Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm

August 27, 2011
Queensbury, NY


Over the past few days, there has been news of a hurricane heading up the east coast, straight for the Adirondacks! It is due to arrive within hours as I write this. Hopefully, by the time it scrapes its bottom on New York City and the Berkshires, it will have toned down to “just” a tropical storm.

People at work are joking about it and not doing much to prepare. I mean, what can happen, up here in the mountains? They chuckled at my suggestions to prepare - saying instead, those it's those folks at the coast who had better watch out. Besides, those forecasters always exaggerate !

But having sat through several small brushes with small hurricanes, (including one memorable canoe-camping trip during which Hurricane Bob came to visit Lake Umbagog), I know they can be fickle and changeable, a thing which can also make them dangerous to underestimate.

So, in between working extra long hours at work (God forbid anyone should be made to miss their newpaper’s TV listings!)
I made my preparation list:

Gas up the car -- check
Replace batteries in flashlights and lanterns -- check
Make extra ice cubes -- check
Charge up all camera, phone batteries -- check
Have plenty of toilet paper on hand -- check
Spam and peanut butter in cupboard? -- check
Remove things from our apartment balcony that could turn into projectiles in a gale -- check
Get together a “go-bag” in case apt. roof blows off
and we have to leave. --
(well I didn’t tell Mom about that one, she thought I was crazy just getting out the lanterns!)

Yummy new book ordered from the library, waiting to be read -- check
Check the levels on my bottle of Gosling’s. -- check and double-check!

Feeling now as prepared as possible, without incurring further ridicule, I went for a short walk after dinner. We’d probably be confined to quarters on Sunday, if not longer.

It has been hot and muggy all week, but tonight was the muggiest.
The air, very still and oppressive. Ringlike clouds were already moving in from the south. I looked to Nature herself, for signs of impending doom.

 At the cornfields, I wondered if the stalks would be knocked over by the high winds that are forecast for tomorrow. Farmers in the next county are worrying about their apples.

The pink clover peeked out cautiously, as if hiding.

It was hours before sunset, but a bumblebee was already hunkering down nearby.

I walked quickly, being hounded for the first time in weeks by very aggressive mosquitos. The last supper??

Along the path, a Cottontail darted out of the bushes. He seemed pretty twitchy, and unsure of where he wanted to be. Maybe the mosquitoes were bothering him, too.

The last sign was pretty unusual. I was on a path where I regularly see snails – er, slugs, actually – especially after a rain. You have to crouch down low to admire them as they crawl painstakingly on the ground or lower vegetation.

I saw a Common Sunflower, about 4 feet tall, with a lump at the top. Being in Bug-Watching Mode these days, I of course stopped to investigate.

It was a slug, on top of the flower. How he got up there, or how long that took him, I’ll never know.

But he was heading for higher ground -- and who are we, to scoff at his sage advice??

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ice, Twice

August 13, 2011
Ice Meadows of the Hudson River

After a week, I returned to the Ice Meadows, this time with my friend Marie, who is interested in local plants, medicinal herbs in particular.

It was a bit different than the last time we were here together, back in January !

This time it was not too cold to linger, and we could take as much time as we wanted to do some exploring.
But summer has turned the corner, as the now-spotted sarsaparilla leaves told us.

And the cranberries are juuuuust beginning to blush.

We visited both sides of the river today, but the west side was the most pleasant and fruitful.

Here, water meets land to form a unique environment.

Marie found yet another Smaller Purple Fringed Orchis, in fresher condition than the scraggly one I found here a week ago.

And I was surprised to see Ladies’ Tresses (just one plant),
about to bloom – I thought it was a late-season plant.
I didn't know that there was more than one variety, (silly me)
and the flowers were not quite open yet - so can't say which it would be, though Nodding Ladies' Tresses is the most likely.
Complicating the identification is the fact that this was a bonsai version of others I have seen elsewhere.

As we walked along the river’s edge, I showed Marie the
“oil slicks” that occur naturally here and are the result of bacterial action, not pollution.

Today I was determined to get a closer look at the frogs who inhabit the little puddle-ponds among the rocks, but what caught my eye was the COLOR of them.
This is a green frog, but he was really, really GREEN – as if spray-painted with model paint!

Could this have something to do with that oily sheen ?

Or some sort of algae?
As if to add to the puzzle, I spied another frog – this one bright turquoise !
(he's hiding in the center of the photo)

 I got a closer look at him. He was a copper-patina, Statue-of-Liberty color.

What’s going on here – does anyone have a clue?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


August 4, 2011
Ice Meadows of the Hudson River

I am still a learner, not a teacher,
feeding somewhat omnivorously,
browsing both stalk & leaves.

