Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Piece of Wonder

July 22, 2012

Hudson River
South Glens Falls, NY

For the first time it occurred to me this afternoon
what a piece of wonder a river is.
   HDTs Journal,  September 3, 1838

Henry Thoreau spent many hours a-walking, and wrote a wonderful essay about this mode of travel, but in the warm summer months, the water was his preferred hangout.
His favorite places to go a-boating were not (as one might think) Walden Pond, so much as the rivers running through the center of Concord.

Two rivers of widely different character meet in the Village, and join to become the placid Concord River.
Then as now, rivers were harnessed for power; dammed and damned by humans.  

Then, as now, many saw the river as a convenient place to toss stuff.  (to see firsthand accounts of Thoreau’s beloved rivers today, and what one local hero is doing to keep them clean, visit Trashpaddler. Watch out ! it's contagious...)

Today, there are no longer log drives on this stretch of the Hudson.
The river's history is fascinating, and we paddle in what was basically an industrial area, a hundred years ago.
Many dams exist solely for flood control, for which we are grateful.
Even then, the river is never completely tamed.

Rivers flow past factories and back yards, and yet … they can be scenes of great beauty.

You can find quiet places tucked away, despite the river’s popularity on a hot summer day.

You don’t have to go far. Here's a family picnicking on an island in the river, just a short paddle from the boat launch. Sure beats taking the kids to McDonald's!

You don’t even need much equipment.

Kick back, and relax!

You don’t have to travel to a pristine wilderness to find an interesting plant or critter along the river.

Osprey nest near the dam

  Muskrat seat along the shore
  Pickerelweed in bloom
It’s worth going to the river to see the sort of things that one can only see from out on the water.
A field of water-shield flowers

Wierd underwater organisms -
like this Bryozoan, Pectinatella
It’s worth picking up just one piece of litter --
or two bags full, if that’s the case.

Go by yourself.

Go with a treasured friend.  

But go !

Thursday, July 26, 2012


July 17, 2012

Queensbury, NY
Cowering in my apartment

A thunder shower in the night.
Thunder near at hand, though louder,
 is a more trivial and earthly sound than at a distance;
 likened to sounds of men.
        HDT’s Journal, July 20, 1853

The heats of July are in full swing.

This summer seems like the hottest summer ever. There have been many late-afternoon thunder-storms. They do nothing to relieve the heat and humidity, as we have hoped.

More bad storms are forecast for tonight – maybe this heat will finally break.

Temperatures over 70 degrees at night are unusual for this area.
(I try to call up memories of them during January,  but it’s completely unimaginable then.)

I’m working on the computer after dinner, when it suddenly gets very dark.
There’s a low rumbling in the distance.

This is how it looked an hour BEFORE sunset!

I ducked back inside,just  as the first large raindrops plopped down.
Crash !
Boom !
as the lightning flashed overhead. The computer gets shut off.

I  sit on the sofa and tremble like a Chihuahua, as the pressure drops and winds thrash the trees outside.

It all looks so much tidier on the weather-maps.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


July 10, 2012
Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park

No man ever makes a discovery,
ever an observation of the least importance,
but he is advertised of the fact
by a joy that surprises him.
The powers thus celebrate all discovery.
        HDT Journal, August 8, 1852

Day Two of Le Tour de Plants.Up early again, to meet with Jackie and Andrew at Mud Pond.
Here is where Jackie and I had located a secluded patch of Goodyera tesselata, and we were happy to show them to Andrew (who had specifically timed his visit with the hopes of seeing them in flower.)

But first, a walk along the water’s edge, where eeep-ing frogs zipped across the water like skipping stones as we approached.
Except for this fellow, who stood his ground.

(Not especially smart, especially in a pond frequented by Blue Herons.)

It's a place where beauty can conceal a beast.

Where pondweed and bladderwort greet the morning sun.

Then we cut over to the shady woods, to see the Goodyera, where Andrew set up and took careful photographs. He was totally smitten.


The individual flowers remind me of Lamb Chop!

This plant is not all that common here, but is almost completely extirpated in his home state of Ohio.
It was at this point that we realized something.

As Andrew was taking portraits of this rare plant, Jackie casually mentioned that the cow wheat was in bloom now, too. 
“WHERE?” Andrew exclaimed.
He had never seen it – so it was another Life Plant for him.

And here we had been strolling past it all morning, not pointing it out to him, since it is so "common."

After that, we all walked along with a new sense of discovery.  

