Saturday, August 15, 2009

The River

July 19 and 30, 2009

There are always flowers for those who want to see them. ~Henri Matisse.

Twice more I have been out on the Hudson River, along a section that Jackie has adopted as a tender steward. She had spoken before of the Flowering of the Golden Hedge-Hyssop as an annual event she looked forward to. It blooms in July, and here we were.

This part of the river, just upstream from a dam, has several quiet coves leading out to rocky points. We paddled from cove to cove, taking our time, a sort of water-sauntering if you will.

In one cove we found the lesser purple-fringed orchis, getting ready to bloom. It’s a fragile-looking plant, and was all alone. I was hoping none of the weekend-boaters out there would step on it. This photo is from July 30:

In another cove, after much ado about how to actually GET there (you know what I mean Jackie), she took me to a spot where the Sweet Flag grows. Jackie wisely invoked the name of Thoreau, in order to get me into that cove. Well then I just HAD to see it, having never seen it before. If you were a lazy botanist, like me, it would be easy to mistake it for just another clump of cattails.

[from Thoreau's Wild Fruits:]
I often turn aside my boat to pluck it, passing through a dense bed of flags recently risen above the surface. The inmost tender leaf near the base of the plant is quite palatable, as children know. They love it as much as the musquash does. Early in June I see them going a-flagging even a mile or two and returning with large bundles for the sake of this blade, which they extract at their leisure. After the middle of June, the critchicrotch, going to seed, becomes unfit to eat.

Well, unfit or no, Jackie and I were cautiously nibbling on the little green corncobs. It had a hemlockian flavor. Does anyone know where the term critchicrotch comes from?
The quote above goes to show how just much the summer activities of today’s children have changed. And adults, for that matter!

A third cove, the most secluded, was full of the hedge-hyssop, like gold-leafwork along the edges and crevices of rocky ledges. Some of it was growing underwater. The river’s raised level has affected it, according to Jackie. There was much less of it this summer.

The Marsh St. Johnswort has the most curious appearance. In the parts that are underwater, the leaves appear dipped in liquid mercury – something to do with water-repellent qualities. There were whole beds of this, peeking its pinkish leaves out of the water.

It looked like so much silver coin, just out of reach under the surface.

The high point of this day was pointing out what I thought was a sunflower of some sort.
Jackie almost jumped out of her boat to get ashore –
“It’s a Great St. Johnswort!” she exclaimed with glee. She had not seen one for about a dozen years.
It was pretty tall - no need to bend down to take this portrait!

A second excursion took place toward the end of the month.
NatureGirl came down for a visit! She and Jackie met through blogging. NatureGirl is the nom de blog of Ellen, naturalist at Newcomb Visitor Center, way up in the heart of the Adirondacks. (Her excellent blog is

So, three virtual acquaintances got together in material form, for some pleasant hours on the river. It was interesting to compare plants and blooming-times with each other, since we each live in slightly different zones, from south to north.

As we floated around the undulating shoreline, there was the golden hedge hyssop, and pipewort, and pickerelweed, and big-shelled snails. There are tupelo trees here too, quite unusual for this climate.
Blueberries and dewberries were enough to attract a shore-party.

A hundred years ago – there would have been a very different scene along this shoreline. Booms and cables across the river. Hobnailed work crews, sorting logs in swift water. Steam-engines chugging, and draft-horses straining against heavy loads.

I too, strained against a heavy load - when it came time to haul-out, and get the boat back up the winding trail through the woods to my car.
How DID I do it?

I cheated a little!


  1. What fun to revisit those adventures with you! Let's do it again soon. I loved the photo of the old steel cable overgrown with Fringed Loosestrife. I've seen those old cables for years and never knew where they came from. But of course! This was THE major route for log drives.

  2. I love reading Jackie's blog and now I get twice the pleasure since I found yours. The lesser purple-fringed orchis is absolutely beautiful. And the picture of that Marsh St. Johnswort is really lovely, gets the silvery effect you wrote about so well.

  3. Bird, I just visited your blog, it is interesting to compare what we are each seeing along our respective rivers.
    The differences are exciting, but the similarities (newts, bellflowers) are also comforting in a way.
    I've bookmarked it - but how do I "follow" it?