Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mother’s Day

May 12, 2013
Southern Adirondacks, NY

Methinks the columbine here is more remarkable
for growing out of the seams of the rocks
than the saxifrage,
and perhaps better deserves the latter name.
It is now in its prime, ornamental for nature’s rockwork.
It is a beautiful sight to see large clusters
of splendid scarlet and yellow flowers
growing out of a seam in the side of this gray cliff.
   HDT Journal,  May 16, 1852

It was Mother’s Day, and Mom didn’t want anyone fussing over her.
As usual. 
There was no need to “go visit” – Mom lives with me now,
and I get to see her every day.
But this day is definitely worth celebrating, so we opted for a nice ride,
and someplace fun for lunch.
When I was a kid, we called this Taking a Sunday Drive.
For our family, this usually involved  a few hours of aimless wandering on roads in Bucks County, in a late-model Ford with a hefty V-8 engine   – well, after all, it was back when gas was 30 cents a gallon.
My parents probably just wanted to relax after a long work week. They did so by taking a Sunday Drive from our suburban home to “the country” (which, alas, is now covered with more suburban homes.)
The creeks, large Sycamores, and old barns that were landmarks for my young eyes then – all gone.
My last visit to that part of Pennsylvania was unsettling. The place was unrecognizable.


Our Sunday Drive today took us northward, toward the Adirondacks.

The ride began with flowers.
Mom didn’t want anything from a florist shop.
And it was still early to think of buying anything to plant on our little balcony.

Instead, I took a short detour, to check on some wild treasures nearby.
We are both happy just to look, and enjoy them in their natural setting.

We continued up  Route 9, which winds north, paralleling the Northway.
No longer the main route north, it was now the road-not-taken,
which added to its charm.

Our destination: Schroon Lake.
We had lunch at a bistro where they make crepes to order.
(And Moms received a free latte of their choice)

After a fine meal, we visited some shops, just looking,
and then Mom was ready to head home.
We took a new route on the way back, avoiding the Northway again,

enjoying the sunny day to explore quiet back roads.

On the way out of the village, I saw a bit of color in the rocky cliffs along the road.
"Why are you stopping?" Mom said.

There were hundreds of Columbines in bloom, more than I have even seen in one place.
They lit up in the sun like so many tiny lanterns.

The ride began and ended with beautiful flowers, but the prettiest of all is … my Mom !  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Dream of the Toads

May 3, 2013
Moreau Lake State Park

I well remember the time this year
when I first heard the dream of the toads.

   HDT,  Letter dated October 26, 1853

Friday morning, I had some business to attend to down at Moreau Lake. It was time to refresh the Wildflower Poster at the Nature Center.
After that, I had perhaps an hour to wander along the lakeshore.

It being a fine sunny day, 

I headed for the Back Bay, thinking perhaps to see some newly-hatched dragonflies.
Instead I had a visit from a Mayfly. He landed on my watch, as if to check the time,
to make the most of his all-too-short life as a winged adult.

I followed a loud, trilling noise coming from a corner of the Bay.
It was the “dream” of the toads ! 

[Thoreau was interested in the history of words, and having studied with care the Old English poets, often used their robust vocabulary. He used the word “dream” in its old meaning of “joy, mirth noisy merriment.”]

Here was a glimpse of the 2013 Toad Prom.
These creatures-- usually so dusty and warty in appearance --looked a little less homely,
as they plashed about in the water, and did their best to charm each other.

At first, the toads went silent as I approached the scene.
All but one lept back into the safety of the water.

You have to stay low and still – don’t stand towering over them like a giant blue heron !
If you crouch,  and wait patiently,  they start up again.

I spent my golden hour hunkered down at the water’s edge – although, unlike Thoreau, I kept my shoes on.  It was a treat to see them.
Only after finding this Journal entry
did I realize that we had each been out a-watching toads
on very same day of the year.
So here are my photos, and Henry’s words.

May 3, 1857
In another pool, in Warren’s meadow, I hear the ring of toads
and the peep of hylodes,
and, taking off my stockings and shoes,
at length stand in their midst.
There are a hundred toads close around me,
copulating or preparing to.
These look at a little distance precisely like the last,
but no one utters that peculiar rough belching croak,
only their common musical ring,
and occasionally a short, fainter, interrupted, quivering note,
as of alarm. 

They are continually swimming to and leaping upon each other

 I see many large reddish-brown ones, probably females,
with small grayish ones lying flat on their backs, the fore feet clasped around them. 

These commonly lie flat on the bottom, often as if dead,
but from time [to time] the under one rises with its load
to the surface,
puts its nose out and then sinks again.

The single ones leap upon these double ones
and roll them over in vain like the rest.
It is the single ones that ring and are so active.
They make great gray, yellowish, greenish, or whitish bubbles
(different specimens being thus various), as big as their heads.

One that rings within a foot of me seems to make the earth vibrate,
and I feel it and am thrilled to my very spine,
it is so terrene a sound. 