   HDT letter to H.G.O. Blake, 1856

I love browsing --but not the kind one does in a retail store. That’s not my idea of fun at all.
But a trip to the Ice Meadows – with the Thursday Naturalists – now that’s more like it !

It was a long way for them to travel, but for me it is just over a half- hour’s drive up the road. Unfortunately, I had only an hour or two to spend there, since it was a work day for me. Still, there was plenty so see & learn.

The Ice Meadows is a special plant community. Things grow here that are found much further north. Plants one sees commonly a few miles away may be unrecognizable, due to their adaptations to the harsh environment. Things bloom here earlier -- or later -- than elsewhere. So it’s always full of surprises.

Like this Smaller Purple Fringed Orchid, hiding inside a clump of stunted alder. It was a bit tattered, but still a novelty. They are long-past blooming, a few miles downriver.

Purple seems to be the season’s next dominant flower color.
The first to greet us was a flock of Kalm’s Lobelia. They are very small cousins of the showier Cardinal Flower.

Next to them were the larger Harebells. (this one had some sort of beetle in it. Not sure what is going on there...)

Then again, the yellow flowers - formed in the heats of July - seemed to be holding their own. We stepped gingerly past a profusion of the tiny stalks of Yellow-Eyed Grass.

And past the more robust sunflowers, this host to a Pennsylvania Leatherwing, a valuable pollinator.

 There were many little rocky pools, where sundews spread their sticky hands -

This morning, I got my wish -- having waited a whole year now -- of seeing the Canadian Burnet, so common here, in soft-spikey bloom.

And I saw plenty of critters, too –

Damselfly (Eastern Forktail)

Dragonfly (a Rusty Snaketail, I think)

Syrphid fly - one of those little bee-imitators


And another hopper - not sure whether this is a green frog or a mink frog - green, methinks, seeing that dorso-lateral fold & leg stripes-

The group of Naturalists spread out, and contentedly explored the riverside, resembling more than anything a family of deer browsing.
We had been given the gift of a beautiful summer day, one to be savored.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Book

August 9, 2011
Inside a Book

How many a man has dated a new era in his life
from the reading of a book!
The book exists for us, perchance,
that will explain our miracles

and reveal new ones.
The at-present unutterable things
we may find somewhere uttered.
     HDT, Walden, "Reading" chapter, 1854

Today is the day that Walden was published back in 1854.
It’s not the only book that has changed my life,
or that has shown the way along interesting trails over the years – but today is a day to celebrate nonetheless !

We can be thankful that Mr. Thoreau saw fit to try again,
after the commercial failure of his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. He had printed that book at his own cost, having been unable to find a publisher willing to take a chance on an unknown author. 

He joked bitterly in his Journal -

[October 27, 1853]:
For a year or two past, my publisher,
falsely so called,
has been writing from time to time
to ask what disposition should be made of the copies
"A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers"

still on hand, and at last suggesting
that he had use for the room they occupied
in his cellar.
So I had them all sent to me here,
and they have arrived to-day by express,
filling the man's wagon, --
706 copies out of an edition of 1000
which I bought of Munroe four years ago
and have ever since been paying for,
and have not quite paid for yet.
The wares are sent to me at last,
and I have an opportunity to examine my purchase.
They are something more substantial than fame,
as my back knows,
which has borne them up two flights of stairs
to a place similar to that
to which they trace their origin.
Of the remaining two hundred and ninety and odd,
seventy-five were given away, the rest sold.
I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes,
over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.

Fortunately for us, he tried again with a second book, and after several years and eight revisions, sent the final manuscript of Walden to another publisher, where it was slightly more successful.
Now, 157 years after that first book rolled off the press, there have been over 200 editions, and the book has been translated into at least 50 languages.

At this very moment, a friend many thousands of miles away is laboring at a desk, laboring with love on a translation of Walden into yet another language, a translation for new readers, far across the sea.

With his second book, Thoreau wasn't necessarily publishing it to make money.
There are other measures of success, as the book itself so aptly points out.
He had something to say. And I'm glad he said it.

Let me ask you, dear readers,what books have initiated new eras in YOUR lives ?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Where is the Artist?

August 2, 2011
The Fens

[Here's something from 'way back in April,
rediscovered while sorting out a summer's worth of photos
on an afternoon that was too hot for doing anything else.

There was snow on the trail, back on that day !
It's always nice to run into auld acquaintances, even though we didn't recognize each other at first.]

I would see painted
a boundless expanse of desert, prairie or sea,
without other object than the horizon.
The heavens and the earth,
-- the first and last painting, --
where is the artist who shall undertake it?
   HDT's early Journal, April 30, 1839