Sunday, October 31, 2010

Indian-Summer Serenity

October 29, 2010
Pine View Cemetery

When the leaves fall, the whole earth is a cemetery
pleasant to walk in.
HDT, Autumn Leaves

It seemed like unseasonably warm weather would last through the entire month of October, until last week. Then on one cloudy cold day, for a few moments, a brief flurry of snow-pellets came drifting down from the sky. After a few frosty mornings, the warm weather returned. In this unusually warm year, this may be the closest we come to an Indian Summer. Today, I walk in short-sleeves -- no coat, no hat.

Nearby is a cemetery with many great pines and spreading sugar-maples.
It’s especially beautiful at this time of year.

I went walking there the other day, just as an October fog was fading in the face of the morning sun. 
Just visiting ! 
Though literally, I don't know a soul in the place.

It’s interesting to see how people honor those who have passed on.

Some are somber memorials.

Others, lighthearted –- going back to happy times

Everywhere are symbols -- Christian - pre-Christian - and older still

And combinations thereof that can make you smile  
(Jesus with unidentified Apostle)

Some graves are monument-al

Some are simple

Some just break your heart to see them

There are parents

And children

Soldiers and peace-makers

Gone, all gone

But cemeteries are not only for the dead – they are a comfort to the living

A place to mourn and to celebrate –
A way to express our feelings
for those we hope to see again.

Again from Autumn Leaves:

How pleasant it is to walk over the beds
of these fresh, crisp and rustling leaves.
How beautifully they go to their graves !

They that soared so loftily,
how contentedly they return to dust again, and are laid low,
resigned to lie and decay at the foot of the tree,
and afford nourishment to new generations of their kinds,
as well as to flutter on high!

They teach us how to die.

One wonders if the time will ever come
when men, with their boasted faith in immortality,
will lie down as gracefully and as ripe, -
with such an Indian-summer serenity
will shed their bodies

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Giving Names to Colors

October 9, 2010
Landis Arboretum, Esperance, NY

October is the month of painted leaves.
Their rich glow now flashes round the world.
HDT, Autumnal Tints

After a splendid day at Pyramid ( and a couple of hours on the highway), I got up at 6 am the next day, in order to drive some more – this time in a southerly direction. I was signed up for a Tree Identification class at Landis Arboretum.

In college, I majored in Fine Arts. Since my only formal science education consists of Biology 101, many moons ago, classes like these are an ideal way to increase my knowledge bit by bit. What I would learn today should at help me in giving names to what I see every day.
I’d heard about this place from Jackie. She told me that Ed Miller, local botanist extraordinaire, had put much time and effort into volunteer work at Landis. When I met him this summer, he spoke of creating a “mini-bog” exhibit there, as a way to show all those unique bog-loving plants together in one place.
That was something I wanted to see!

Well, for once I was able to get up and going early on a Saturday (not having worked late the night before), and by 7 am I was on the Northway, heading south.
It was a pleasant ride, swinging past Albany and heading west along the highlands of New York State.
The fall colors along the roadside faded back to dull greens as I passed through the Hudson and Mohawk river valleys near Albany. Then my route headed west, to higher ground, and bright yellows and oranges covered the hillsides.

Despite the shifted timing of the wildflowers this summer, Fall Foliage season seems to be right on time, although the weather is staying warmer much later in the month than usual. It was a sunny and breezy day, but temperatures were in the high ‘60s.
At Landis, director of horticulture Fred Breglia herded our group indoors. The first part of our class was all about nomenclature – the vocabulary of trees. Laughing as he twirled transparencies around and around in the vintage overhead projector, he said that we were getting “a semester’s worth of information in three hours.” He was certainly up to that task, but I wasn’t sure I was ! Thankfully, he also supplied handouts, upon which I have many scribbled notes.

After being supplied with the rudiments of tree-language, we spilled out of our classroom into the bright sunshine, to meet some of the trees in person.

What’s great about an Arboretum is that most of the plants are labeled.

Some are in their natural settings, others were grouped according to habitat,
others by tree-family.

A few areas looked like zoo exhibits, with the trees in cages (!)

– but unlike a zoo, the cages were for their protection, not ours. Some of the exhibits were tender seedlings, and needed protection from the deer (who must surely watch this place with eager eyes.)

The three hours passed quickly. I hope to have absorbed at least a little of what Fred so kindly (and thoroughly) shared with our group.

It was great to see the cousins of trees that I see at Moreau Park, and to learn a little more about them.

There was another long drive ahead of me, but I decided to stay for lunch, and take a short walk around one of the Arboretum’s many trails.

I bought a sandwich at the local food mart, and returned to Landis. I dined at Willow Pond, sharing a bench with some meadowhawk dragonflies, who, like myself, were soaking up the October sunshine.

There was time for only the briefest exploration of the trails. One of them had signs pointing the way to something called The Great Oak. It seemed proper on my first visit to visit the Queen of the Trees. The trail passed by a lovely little swamp,

complete with basking turtles,

One of them covered with the lemna, or duckweed, that covered the pond like a mosaic

Then up a short hill – and there, on the open crest, stood the Oak !

It is estimated at 400 to 500 years old. How much it has seen and endured!

Behind the tree, and off to one side of the trail, I saw a tiny speck – it was a man, standing and looking. And looking some more.
The tiny speck turned out to be normal-sized Jim Cramer, a painter specializing in plein-air, or outdoor painting.

You can see some of his work here:
Today he was actually working on a commission – doing a portrait of this ancient oaken personality.

