Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Lily’s Lament

November 13, 2009
Warren County Bike Path, along Rocky Brook

Whence comes this foul mood I’m in?
This wallowing in woe ?
Have I caught the November Flu --
That cold withdrawal from lush summer days?
Or is it merely the result of the sun’s lessening rays?

Or is it because – after reams of recycled reminders –
I have let my Sierra Club membership lapse?
Or that I just don’t understand the basics of “trail maintenance”
As practiced by certain towns?

It’s true there are much greater things to mourn
Out in the wide world, beyond my little path
And yet
My walk today along the public trail
So recently “mowed,”
More likely is the cause of my immediate upset.

The folly of my melancholy
Gives me the urge to write a dirge --

So bear with me, friends, and let me rant:

Weep for the raspberry
Red, black and purple-flowering
Their canes cut back to almost nothing.

What will that chipmunk eat for a sweet, next August?
And where will she hide?

Beer-can in the brook!
Bottle in the brush!
Toilet paper strewn along the trail to a nearby swamp
(a holy place)

“Leave nothing but footprints” a faded mantra
from a more optimistic time.

The nearby Birch sheds papery tears

And the Poplar trembles not a little, as the mowing blades pass,
A circular buzzsaw on a tractor’s extended arm.
The edges are dulled by now and carve a ragged border,
tearing rather than cutting the larger shrubs.

Where is the beaked hazel that grew right next to the trail?

The Canada Lilies, that some unknown lover

marked with little yarn bows, weeks before they bloomed?
Sunflowers, Joe-Pye, waves upon waves of fern?

Chopped down one and all
for neatness’ sake.

I know it is that time of year
When the leafy plants naturally die down
That some, in fact, cannot propagate unless the seedpods brown and burst.
And yet – why hurry things along?
Why mow the flowers?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Breath of the Earth

November 7, 1009
Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park, NY

Last night was quite cold, and the ground is white with frost.
Thus gradually, but steadily, winter approaches.
There is frost not only on all the withered grass and stubble,

but it is particularly thick and white and handsome around the throat of every hole and chink in the earth’s surface,
The congealed breath of the earth as it were …

HDT, November 13, 1858

Up early for another Frostweed walk!

What a splendid day to spend with kindred souls (who are also fun to be with.)

Met Jackie D. and new friend Jackie C. at Moreau for an early walk at Mud Pond.
(Two Jackies! This could get confusing! Using the initials of their last names, I considered referring to them as DEE, and CEE. Immediately jettisoned that idea, since it would swiftly lead to both of them referring to me as ... PEE.)

Conditions were perfect for frost formation – 27 degrees and clear.
Once on the path, each of us was quietly overwhelmed at the beauty of the morning.

But we did what anyone with an artist's eye and a digital camera would do:

The frostweed had again sprouted its crystals overnight. I think it was a new sight for Jackie C. By now, I’ll bet she’s already plotting a way for us to camp out overnight and witness the process as it actually happens. Which would be very cool.

Once again, the pond was empty of geese. Several groups of them approached, passing overhead. They seemed to prefer the Big Lake today for a landing-spot.

Nevertheless, the pond was a fine sight to behold.

The small group of hooded mergansers was up at the far end of the pond. As we drew closer to them, we heard a few of their froggy calls. Through binoculars, one could see the males were fanning up their bright crests in some sort of display.

The wind picked up.
Then we heard a different sort of noise. Jackie C. heard it first – “was that a turkey?” It sounded for all the world like a nervous hen. Bip ...bip....bip... But we saw nothing.

After a while, despite our tromping around in the leaves, I still heard it, and wandered off the trail to zero in on the noise.

It was a pitch pine, its top swaying in the wind, moaning and chirruping just like a red squirrel.
If you leaned your ear against the trunk, you also heard snappy noises, like the mast of a ship straining under sail.
We took turns listening to the Song of the Pitch Pine.

In the end we discovered that the noise came from a rather mundane source: one sharp and broken branch rubbing against another. But if you ask me, that tree was talking!

Not only did we get a hard frost last night, but it was my first glimpse of water beginning to freeze. The pond’s edge was embossed with the seal of November.

The breeze continued, chilling us. As we frequently stopped to look at this or that, we didn’t proceed fast enough to build up any body heat. Jackie C. was gamely trying to hang in there, despite recently getting over a bad cold.
We returned to the Park Office, and thawed out for a few moments, chatting with Dave and Cliff. Dave showed us a very cool iTouch sort of device that played bird songs, including the hooded merganser note ! He planned to take it along on the Bird Walk, scheduled for that afternoon.

Warmed-up again, we walked out along a wooded ridge, to a point overlooking Head Cove.
(How it got its name is a story for another time!)
Circling around to the other side of the cove, we sampled frozen grapes in a yellow glade.
The sun felt good here.

It was a place where Jackie C.'s coat fit right in like camo:

We played with puffballs ...

and watched a tiny wasp.

