Wednesday, August 29, 2012

We Can Imagine

August 11, 2012
A visit to Olmstedville, NY

Wherever there is a channel for water
there is a road for the canoe.
It is said that some Western steamers
can run on a heavy dew,
whence we can imagine what a canoe may do.
HDT, The Allegash and East Branch, 1864


I’ve been paddling a plastic kayak for about three years now, having lots of fun with it on the river and ponds around here. It has floated me on Walden Pond, and some of Thoreau’s favorite rivers, too. It weighs thirty-eight pounds, is nine feet long, stable as hell, and fits inside my car.

But I knew, years ago, when I first saw my neighbor Margaret’s boat, that its days were numbered.
One day, there was a yellow canoe in the upstairs hallway of our apartment building.
“It’s a Hornbeck,” Margaret said. “Pick it up.”
Well the darn thing hardly weighed anything !
Not being from around here, I had said, “What’s a Hornbeck?”

Soon I seemed to be surrounded by people who had these boats, my pal Jackie among them.
She is a tireless promoter of them, since they are ideal for people who cannot lift or carry heavy boats. It has freed her and many others to explore ponds that require a lengthy walk to get to, or just to go paddling alone, without needing help loading and unloading.

For about a year, she has offered to let me use her boat, for an hour, or for the day, and I resisted feebly, offering up a bunch of lame excuses.
A month ago, I gave in, and tried it.
We had been paddling at Pyramid Lake, and I had experienced a pretty hard time keeping up with her in my kayak, the ironically-named Swifty.

She said quietly, as so many times before, give my boat a try.
As soon as I got in, and paddled a few strokes in that Hornbeck,
I knew the Swifty’s time was up !

Three weeks ago, I found myself eating pizza with Peter Hornbeck and his crew, under the maple tree in front of their boatworks. (This is part of their high-pressure sales technique, apparently.)
Most people who make the drive to Olmstedville already know what they are searching for.
That's Pete in the red hat. It's certainly a unique experience to visit his shop in the woods. And to meet the folks who would be building your boat right there.

After test-paddling several boats and paddles in their pond, it was time to make a decision. (Justin is one patient guy !)


Yes I waited another whole week, then went back for more test-paddling, and before leaving that day, ordered a ten-foot BlackJack.

Two weeks later – yesterday – the boat was ready.
I’ve been like a kid unable to get to sleep on Christmas eve,
just from the an-ti-ci-pa-tion.

My buddy Rick came over from Vermont, and once again we took the drive north to the boat shop. After doing some final fitting-out, the new boat went for a dip in her native pond.

She’s a thing of beauty, and weighs all of twelve pounds.
Guess what? I still can't sleep!
Dreaming of what a canoe can do.

Heat Lightning

Any night in early August
Queensbury, NY

It’s been a stormy month – days that begin hot and clear, and end with dark clouds and thunder.
Not enough rain, though.

This was the view out back one evening.
 I’ve slowed things down and added some wierd music for your enjoyment !

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Shades of Green

August 1 and August 9, 2012
Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park

How much of beauty – of color, as well as form –
on which our eyes daily rest
goes unperceived by us !
No one but a botanist is like to distinguish nicely
the different shades of green
with which the open surface of the earth is clothed –
not even a landscape-painter
if he does not know the species of sedges and grasses
which paint it.
HDT Journal, August 1, 1860

Today, August 9th, is the anniversary of the publication of Walden !

How better to observe the occasion than by walking with the Thursday Naturalists – and at my own favorite place in the world, to boot!

I am the Trail Steward for the trail that circles around Mud Pond, so it was my honor to have them visit. 
Jackie was leading the walk. We both come here fairly often. Not only could I steer them to a certain plant or two along this familiar trail, but they-- most surely-- could show me something new.

Jackie and I had done a scouting-walk a week earlier, to see what might be of especial interest to our botanizing friends. We thought that an area of shoreline we call the Delta would be a fruitful place for “the TNs” to explore.  It’s where a seasonal stream comes down to the pond’s edge.
It's dry at this time of year, so we’d be able to follow the streambed down, from the trail to the waterside.

The water is quite low in Mud Pond -- it is living up to its name now.
But that makes it easier for shoreline browsing --  for us and for deer,
who left plenty of tracks along the soft edges of the pond.
You could see where they had selectively nibbled the leafy tops of the
Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants along the stream.

