Saturday, June 15, 2013


May 30, 2013
Dorset, Vermont

I keep a mountain anchored off eastward a little way,
   which I ascend in my dreams both awake and asleep.
Its broad base spreads over a village or two,
   which does not know it;
   neither does it know them, nor do I when I ascend it.
I can see its general outline as plainly now in my mind
   as that of Wachusett.
I do not invent in the least, but state exactly what I see.
I find that I go up it when I am light-footed and earnest.
It ever smokes like an altar with its sacrifice.
I am not aware that a single villager frequents it
   or knows of it.
I keep this mountain to ride instead of a horse.
   HDT, letter to Harrison Blake, November 16, 1857

Day Two of our adventures began with pouring rain.
As I ate breakfast, I resisted the urge to call Jackie and say, “are we still going?” – because I knew what the answer would be.

Today our destination was eastward, to Vermont. It has been my pleasure to have lived in southern Vermont for ten years, and to me, it always feels different on the other side of that state line.

It’s a compact yet very three-dimensional landscape.
And today we were going to go UP.
We met some of our friends from the Thursday Naturalists – Ed, Nan, Barbara and others -- who would be our guides to some interesting places on a special mountain.
On this mountain, there are old old marble quarries. We were going up there to see some plants that favor such soil environments. These plants were rare treats for us, as well as for Andrew.
We drove up and up, along marble-gravelled roads that took us to where the foot trail began.
Despite the rain, the TNs were out in full force. They chatted gaily at the trailhead, as if it was just another pleasant day.
Then we walked along the abandoned quarry road. 

Along the way, we saw a great assortment of plants --
Cohosh, Virginia Waterleaf, Maidenhair Ferns. Everything looking gloriously green in the drizzling rain.

After a while, we turned a bend on the trail, with Nan leading the way, and found ourselves in a dark corner – around us rose the walls of the abandoned quarry.

The humidity and dampness here gave things a Mayan jungle aspect.
Ah, but did the Mayans have Small Yellow Ladyslippers by the score? 

There were so many little fairy-lights at our feet,  that you had to step carefully.
We found Early Azalea (blooming,) Rosybells, and Red Efts galore.
And beds of Wood Betony -- some in bloom, others still young, but it’s thriving here.

On the seams of the rock walls, Slender Cliff Brake made interesting patterns.

If those hearty quarrymen could have seen us happily browsing their old work-place now – what would they think?

We lunched at the cellphone tower site, while I fretted about the forecast for thunderstorms.
Here we were, way up on a mountain, sitting at the base of a huge metal tower.
Andrew: “let me check the radar on my iPhone – hey, I’m getting great reception here !”
Another person chimed in, “don’t worry, Sue, I think this tower is well-grounded.”
Small reassurances to Worrywart Me.
Despite my fears, and the ominous forecasts,  the weather began to clear.
We were perhaps, only a quarter of the way up the hillside.
You could see the mist parting to reveal the valley below.

After lunch, we took a secret detour to see something really rare – Moonworts !
I had never heard of them – they are very primitive plants, a sort of fern.
They are also great hiders. The ones we saw first were just over an inch tall.

Other specimens were a whopping two inches tall. 

Caring botanists have flagged them so that they can be located, and avoided at the same time.

Another photo of Andrew in his Happy Place, taking portraits of this elusive plant.

Ancient folk tales say that Moonwort has magical qualities.
Names for the plant include Unshoe-the-Horse, Money-Plant and Lunary.
It was said to cure lunacy if gathered by the light of the moon.
Or that you could open any lock by inserting a sprig.
Well, we weren't about to pick it, no matter what it could do.
The science of the plant is just as strange - most of the activity of the plants takes place underground. Some plants exist belowground for ten years before sending up that little green hand. Some reproduce without it, somehow. Botanists are still learning new things about this one.

Our last wish-list plant for the day did not show itself until we were almost back at the cars. Just off the trail was Showy Orchis, a little past prime, but still quite elegant.
And another new plant on my list.

Something not on any list (and a complete surprise, since we saw nary a one in any of the usual places this spring):

We saw lots of these on our way back down.
(Guess what Jackie and Andrew enjoyed at dinner that evening?)

Many of my photos of this day did not come out well. I shoot from the hip, and often forget to check the lens for raindrops. No matter. It was still great to be out and about with an intrepid group of folks who know how to spend a dark & rainy day. 

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