Jackie D. recited Gerard Manley Hopkins on our way back to the car.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things ...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Finding Frostweed

November 4, 2009
Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park

With the coming of colder weather, it’s time for an annual ritual – finding Frostweed.
It was three years ago that I first saw it. That was when I went on my first-ever guided hike in Moreau Park. It was a little morning tour around Mud Pond, led by then-park-naturalist Laura Connor. Neither she nor I knew what in the world it was when we saw it.
Later at home, I looked it up in Henry Thoreau’s Journal (which I had just checked out of the local library for the umpteenth time) – and found therein a perfect description of it, including his little field-sketches.
At that moment, Thoreau, Moreau and I were bonded – and we’ve been inseparable since !

There is more than one plant known as Frostweed, but the variety we see in upstate New York is Helianthemum canadense, or Rockrose, a small plant in the Cistus family. It puts forth a delicate, primrose-yellow blossom in early June ( and again in late summer, something the Journal entry clued me in on.)

When the first frosts come, the seemingly lifeless embrowned plant forms curls of frost along the stem. Apparently the stem splits from the cold, and there is enough sap remaining to form vapors -- which then freeze, looking like extruded cotton candy by morning.

It’s an ephemeral phenomenon, since it happens only a few times per plant, and since the sun’s first weak rays are enough to melt these formations. You’ve got to get up early to see it!

Which is what I did today, arranging to meet with park educator Dave at 8 am at Mud Pond. He had a group of kids coming in to the Nature Center at 9:30, so we drove to the far end of Mud Pond for a quick Frostweed-Finding mission.
We found it within ten minutes. (By now I know where the plants are.)

Along the way, the frost had settled on the upper surfaces and edges of most everything.

I saw a mushroom that had escaped the night's descending frost by hiding:

But the frostweed frost is different – it comes from within:

You can see how the stem splits:

Here is the plant in June, and how it appears now (sans frostworks). It favors sandy soil.

So now, you can look around and find your own patch of this remarkable plant. But get out there soon!
By the end of the month, it will look like just another dry stem in a tangle of brown twigs.

There was just a little time left before Dave had to head back to the Nature Center, so we walked just as far as the hillside above the beaver lodge.
After a banner year for deer-ticks, during which all of my Moreauvian friends have had close-encounters of the unpleasant kind with them, the sightings seem to have greatly declined.
I shared with Dave my astute observation that
“I haven’t seen a single deer-tick since August!”
“Like this one?” he replied, casually plucking a very-much-alive tick from the leg of his wool pants.

It is striking how much change has occurred since that colorful day a mere week ago. Most of the bright leaves are down, but the water is still a beautiful looking-glass.
At this time of morning, the geese have not yet arrived.
It was serenely quiet. And then --

I heard an odd noise, and turned to look. Was that Dave’s stomach growling?
Then he heard it too. A sort of froggy, purring noise.

We saw a small group of hooded mergansers in the next cove. The males were pursuing each other, even coming straight at each other in little watery jousts.

All the while they emitted that growly noise. You can hear it at

We took photos of frost, fungi and the hoodies, testing the limits of our cameras’ macro and zoom lenses.

After just a few moments, the mergansers got wise to our presence. They postponed their arguments and beelined for the other shore, silently.

Then, as if to prove that Nature abhors a vacuum –- came a distant honk from the first arriving goose of the day.
My watch bleated out a weary beeep beeep beeep – - nine a.m.
Time to head back.

Oh and here is a copy of the Journal page, which three years ago, set me on this Trail which I now so happily tread.
(the photo is my own, from that day three years ago.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mud Pond Museum of Art

October 26, 2009
Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park, NY

Early last week I visited Mud Pond, to sit and watch the geese come in.
They arrive in waves, just around noontime. Most likely, their bellies are full of corn, gleaned during the mornings from nearby harvested fields.
When the first group arrives, they float quietly on the Pond. Suddenly there’s a stirring among them, and followed by urgent honking. Faint reply-honks come from on high, over the ridge, as another group arrives. They circle around, coming in to face the wind.

A hundred feet up, they intentionally tumble back and forth, spilling the air from their wings, an efficient way to lose altitude.
That creates a whuffling noise unlike any other you will hear.

Once into the wind, they assume a position not unlike a ski-jumper – using their webbed feet as brakes.

With a graceful splash, they are back to earth, or rather, water.

Then follows the usual goosey networking chatter.
That barely subsides when another group arrives, then another, till the pond is full of geese.

Mixed in among them today on the water are hooded mergansers, some wood ducks, and one juvenile cormorant.

What follows are just a few of the paintings I saw in this
Mud Pond Museum of Living Art.
(“The Mud,” as aficionados affectionately call it.)
If you go walking in this Gallery, you will see some of Nature’s masterpieces.

Some of the works are part of a temporary, travelling exhibit
(such as The Canada Geese.)

Others are part of the Permanent Collection (our Evergreen Room.)
You will sit within scenes that bring to mind the palette, the brushstrokes, and the vigor of the great Impressionists and Post-Impressionists: Seurat … Monet … Gauguin …
Van Gogh … and Turner.

Enter here:

(Thanks for coming. Be sure to visit the Cubism Exhibit, arriving in January of 2010!)