Just as Jackie and I were leaving that first day, a Swallowtail butterfly came to visit, sampling the tiny flowers of Blue Vervain.

We also saw an American Lady butterfly, who is quite colorful on top –
when her wings are open.  But she would not open her wings flat.
She perched, folded, to reveal a second and equally beautiful lacy pattern below. They greatly resemble the Painted Lady butterfly, but if you can see only the underwing, remember that “American Ladies have Big Eyes!”
A week later, we met the Naturalists at the north end of the pond.  First stop: the dry sandy powerline area, to see Bluecurls --
Art-Nouveau in indigo:

As soon as we walked to that first view of the pond, we saw an adult Bald Eagle lift up from the shoreline, and fly across the water. That was quite a treat, as we usually see eagles here only in the winter.
He perched on the far side among the pines, where it was difficult to see him in the hazy morning air.
He stayed awhile, watching these curious humans -- humans who stared at the ground and every so often exclaimed with delight at the many shoreline treasures.

At the pond's edge, we found Utricularia gibba – Humped Bladderwort --
tiny pale balloons coming up out of the mud.
Mud Pond is as low as I have ever seen it.

We trod carefully on a fine green carpet of Water-Purslane, False Pimpernel.
Along the shoreline there were other colors sprinkled in.
I always pickup when on the trail – the odd bottle or candy-wrapper
here and there.
This is the creepiest litter I have found yet:
(Wonder how she got here?)
All in all, it was a fine way to spend the morning, and despite having to do a bit of bush-wacking to get to the Delta, I trust that my botanist-friends had a good time too!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


August 3, 2012
Warren County Bike Path, Queensbury NY

I would fain improve every opportunity
to wonder and worship
as a sunflower welcomes the light.
The more thrilling, wonderful, divine objects
I behold in a day,
the more expanded and immortal I become.
    HDT’s Journal, August 30, 1856

Ah, there’s just enough time for a quick stroll along the Bike Trail.

I should have left the camera at home, in the interest of walking fast without all the usual stops.
Maybe today I will get some aerobic exercise, for a change.

Of all the common Woodland Sunflowers that line the trail’s edges,
one in particular catches my eye.

It seems to be winking at me !

I stoop close to take a photo.

Then -- suddenly there is movement from under that flap,
and a flash of legs --
I jump back, repulsed –
this flower played a joke on me:

After the initial mutual shock of discovery, Ms. Spider and I gaze upon each other.

She is really quite beautiful, in her own eight-legged way. 

I must appear enormous and strange to her, yet she stands her ground, and gives me, quite literally, the hairy eyeball.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Paths of Her Own

July 29, 2012
Putty Pond, north of North Creek, NY

It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him.
He knew the country like a fox or a bird,
and passed through it as freely
by paths of his own. …

One must submit abjectly to such a guide,
and the reward was great.
      Emerson’s eulogy for Thoreau, May 9, 1862

I’ve only gone a-walking with Evelyn Greene twice, but each time these words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, describing his friend Henry Thoreau, came to mind.  She is indeed “such a guide,” and today she was taking Jackie and me up to Putty Pond, near Thirteenth Lake.

Well, at least it was where Putty Pond used to be a long time ago.

Now it is a wet meadow, and home to a crop of Hooded Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiani),  a native orchid that blooms at this time of year. Though it was dwarfed by various grasses and sedges, its flower spikes were little lights all over the sunny meadow. A new plant, for me.  

And there were familiar plants, too. I was admiring the maroon top-leaves of this Boneset plant, and didn’t see the little Crab Spider hiding there,
till I got home and saw the photo on the big screen.

We high-stepped here and there around the meadow, trying not to tread on anything.

Evelyn was first to notice this striking and striped Dragonfly.
We admired it for some time, from every angle, without ever determining its name. Some sort of Mosaic or Swamp Darner perhaps?

It was quite a hot day, and we stopped at the Garnet Hill Lodge. There the affable innkeeper, Don, stopped to chat with us, while we sipped iced teas on the Porch, and took in the view toward Thirteenth Lake.

The Lodge is open all year, and trails head out to various wilderness sites from here. I had never been here before, but it would be nice to come again.

After our re-freshment, Evelyn led us along a short trail that leads to the former Hooper Mine.  Jackie and I happily trotted behind, having no idea where she was leading us, but not caring.

Just a short distance through the woods to a large large opening.

