Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Fall of the Leaf, Part Two

October 29, 2007
(More excerpts from Autumnal Tints and Thoreau's October Journal entries)

How pleasant to walk over beds of these fresh, crisp, and rustling fallen leaves, --
young hyson, green tea, clean, crisp and wholesome!

How beautiful they go to their graves!

For beautiful variety no crop can be compared with this.

Here is not merely the plain yellow of the grains, but nearly all the colors that we know…

The ground is all party-colored with them.

But they still live in the soil, whose fertility and bulk they increase,

and in the forests that spring from it.

They stoop to rise,

to mount higher in coming years, by subtle chemistry,

climbing by the sap in the trees,
and the sapling’s first fruits thus shed, transmuted at last,

may adorn its crown, when, in after-years,
it has become the monarch of the forest.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Fall of the Leaf, Part One

October 27, 2009

Autumnal Tints was published in October 1862, five months after Henry Thoreau’s death.
Years earlier, he had gathered much of its text from his Journals, as part of a projected larger work he intended to call The Fall of the Leaf.
It describes a phenomenon that we in the Northeast are gifted with each year.
After reading it, some of the words have stuck with me, and have been following me on my autumn walks:

October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world.

The very forest and herbage, the pellicle of the earth,

must acquire a bright color, an evidence of its ripeness,—

as if the globe itself were a fruit on its stem, with ever a cheek toward the sun.

The purple grass is now in the height of its beauty…

Close at hand it appeared but a dull purple, and made little impression on the eye;
it was even difficult to detect; and if you plucked a single plant,
you were surprised to find how thin it was, and how little color it had.

But viewed at a distance in a favorable light,
it was of a fine lively purple, flower-like, enriching the earth.

Such puny causes combine to produce these decided effects.
I was the more surprised and charmed because grass is commonly of a sober and humble color.

Stand under this tree and see how finely its leaves are cut against the sky,—
as it were, only a few sharp points extending from a midrib.

There they dance, arm in arm with the light,—tripping it on fantastic points,
fit partners in those aerial halls.
So intimately mingled are they with it, that,
what with their slenderness and their glossy surfaces,
you can hardly tell at last
what in the dance is leaf
and what is light.

These bright leaves which I have mentioned are not the exception, but the rule …

As fruits
and leaves
and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall,
so the year near its setting.

October is its sunset sky.

(To read this essay in full, go to)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vertically Challenged

October 21, 2009
Spring Overlook Trail, Moreau Lake State Park NY

July was the last time I had been on that part of the Western Ridge Trail that leads to the Spring Overlook. Jackie's been scrambling up there once a week, it seems. I though would be a good time to walk up there again, before the opening of rifle season this weekend.

I wasn’t sure I had the time to get up to the Overlook itself, especially with getting a late start, but it would be a good workout. The first section is a steady incline, and it became very clear early on that I was definitely out of shape ! Made lots of catching-my-breath stops.

The day started warmish & sunny, but soon clouded over. By the time I reached the powerline easement -- about halfway to the Overlook -- the sound of the noon whistle floated up from somewhere below. Since it was a work day, that meant it was time to turn around soon and head home. The Overlook would have to wait until another time.
I stalled, by wandering around on the easement.

There were a few white asters still unbowed by frost, and the bees were gathering the last nectar, buffet-style.

This aster seemed the embodiment of the color mauve.

A ladybug out on a limb – of a fern

Rocky cliffs loomed above. I didn’t hear the usual raven calls from there today.

I saw some hornets and side-stepped a little tree where they were gathered, in case there was a nest nearby.
Instead I found a snake who had been sunbathing in a knee-high maple.

Everything on the easement was embrowned; the crisp delicate ferns and sweetfern releasing a heady scent as I walked among them.

On the way down, I admired the Pearly Everlastings that lined the edges of the trail, along with some wrinkly mushrooms.
And some of the teeniest mushrooms I’ve ever seen.

Dried-up flowers, brown and gray seedpods and funky-looking fungi were the main blooms of the day. There was no denying that summer is, indeed, over.
And yet – here was a single bluet, as fresh as the sky of an April morning.

Cloudy Day at the Lake

October 18, 2009
Moreau Lake

After Trailapalooza, all I wanted was a gentle stroll today.
It was cloudy and cool, and the air was still at Moreau Lake.

Everyone has been saying that the fall colors seem a little muted this year.
I know, we are spoiled.

It’s still a beautiful time of year.

Parts of the woods are still very green, like this trail along the lakeshore.

A pileated woodpecker, taking a short break from dismantling a dead tree.

I’ve been hearing white-throated sparrows – you may know their spring call as

“Ol-l-l-d Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody!”
But what we are hearing now, from thickets and deep underbrush, is
“Sam Pea ?- dee – ur - rrup!”

like a damaged tape-recording of the real thing.
This year’s fledglings are starting on their first migration.

The sparrow youth are on the wing,

noted Henry Thoreau in his journal of October 19,1856.

These two did not flee with their companions when I passed by, but sat awhile, as if to satisfy their own curiosity about me.

Even on a grey day, the trees compensate with color

And the water takes on sympathetic hues.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


October 17, 2009
Warren County Bike Path

This morning I awoke at the unfamiliar hour of 7 a.m. - for today was Trailapalooza !
Some friends and I planned an all-day walk on part of the Warren County Bike Path. I’ve walked sections of the trail between Queensbury and Lake George, but not all at once.
It’s a mostly flat, paved path -- something quite different than the type of trails at Moreau Park -- but for my companions, it was new territory. They were willing to walk and do some botanizing and birding along the way. We brought lunches, figuring it was about five miles to Lake George, the northern end of the Bike Path.

The same mood had hit us all: after the sensory overload that is Summer, it would be nice just to casually walk and see what there was to browse on. Oh, and several frosts had wiped out most of the flower display, anyway. We hoped to see mushrooms, seedpods, migrating birds, and fall colors.
It was 31 degrees at dawn, with yet another light frost on the ground. The forecast was for clouds and possible mixed precipitation by the end of the day. The forecast was pretty much wrong.

Jackie and Lindsey were my walking companions. Jackie would be our plant maven for today (she wisely brought a mushroom field guide and fern-finder); Lindsey is a whiz at locating birds (by sound and her keen eyesight); and I was along to mostly point to things and ask, “What’s that?”
Where the Path crosses the inlet to Glen Lake, the birds were lively as the sun came over the ridge. Grackles and a female redwinged blackbird :

We spotted a blue heron among the reeds, far out in the Fens. We could hear male redwinged blackbirds trilling, a sound full of spring memories. This redwing was as bundled up as we were, against the morning chill:

Ferns – of many varieties – were in their final days.

A few tough insect larvae were still inching along the pavement. We saved some from approaching bicyclists. A Woolly Bear munching on a woolly leaf:

The sun rose into a clear blue sky. The leaves were breathtaking.

The trail crosses small roads – passes back yards – runs along rocky brooks - and swings away into dark woods. It mostly follows the path of a railroad that ran northward from Glens Falls.
We found a nice moss-and-lichen garden growing in the railroad cinders.

We nibbled on ice-cold raspberries, blueberries, checkerberries, and some candy I had cached along the way. (My caching experiment was unfortunately, only 50% successful.)
We passed meandering brooks,

dark piney woods, and golden glades.

In some places, you are walking on the remains of the Old Military Road that connected two forts from the French & Indian War period. There’s a lot of history along here. James Fenimore Cooper used this setting for his fictionalized story of the fall of Fort William Henry (The Last of the Mohicans) but the real events happened right here.
These days, thankfully, it’s a much more peaceful place. The leaves blaze brightly, and gently fall, as they always have.

In fact, history has taken a back seat to the ridiculous, as we passed several tourist attractions near Lake George:
From a buffalo, realistic and mostly anatomically-correct – except for that SMILE

To a menacingly gigantic Uncle Sam (good thing those cables are holding him back!)

To a Paul Bunyan that was, frankly, creepy

I was grateful that the Path soon afterward plunged back into the real Magic Forest.

It was good to be with my friends a-walking - to see them in oh-so-typical poses:
Jackie has not fallen, she's getting one of her fabulous close-up photos

Lindsey, faithful as any monk, scribing her field notes

Toward the end of the trail, we saw a sign that expressed our theme for the day:

We reached Lake George, six hours after starting out. I think I’m already looking forward to the next Trailapalooza!