It reminds me of many a summer night on the river.
A bubbling ring, which is continuous about a minute,
and then its bag must be inflated again.
When I move suddenly, it is the single ones chiefly that conceal themselves. 

The others are not so easily disturbed.
You would hardly believe that toads could be so excited and active.
When that nearest ringer sounded, the very sod by my feet
(whose spires rose above water)
seemed to tremble, and the earth itself,
 and I was thrilled to my spine and vibrated to it. 

They like a rest for their toes when they ring.

It is a sound as crowded with protuberant bubbles
as the rind of an orange.
A clear, ringing note with a bubbling trill.
It takes complete possession of you,
for you vibrate to it,
and can hear nothing else

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Up the Creek

April 28, 2013
Moreau Lake State Park, NY

A brook need not be large to afford us pleasure
by its sands & meanderings and falls
& their various accompaniments.

   HDT Journal, April 1, 1852

Jackie and I arranged to meet at Moreau Park today, with the intent of walking a bit of the Turkey Trail.
We had almost made it to the trail junction, when Jackie suggested a detour out to The Delta. We turned at the little wooden bridge where the Mud Pond trail crosses over a creek, which years ago I dubbed “Dutchman’s Creek.”  That was in honor of the dozen or so plants of Dutchman’s Breeches that appear reliably each spring, right here at the bridge crossing.
So far, it’s the only place I had seen them in the park.
The creek has gone dry early this year. The bridge seems superfluous.
Only a few ferny sprouts of the flowers have emerged so far. No blooms yet.

Well, at least the sedges were in flower.

We followed the dusty creek bed down to where it flows into Mud Pond.  It will be a lush jungle in a few weeks, full of Golden Ragwort and Mayapples.  Today I was just happy to find baby versions of Marsh St. Johnswort coming up through the mud at the Pond's edge. And Jackie was happy to find lots of liverwort there too.

We stopped to admire a very tall Nannybush

And its flamboyant leaf-buds, which look like flying ducks.

We also did trash patrol, hauling up muddy Genny cans and other niceties.
In bending down to pick up a piece of litter, sometimes you get a reward. That's when you see things like this deer skull. 

The skull will be recycled right where we found it, as smaller critters nibble on it, seeking vital minerals.

Or perhaps a Mourning Cloak will hesitate just a second longer before taking off like a wind-blown leaf.

We turned about, and walked back up to meet the beginning of the Turkey Trail,
and followed it through the open woods until it crossed a stream. 
We ran into some folks that Jackie knew, and paused to chat next to the bubbling waters.  After her friends continued on their way,
we decided to leave the trail (it began to go uphill at this point !) and follow this stream, to see where it went.  

So we dallied, like kids, along the creek.
Pools of flowing liquid sparkled in the afternoon sun.

Jackie mused, “Is this the  upper part of Dutchman’s Creek?”  
I didn’t think so, since we had just walked on the dry creek bed down below.
There was only one way to find out where this one went, so off we went,
poking around and seeing  hepaticas,  violets, and a spicebush in bloom.
O hepaticas – they fascinate me like the water lilies do. I never tire of seeing them, and stop to admire almost every one along the way.

And all along this little valley were Dutchman’s Breeches -- hundreds of them !

It became apparent that this brook was, indeed, the aptly-named  Dutchman’s Creek.
But here it was so lively, and so full of rushing water. ..?

We walked on--  not very far really -- about fifty more feet -- and the brook just petered out.  Disappeared into a pile of dry leaves.

Where did it go?
I heard a Hermit Thrush singing his flutelike song.  

He seemed amused at our puzzlement.
If he knew the answer to this riddle, he wasn’t telling.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

First Flowers

Late April
Denton Wildlife Sanctuary, Greenwich, NY
and other places nearby

No matter what pains you take, probably –
undoubtedly –
an insect will have found the first flower
before you.

   HDT Journal, April 17, 1855

This year I am especially eager to see flowers again.
In the past few weeks, I’ve taken many walks –
on my own, and with Jackie – to places where I know what to look for.

It’s the when that is different this year.

Last year there was a heat wave in March, and that set the whole schedule off.

This year is off too, but in the other direction. Things are taking their time. 
(Except for the hepaticas, who come equipped with winter coats.)

It’s been cool and dry this spring. 
There wasn’t a lot of snow this winter, and we need rain, badly.
Many a recent walk has ended with – “well, maybe we’ll see it next week.”
We amuse ourselves with trying to guess what a certain green sprout, or pale tree bud, will turn out to be in the days to come.
Or with seeing signs of other forms of life.

At last it is getting warm again – and the ground blushes green.

Head for water, to see some of the tiniest blooms first.

Golden saxifrage

And check the dry leafy ground carefully, for other early starters.

Spring Beauty

All at once, it seems  like the flowers are tripping over themselves to get up and blooming, before leaves appear overhead and filter out the light these earliest flowers crave.
Plants that usually bloom weeks apart are now appearing all at once.
My attempts at record-keeping are a shambles. But I’m just going to relax and roll with it.
It’s an embarrassment of riches !