Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Segment of the Rainbow

December 31, 2011
New Year's Eve

Little did I realize that the end of my previous blog, "See You in 2012" would almost be true -- the past three weeks have been a whirlwind. The workdays are longer, and the natural days are shorter. Time to get outside, and to journalize, has been at a premium, but tonight, on this last evening of the year, there's a moment to sit and reflect on the past year, and contemplate the future. 
In 2011, I spent many happy hours outdoors -- walking old trails, exploring new places, spending time rambling with kindred souls. Hours spent enjoying the many gifts that Nature bestows on us which such seeming abandon. I am grateful for all these things.
Of course, all I can do is offer some some photgraphic bits and pieces, mere glimpses into the past year.
And as for words -- once again, I leave them to Mr. Thoreau:

If the day and night are such
that you greet them with joy,
and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs,
is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, ...
That is your success.
All nature is your congratulation,
and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself.
The greatest gains and values
are farthest from being appreciated.
We easily come to doubt if they exist.
We soon forget them.
They are the highest reality. ...
The true harvest of my daily life
is somewhat as intangible and indescribable
as the tints of morning or evening.
It is a little star-dust caught,
a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

   Walden, “Higher Laws”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Frostweed Follies

Various days in November 2011
Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park, NY

In the shade of the wood,
on the hillside just west of the cold pond,
I am surprised to see
the frost of the cistus not in the least melted.
   HDT Journal, November 11, 1858

I was happy to lead three hikes at Mud Pond -- small excursions to try to catch the Helianthemum canadense (Rockrose, in the Cistus family) living up to its common name, Frostweed. (for the story of frostweed, see this link to an earlier blog).

It’s an ephemeral fall event that I look forward to every year. While it’s not hard to predict – the recipe calls for a cold clear night in early November – it can be difficult to predict exactly when those particular conditions will occur.
This year has been no exception -- and it has been unusually warm for months now. So we scheduled the walks for the most likely dates.

The first hike was scheduled for November 5th – and the conditions were perfect ! It was below freezing the night before, and it dawned clear that morning.
Unfortunately, no one signed up for that one. They missed seeing a great patch of frostweed “flowers.”

The next two walks, on the following Tuesdays, had several interested participants, but alas, the temperatures for both days were in the sixties. All I could do was show them where the plant grows (it is quite nondescript and plain when not in bloom) and hope that some folks would be able to return, to see it making frost-flowers.

I did see it again, late in the month, when the cool nights returned. The frostweed was just about done for the year, but it did manage to put on one more show.

Here are photos from throughout the month – of some things we saw on those various Frostweed Walks.

On most of these cool mornings, you can see the more familiar forms of frost, which make everything seem sugar-coated:

On one warm morning, something caught my eye --
could possibly that be frostweed?

Nope! a glance upward reveals the source:

All summer I have walked beneath this branch and never knew of the hornet's nest above.

Thoreau referred to the late-turning oaks on the hillsides
as the "roses" of autumn. Now I can see why.

The black birches are getting a lot of attention from what appears to be an expanding beaver family at Mud Pond. You could smell the wintergreen scent from the freshly-gnawed trees along the shore.
This attracted some insect attention, as well -

Does anyone know what these are? My guess is some sort of fungus-gnat:

On the second walk, some young folks joined us. Along the way, we met some of the regulars of Mud Pond - including the unofficial Trail Mascot:
a dog named Derpy ! Here getting oodles of attention:

Too bad the kids weren't with me on the day I saw THIS critter, who was taking advantage of the warm sunny sandbank - they would have loved it!

At the end of his musings on Frostweed that day, Thoreau wrote:

This, at least, is an evidence
that cold weather is come.

Despite the fluky warm spells this year, at some point,
Winter will eventually appear.
There is other evidence that it's on the way:
Shadows are lengthening-

and one definite sign that summer is really, REALLY over: