.

What pretty golden puffs atop this plant! Since the stalks were bare of leaves, I had little evidence for parsing out its species, but I did recall that earlier this year I found many plants of our native Rough Hawkweed growing here at this same site.  So I bet that's what this plant is. Most other species of hawkweed bear seedheads that are not so yellow.

Then, what a surprise, to find nearby some Rough Hawkweed plants still bearing leaves and still producing flowers!

It was no surprise, though, to find a nearby Witch Hazel shrub in full bloom. This is probably our latest flowering shrub to open its flowers, by October at its earliest, usually.  I have even found it still in bloom in December.  On cold days, when frost might damage its flowers, those long ribbon-like petals curl up tight, only to unfurl again on balmier sun-warmed days. Having freshly opened, the flowers still bore their delightful faint scent, as fresh as the smell of clean laundry dried in the sun and breeze.

I was so grateful my respiratory infection had cleared by now, so that I could breathe in deeply the refreshing scent of Witch Hazel. And wander high rolling hills again, and gaze with delight at our most beautiful woodsy, watery world, so far from so many worlds entrenched in war. Or ravaged by earthquakes, wildfires, or raging floods. I sure do feel awfully lucky.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

A Kaleidoscope of Autumn Color: Redux

Oh man, what an awful week to be too sick to venture outdoors!  For this is just the week in October when Autumn is in her glory in Saratoga County, and I've been stuck at home.  Although I finally saw my doctor and started medication to treat my gagging, painful, sleep-depriving sinus infection, I'm still feeling too wobbly to stray too far from my sofa and cup of hot tea.  I have been wandering around my old blog posts from mid-October, however, and one of them from 10 years ago brought me nearly as much pleasure as actually engaging in the powerline walk it represents.  So I'm repeating it here and now.  The blogpost, I mean, not the walk, from the comfort of my couch. I'm hoping some of you, my readers, will enjoy this post as well. God knows, with all the horrors occurring in other parts of the world, I need to rest my eyes on images other than those in my newspaper or on my TV screen.

A Kaleidoscope of Autumn Color (Oct. 5, 2013)

Our string of cloudless, blue-sky days came to an end on Friday, bringing welcome rain to a thirsty earth and overcast skies that continued on through Saturday.  Those pearl-gray skies cast an even, shadowless light across the autumn landscape, a light in which the colors of changing leaves and grasses and ferns and flowers glowed even more richly than on bright sunlit days.

As I walked a high and curvaceous powerline trail above the Hudson River at Moreau today, I marveled at how, with every turn of the trail and climb of a hill, the magnificent colors were rearranged in ever-changing arrays of green and gold and ruby and amethyst, as radiant and wondrous as the patterns formed by chips of jewel-like glass in a kaleidoscope.

The fruit-bearing trees and shrubs and vines are heavy with fruit this fall, as evidenced by this Hawthorn tree burgeoning with berries, its boughs also weighted with climbing grapes.

I even found a tree with ruby-red apples growing wild!  A deer trail worn through shoulder-high grass led me right to the tree with its windfall bounty littering the grass beneath and filling the air with the fragrance of ripe fruit.

I love the color combination of dark-blue berries and crimson leaves on Virginia Creeper vines.

These Cladonia lichens, too, seemed extra bright, the fruiting bodies glowing a deep, rich red against the gray-green thallus.

Brilliant color everywhere!  Even underfoot!

The high trail along the mountain ridge eventually descended to the river, where I lingered to take in the beauty of the reflections.

Purple-stemmed Asters continue to bless the roadsides with their beauty, as they also bless some rather sleepy Bumble Bees with flowers still heavy with pollen.