Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Such Things Educate

April 23, 2012
Moreau Lake State Park, NY

What are the natural features
which make a township handsome?
A river, with its waterfalls and meadows,
a lake, a hill, a cliff or individual rocks,
a forest, and ancient trees standing singly.
Such things are beautiful;
they have a high use which dollars and cents never represent.
If the inhabitants of a town were wise,
they would seek to preserve these things,
though at a considerable expense;
for such things educate far more than any hired teachers or preachers,
or any at present recognized system of school education.
  HDT’s Journal, January 3, 1861

Today was the christening-day of the new addition to the Nature Center at Moreau Lake State Park. State officials, Park staff, members of the Friends group,  Biologists, Educators –- everyone there had some sort of heartfelt connection with this special place.
Earlier this morning, it had been pouring rain, and quite chilly.
Just before the event, the clouds parted, and it turned out to be a beautiful day.
The large group of school kids, who spent the morning at the Nature Center , were the first to see and enjoy the improved space and exhibits.
After all, it is all for them.  
Gary, Dave and Rebecca talked with them about the local wildlife,
and took them out for a little hike too.

Then and only then, were the grown-ups allowed in.
As more and more guests arrived, they explored the three rooms of the Nature Center.

In contrast with our local news coverage, it was not the fantastic displays of animal life that caught my interest ...
(you can see photos of such here)

.. but rather the humans who gathered in that space.  
Reading the morning papers afterward, I wondered,
Why oh why didn’t I also take a photo of the Taxidermied Bear Family?
Perhaps … because I can see them anytime now?  I don't really know.

My camera sought instead the live examples of the more rarely-sighted Migratory Dignitaries,
and the familiar behavior of Local Inhabitants.

There were lively conversations occurring on several levels.

Soon the main room was filled with people.

More lively conversation ensued.

Speeches were made.

It's as if we were all saying to each other “Thank you for caring."

After the ribbon-cutting,

Guest lingered outside to enjoy the sunshine.

Rebecca and some of her Educator pals from nearby parks were going on
“a short walk” to see a mallard nest – did Jackie and I want come along? Sure !
John, who is doing Hognose Snake research in the park this summer,
joined us in the hopes of seeing his quarry basking in the sun.

The thing I’ve noticed about good educators – is that they are always ready to learn something new.

Rebecca led the way, but it Alli who located the nest – whoosh, out flew mama hen, from right in front of her.
Alli will be a mama soon, too, in about two months.
We cautiously gathered to admire the nest.
Inside were eleven beautiful eggs.

The “short walk” turned into an extended rambling tour along the shoreline, halfway ‘round the lake and back again. The sun was out and we were doing our own sort of basking.
All around us were symbols of birth and rebirth.  Of new beginnings.
At the New Cabin, we saw more eggs on a windowpane – from some sort of spider, perhaps ?

From the cabin’s deck, we had a fine view of the mountain across the lake.I pointed out to Alli that the mountain’s contours look like a sleeping woman.
So of course we had to test that theory out !

We also saw several dragonflies that had just hatched,

sparkly circles that turned out to be submerged pine branches,

and the very beginnings of pitch-pine cones.

But the best thing we saw today, I have saved for last.
We had been walking along the shoreline, and heard a small squeaky yelp!
There, about fifteen feet away, were two grey shapes wrassling at the foot of a tree. Squirrels ? 
No, they were fox kits ! -- fairly young too, and adorably fuzzy.  We all hooted with joy, which is when the kits realized that seven humans were staring at them. My camera caught just a glimpse as they retreated to the safety of the den. (see Jackie’s blog of this day, to see the entire critter !)

All in all, it was a great way to spend the last day of my weeklong vacation.
I was glad to spend part of it hanging out with these folks -

“Educators Gotta Educate” -!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy Earth Day !

Happy Earth Day, everybody !  Time to put on that little button that I bought for a dollar, back in 1970...