We were pointing out EVERYthing, in case it was something Andrew had not ever seen. 
He asked if we had any Checkerberry plants here.
“Oh, sure,” I said, “ I munch on a leaf every time I walk this trail …”

I realized that rarity is a relative thing,
and that we have the commonest of riches at Mud Pond.

Where a flower is not just a flower, and even a stone can be more than just a stone.

So I happily led them around to Checkerberry Hill (where there were a few plants still in bloom),  

and to The Delta, where we saw the puff-flowers of Burr-reed,

and dragonflies without number.

As the sun shone brightly overhead, we stood ankle deep in a carpet
of False Pimpernel and Dwarf St. Johnswort.

And one last glimpse of beauty - this American Copper, feeling quite secure and camoflaged on a neon-orange bouquet of Butterfly-weed.

A back-to-down-to-Earth PS: – among other treasures we found that day,
one unfortunately discovered ME.
Yes, they are really THAT small in the nymph-stage. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Le Tour de Plants

July 9, 2012
Stage One:  To the Mystery Bog

I soon found myself observing
when plants first blossomed and leafed,
and I followed it up early and late, far and near,
several years in succession,
running to different sides of the town
and into the neighboring towns,
often between twenty and thirty miles in a day.
I often visited a particular plant four or five miles distant, half a dozen times within a fortnight,
that I might know exactly when it opened,
beside attending to a great many others
in different directions
and some of them equally distant,
at the same time.
    HDTs Journal, December 4, 1856

It’s always nice to meet new friends.
It’s even nicer to meet a fellow nature-blogger from far away.

Andrew Gibson has a wonderful blog,The Natural Treasures of Ohio.
He may actually be living his life much like the quotation above. Plants may be his interest, but orchids are his passion.

After he saw some of the varieties mentioned in Jackie’s blog,
he arranged to visit for a few days in July.
Jackie has planned a whirlwind tour of some of our favorite places.

It was tricky figuring out the timing of his trip,
since many plants are on a different schedule this summer.
And orchids are notorious for unpredictability, and for having a very short blooming-time.
She and I have been scouting likely spots for weeks, with certain plants in mind. So we too, having been "running to different sides of the town."
I was more than happy to be able to accompany them on two of their stops on Le Tour de Plants.

After a 12-hour drive to Jackie’s house, Andrew was ready for the first stop on Monday morning.
We all met at the Mystery Bog, and after a short walk, our feet were sinking into spongy sphagnum moss.

Within five minutes, we saw the white orchid spikes,
lit by the morning sun.

“I would die and go to heaven to see the White Fringed Orchis,”
to paraphrase what Andrew wrote to Jackie, commenting on her blog last summer.

Well, heaven came this year !

Then he got down to business and took some careful portraits of a flower that is almost completely gone from his home state of Ohio.

That’s when it struck me, how lucky we are. He's come a very long way to see something that I can see with a ten-minute drive.
What a wealth of riches we have in this area, botanically speaking!

After your eyes got used to the scenery, you saw these tender pale spikes all over the place.
We stepped gingerly as we explored the bog, while Andrew happily took photos.

The water seeping into my shoes felt refreshingly cold.
Jackie opted for the total-immersion method of cooling off.

Calapogon (Grass-Pink) was still in bloom.

If Rose-Pogonia is the Audrey Hepburn of our local orchids,
then Calapogon is the Katy Perry.

Tufted spikes of cotton-grass rose above mounds of Bog Rosemary.
We heard that comforting old song of the north,
Sam Peabody… Peabody …Peabody... from somewhere back in the spruces.
Hidden away beneath the tamarack branches, a few pitcher-plants tried to tempt us with a cup of water.

Thoreau would have headed straight for the huckleberries.

Each time I come here, once inside the bog, I get that feeling that it might as well be Labrador.  Few people seem to know about this place, and it’s pretty quiet and still in here. The moss absorbs sound as well as water.

The wet environment attracts water-loving insects like this May-fly.
Or would that be a July-fly?

I spotted a spider, and sat down beside her.
She really blends in with the orchis flowers.

I heard a distant voice, and looked up, and caught a glimpse of humans approaching.  What ! other people in “our” bog?

Then we saw who it was.
Of all people, it turned out to be Ed Miller and Nan Williams,
friends from the Thursday Naturalists !  

We were delighted to see them, and to be able to introduce Andrew to two of the most knowledgeable plant-folks in our area.
Soon the conversation was peppered with words like Blephariglottis, Desmodium, and Bartonia

There we stood, chatting away like old friends meeting on a street corner.
Only we were in the middle of this swamp,
as if this was THE Place to Be.
And it was.