It was good to see someone else out enjoying this fine day, and getting inspiration from it, and responding with creativity.

As he worked, I stood there, seeing two kinds of Painted Leaves …

and at once I recalled another passage from Autumnal Tints

I do not see why, since America and her autumn woods have been discovered,
our leaves should not compare with the precious stones
in giving names to colors;

and, indeed, I believe that in course of time
the names of some of our trees and shrubs, as well as flowers,
will get into our popular chromatic nomenclature.

Monday, October 11, 2010

These Golden Days

October 8, 2010
Pyramid Lake, near Paradox, NY

Far in the woods these golden days
Some leaf obeys its maker’s call,
And through their hollow aisles it plays
With delicate touch the prelude of the fall.
The Fall of the Leaf,
Henry D. Thoreau

Last November, we had to choose our vacation days for the year 2010. Not having anything particular in mind, the last day I elected to take was October 8th. It would be around the time of peak foliage in these parts, and it would be nice to have an entire day just to enjoy it.

Throughout the summer, my hiking pal Jackie kept telling me about this fantastic place up in the Adirondacks, Pyramid Lake Life Center. It is a place where people go on spiritual retreats, and is privately owned. Jackie volunteers here, and visits several times a year. She planned on going up again over Columbus Day weekend, to help them close the camp -- and did I want to meet her up there on Friday, and spend the day? You bet!

It’s an hour’s drive from here. I stowed the kayak in my car the day before (it fits nicely) and headed north early Friday morning to meet Jackie at Pyramid Lake.
It looked a lot bigger than the photos I'd seen on her blog. The whole place was very peaceful.

Our original idea was to paddle on the lake most of the day. I was the pessimist, having seen the latest weather forecast: sunny, but with wind gusts up to 25 mph in the afternoon.
We ventured along the north shore, past the camp’s cabins and docks,

into a sheltered shallow bay.

Due to the heavy rains of last week, the water level was high enough for us to go quite a ways in before bottoming out.

Despite the lateness of the season, we saw some rarities there, including nostoc – little balls of cyanobacteria -- that trailed in our wakes like little green stars.

And further on, something not especially rare, but still, a thing new to me:
ripe cranberries.

When picking them, if you drop one, it floats. And they are plenty sour, right off the vine!

We turned around to leave this bay, and head further round the lake. It was then that the wind picked up suddenly, and paddling became quite a chore.
Jackie was having fun, being in her element.

My little boat kept plopping her prow through the waves, splashing me jauntily each time.
We passed the docks again, and tried to make some headway paddling along the other side.

At one point, I was really digging in with the paddle ( in order not to blow backwards) when I saw an orange leaf in the air. It was moving against the wind. Eh?

Then it landed on a bush along the shore, and I looked closer -- it was a butterfly.
He had to head south, no matter if there was a big lake in his way, and the wind was against him. What a feat of strength and faith!


The waves got a little more like regular rollers.

Unlike the butterfly, we decided it would be better to get off the lake, and go walking instead.

After lunching on the upstairs porch of one of the cabins overlooking the lake –

Jackie suggested a woods-trail that went to Eagle Lake Dam, a mile or so to the east.

Despite the wind, the day was unusually warm -- around 65 degrees -- even here in the mountains. To walk along in shirtsleeves while admiring fall colors is a rare delight.


We stopped (as usual) to look at every little thing.

First, a bit of cloud-shadow-watching from one of the docks

The largest stemmed mushroom that either of us had ever seen


Complete with one of the smallest flies we’d ever seen

And of course all the colors that surrounded us.

Even the clouds were breathtaking -

it began to be obvious that this place has a special energy.

Somewhere along the trail, we passed a little brook.

Our turnaround point was at Eagle Lake,

where the trail crosses over the small dam.

It is only a reflecting mind that sees reflections.
HDT Journal, November 2, 1857

From the sublime – to the slime:
a stinkhorn mushroom!

The rains have brought all sorts of fungi springing up out of the leaf-litter.
The Latin name of this one in Thoreau’s day was Phallus impudicus.
True to its common name, stinkhorn, it has an awfully putrid odor. Phew!

And laughingly I recalled Thoreau’s close encounter with one of these. He was extremely interested in mushrooms, and in his Journal of October 16, 1856, he writes that he had found a variety that was new to him. Despite being disgusted by its appearance (he was a true Victorian in that respect), he did what he usually did with any new plant specimen:
he took it home !

In an hour or two the plant scented the whole house wherever placed,
so that it could not be endured.
I was afraid to sleep in my chamber where it had lain
until the room had been well ventilated ….

Pray, what was Nature thinking of when she made this?
She almost puts herself on a level with those who draw in privies.

One can only imagine the reaction of Thoreau’s mother and sisters (with whom he lived in the yellow house on Main Street) to this little incident.

Arriving back at the camp, there was still time enough for one more stop – “to a little waterfall” was all that Jackie said.
I had driven along this road and not even noticed the sign


A short way into the trail, which followed a quiet brook, was the sound of rushing water – LOTS of it.
After seeing the first short drop, which was impressive on its own, you kept on walking downhill on the trail, as the falls got larger and larger.

“Oh, it’s usually much smaller at this time of year” Jackie said.
However, we did have close to six inches of rain last Wednesday, so the waterfall today was glorious indeed.
As if the water was a thousand allelujas coming down from on high.

Thanks, Jackie, for sharing some of the wonders of Pyramid Lake on one of the golden days of autumn.