In 1970, the first Earth Day was a pretty big deal in Philadelphia – it was actually an Earth Week. [read about it here]

I lived in the suburbs not too far north of Philly, and to this 16-year-old, the news of the rallies made a big impression. Of course, I could not drive then,  and so could not join the crowds at Fairmount Park.

It turned out that it wasn’t necessary to go to Philly to awaken any environmental feelings.
All I had to do was look out my back window.
The Woods behind my house -- where I had spent many a carefree hour since I was six -- had just been bulldozed away, to make room for a new apartment complex. (which would ironically be called “Valley Green.”)
The Creek apparently had to go, too, and I was aghast that someone had the nerve to put it into a pipe --  to just cover it up and pave it over.
Gone were the minnies --the crayfish-- the sumacs -- the stickerbushes --
and the pheasants, whose morning calls would wake me.

I can still feel the sting of the stickerbushes on my bare legs,
and hear echoes of the pheasants.
But they aren’t there anymore.
 *  *  *
Forty-two years later, I still observe the day in some way.
This year, our local Audubon Chapter joined up with the Feeder Canal Alliance to help with their annual Canal Cleanup.

Thanks to the Alliance, the Canal has become a linear greenspace running through several towns.

Their hard work and perseverance over the years has helped turn it from a marginalized and somewhat forgotten area to a place enjoyed by many walkers and bicyclists. Not to mention songbirds, ducks, turtles, chipmunks and other critters.
(For some history of the Canal and the group, click this link. )

This morning, on the day before Earth Day, there was a good turnout,
and plenty of help.
The forecasted rains held off until we were done.
We split up into small groups of twos and threes, each taking a short section of trail.

We picked up several large bags-full of litter.

Some volunteers were cutting brush, Some were ferrying back and forth, hauling away brush and filled-up bags,

Others cleaned graffiti from trail signs.

Some of the folks told me that when they first started caring for this trail years ago, they had to haul things out of the canal like furniture, appliances and tires.
Most of what we picked up today were much smaller nuisances.
(Some of it pretty ironic.)

At one point during our picking-up, I took a breather and stretched,
looking at the surroundings.
I noticed that the spot we were in was directly next to someone’s back yard.

Maybe someone was looking out her back window,  as I did so many years ago,
and seeing something quite different happening to her Woods.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Old Trees and Old Knees

[The Fourth November: February 2012. The Last in a Series.]

February 20 , 2012
Spring Overlook Trail, Moreau Lake State Park

For years my appetite was so strong that I fed -  
     I browsed -
on the pine forest's edge seen against the winter horizon. …
I ranged about like a gray moose,
     looking at the spiring tops of the trees,
     and fed my imagination on them, -
far-away, ideal trees,
     not disturbed by the axe of the woodcutter,
     nearer and nearer fringes and eyelashes of my eye.
Where was the sap,
     the fruit,
     the value
     of the forest for me,
but in that line where it was relieved against the sky?
That was my wood-lot; that was my lot in the woods.
The silvery needles of the pine straining the light.
      HDT Journal, December 3, 1856

And here we come to the Fourth November in a row this year -- the month of February. We received another inch or two of snow, but it’s really been a dull gray month.

I too have been in a gray moose mood, restlessly looking for anything of interest my walks.  While it hasn’t been snowy, it has been cold, windy, and icy for days on end. These old knees could use some exercise, I thought. We've missed the padded landscape that snow provides.
I wondered where I could go to stretch my legs, without slipping on ice.

Today, Jackie and I decided it is a good time for her to show me where the tupelos are growing on top of the mountain. They are yet another surprise found in Moreau Park; usually they are a more southern-ranging tree. Jackie had found several others in the park, but they are down along the river.
This winter, our pal Laurie discovered these particular specimens growing in a swampy col on TOP of the mountain. She led Jackie to them, one recent icy morning.

Conditions today were perfect for another visit – hard-frozen swamp, a little fresh snow for tracking, no bugs etc. So off we went, following the gentle grade up up the north side of the mountain slope.

But wait ! just steps from the cars, we had to stop and admire a spider, who must have been out exploring before succumbing to the cold night.