Here were red rocks that reminded me of Utah !

But the real “red rocks” that the mining company was interested in back in the 1890s were actually the gems imbedded in these cliffs – garnets --which gave their name to Garnet Hill, Ruby Mountain and other nearby places.

The three of us walked around in the bottom of what is now a quiet amphitheatre, trying to imagine the crash and rumbles of a working mine.
(It ceased operation in the twenties.) We looked about to see what sort of plants would grow here.

If there was any question about what we saw, Evelyn would stop right there, and pull a well-thumbed copy of Newcomb’s from her backpack, which was heavy with field-guides of all sorts.

It’s the time of year that Pearly Everlasting is in full bloom. While not as fragrant as its cousin, Sweet Everlasting,  one can imagine it gracing Victorian parlors nonetheless.

There were tall tamaracks, and tiny toadlets too.

We took the long way 'round back to Evelyn’s house, and stopped to take in a view of the High Peaks, far to the north.  But not all that far from home.
And that is our great fortune.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


July 25, 2012
Hudson River, South Glens Falls, NY

Always the general show of things
Floats in review before my mind,
And such true love and reverence brings,
That sometimes I forget that I am blind.
~ Henry David Thoreau poem Inspiration

As if to drive home the theme of the last blog entry’s quote,
Nature offered up more delights on my next visit to the River, just three days later.

This time, when Jackie and I set out early in the morning, a light but steady wind was ruffling up the water.

Oh heck I thought, we won’t see anything today !
Gone was the placid face of the river, where every ripple betrays some interesting creature. Even the flowers along the shoreline were thrashing around too much for any decent photos. And forget seeing dragonflies or other delicate insects.

For me it would also mean some tougher paddling, as my kayak and paddle would have to fight the wind. (It never seems to bother Jackie in her Hornbeck.)

We paddled upriver anyway, just a short distance today.

First, we lingered in the quiet lagoon that was once a holding-pond for log drives.
Not five minutes into our excursion, I paused to see what might be growing on the artificial barrier island that divides the shallow lagoon in two.

Jackie turned and saw me speechless (a rarity) – I was pointing to a tall sprig of Wild Senna – something that, earlier this month, we had paddled quite some distance to see in another section of the river.

This  skinny island was covered with it ! And I swear, I didn’t see this blooming last week when I passed this very spot. I must have been blind !

It just shows you what happens when you forego expectations.  Nature is full of surprises.

Even if they are not a rarity, and even if I've been seeing them all summer,
I am always transported by visions of water-lilies.

After some stiff paddling for a short distance upriver, we poked into another larger lagoon, where there were painted turtles basking. Even now, they are so cagey that you barely see them and plop ! -- they are gone.
Jackie espied a larger one, just hanging out on a log.

Having nothing better to do, we made a game of it, and edged closer
and closer in our boats, to see just how long Mr. Turtle would tolerate our presence.
Well, you can get closer by using the zoom lens....

But as you can see, he let us get pretty close !

“Is he alive?” Jackie wondered.
Yes he was, and after a long time having us gaze at him from different angles, he waved us off, and we were more than happy to leave him to his sunbathing.

Then we stowed our boats, and drove back over the bridge and around to Haviland Cove Park, almost directly across the river from our paddling-spot.

There was a river-plant I wanted to show to Jackie, and it turned out to be a lovely place to sit and have our lunch.

The wind was still skirling about, and a dark leaf landed on the muddy shore.
Only it was not a leaf, but a Giant Swallowtail butterfly.

Madame Butterfly was intent on sampling the mineral-rich mud in one particular spot (this is called puddling) and, like the turtle, she patiently posed for photos. Even close-ups !
(Click on the second photo to see the wing-scales.)

Here’s what we nature-nerds would consider an “action shot.” 

But as you can see, such dedication is worth it !

One last treat to share from today – as we were heading to the take-out, I saw movement in a very shallow spot on the far side of the lagoon. I approached carefully, sure of what I had seen – two snapping turtles ! Oops, looked like a private moment...

They saw me too, and immediately ducked underwater. If a snapper doesn’t want to be seen, you ain’t gonna see him.
They don’t splash, or make any noise at all, they just sink silently, and hang out just deep enough that you can’t see them beneath the surface glare.

But being a certified Turtle Monitor, I knew they were there.  Turtles can teach us patience.
I drifted up closer and waited. That was worth it too.