Then another twenty feet,  Jackie stopped again:
“Oh I just love seeing the flashes of color in the snow!”

O- kaaayy … I continued on for another few yards, shaking my head skeptically –
then paused – there it was ! -- as I turned my head, toward the slanting morning sunlight, the large snowflakes glistened.  In colors !

We are desperate for color, in this long brown Winter. We take it where we find it.
(And I learned never to doubt Jackie's visions !)

As we approached our first stop at the Overlook, more colors appeared.  The usually massive icefalls along the rocky cliffs were down to mere remnants of winter. Vibrant green mosses were coming alive in their place.

All sorts of textures and shapes could be found in these miniature landscapes.

The gray moose was delighted !

A larger landscape was ours to admire, as we ate lunch at the overlook.

No Cabin Fever here !

Then it was more walking, this time in deeper snow, a bit further along the top of the mountain. I guess it never melts up here until Spring.
We came  to the little swamp with the big tupelos.

And they were big ! Probably passed up by any loggers in the last century or two, due to their extremely tough wood. What stories they could tell!
In the future, we hope to get some professionals to help figure out how old they really are.
Meanwhile, I could not help but reach out my bare hand, to touch the rough bark of this elder of the forest.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The First Ice

[The Third November: January]
January 10, 2012

[Despite some obvious signs of spring outside my window
as I post this blog entry, our winter narrative continues,
with Part 3 of a 4-part retrospective]

 The first ice is especially interesting and perfect,
being hard, dark, and transparent,
and affords the best opportunity that ever offers
for examining the bottom where it is shallow;
for you can lie at your length on ice only an inch thick,
like a skater insect on the surface of the water,
and study the bottom at your leisure…
But the ice itself is the object of most interest,
though you must improve the earliest opportunity to study it.
      HDT Walden, “House-Warming”

Quite some time after Christmas, Moreau Lake finally froze over.
Solid from end to end.
Thick enough to walk on.
Well, there was that one time, weeks earlier, on a dreary cloudy January day, when Jackie and I ventured onto the brand new ice that was beginning to form around the edges.

It was thin, and cracked a bit under our weight, but it was also very clear.
A perfect window for studying the pebbly bottom of the lake.  We gazed fascinated at little scenes below our feet. We wondered how all the different textures got into the ice.

Of course we kept within a yard of the shoreline, since the middle of the lake was wide open, and this ice was merely a thin shelf.

As we rounded the lake, we checked the frozen shallows of Bubble Bay,
but there was not quite the display as in previous years. (click here to see it in all its glory) 
Instead, we found a frozen trail, formed before the ice fully set.
What hardy creature could have walked here?

Our answer came as we followed this trail to the open water
by the boat-dock.

There sat the trail-maker, brushing his face in the weak winter sunlight.

Weeks after that day, the right combination of cold air and clear nights finally sealed up the lake for good. The park staff tests the ice for thickness before allowing anyone out there, and fishermen lost no time putting out their tip-ups.

Jackie and I returned on a beautiful sunny day. The air was crisp, the ice was free of snow (since we really haven’t gotten any), and the lake was singing songs. “Whooping,” Thoreau called it.
Another friend of ours describes it as “the Call of the Ice Whales.”

My friend, who grew up along Lake Michigan, strode out confidently onto the lake.
I, who grew up in more temperate Pennsylvania, shuffled along, ready to bolt for shore at any moment.

We strolled down the middle of the lake.
Along the way, the ice would suddenly snap !
and spiraling cracks would race beneath my quaking boots.
It was only the ice flexing, as the sun heated it up. Whooooop.

Out in the deepest part of the lake, some ice fishermen were soaking up the sun -- er, fishing.

Hardy souls, they -- who know how tasty perch can be.

We don’t usually see clear open ice like this.
Typically, within days of freeze-up, the snows come thickly,
and lay down layer upon layer of white stuff. 
This year, people were ice-skating up and down the length of the lake. Henry would have loved it.

The land was still bare of snow --  as bare and brown as the First November.  So one might as well play on the ice!