Saturday, January 26, 2013

Coldest Night

January 22, 2013
At Home This Morning

It seems the cold snap we had a few weeks ago was just a “warm-up”
for Old Man Winter’s run at us.

I don’t feel like venturing outside this morning, and am glad to be prepared for these lower temperatures.

Flannel sheet on the bed

Long-johns at the ready

Draft-dodgers in the windowsill

And a treat for when I get home from work, near midnight!

But I am not complaining. Most of us modern folk have but brief contact with the bitter cold, dashing from heated building to heated car to heated building again. The fruits of modern technology --  including polypro underwear, super-insulated homes, efficient woodstoves, and central heating  --have lessened the impacts of normal winter weather.
What would a night like this have been, in Thoreau’s time?
Fortunately, we have his Journal, and he is the best one to tell us:

The coldest night for a long, long time was last.
Sheets froze stiff about the faces.
Cat mewed to have the door opened,
but was at first disinclined to go out.
When she came in at nine she smelt of meadow-hay.
We all took her up and smelled of her, it was so fragrant.
Had cuddled in some barn.

People dreaded to go to bed.
The ground cracked in the night
as if a powder-mill had blown up,
and the timbers of the house also.
My pail of water was frozen in the morning
so that I could not break it.
Must leave many buttons unbuttoned,
owing to numb fingers.
Iron was like fire in the hands.

Thermometer at about 7:30 A.M.
gone into the bulb, -19 degrees at least.
The cold has stopped the clock.

Every bearded man in the street is a graybeard.
cheese, etc., etc., all frozen.
See the inside of your cellar door all covered
and sparkling with frost like Golconda.

Pity the poor who have not a large wood-pile.
The latches are white with frost,
and every nail-head in entries, etc., has a white cap.

The chopper hesitates to go to the woods.
Yet I see S.W.—stumping past,
three quarters of a mile for his morning dram.
   HDT Journal, February 7, 1855

Friday, January 25, 2013

In the Midst of Abundance

January 21, 2013
Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park, NY

We pray for your blessing
because without it,
we will only see scarcity in the midst of abundance.
But with your blessing we will recognize
the abundance of the gifts of this good land
with which you have endowed this nation.

   Rev. Luis Leon, Closing Prayer at the Presidential Inauguration ceremony,
January 21, 2013

After several more dark and damp winter days, the clouds (and my mood) lifted.
(As they both always do.)
Monday was going to be colder and cloudy, but no wind, so it was a good time to revisit Mud Pond to see what was happening there.
The trail was packed down and crunchy.
No chance of sneaking up on any critters this way !

Instead, I bushwacked off the beaten path, which was easy in the shallow snow.
I went  searching for signs of life.
At first glance, it seemed a bleak landscape.

But looking closer, there were signs of abundance.
Steadfast friends,  low-growing plants

Some of which are beautiful even in their demise.

Hepaticas huddled under the snow, planning their Spring Wardrobes
(“what are YOU planning to wear? I’m going with a pale lilac.”)

I wished to see something grand -- like an Eagle flying over the pond, or one of the Beavers in the channel that now connects the New Lodge with the Old one.

As far as critters, I saw nary a one. 

Instead, I was content with the clues left behind

Where someone had passed by, perhaps only hours ago

These are the distinctive tracks of the Fisher.

The pond level is still very low, and you can walk easily along the exposed shoreline.

Always an opportunity to do some trail maintance!
If you were grossed out by the deer poop photo, this should upset you more – at least the poop is biodegradable ... 

(Despite the noble claims on the label, this thing was never going to recycle itself.)

Into the bag it goes, and I wander onward along the shore.
Here there are more signs of abundance – on a very small scale.

Small and tender leaves  – but they are not defenseless

All are ready to spring forth when the right time comes.

Some don’t grow in size at all, but just endure, like the liverworts and mosses.

This specimen is about one inch across – note the even tinier snail shell perched on top.

The more I looked into the frozen mud at the pond’s edge, the more I saw.
There was a whole thriving green community of tiny organisms.
Even if I don't know all their names, it's nice to know they are there.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Unburied Summer

January 13, 2013
Betar Path, South Glens Falls, NY

Sunday. P. M. - Nut Meadow Brook.
The river is broadly open, as usual this winter.
You can hardly say that we have had any sleighing at all this winter,
though five or six inches of snow lay on the ground five days after January 6th.
But I do not quite like this warm weather
and bare ground at this season.
What is a winter without snow and ice in this latitude?
The bare earth is unsightly.
This winter is but unburied summer.
HDT Journal, January 24, 1858

Sunday. P.M. – Hudson River.
We are in the spell of the January Thaw, which arrived right on schedule.
This year it seems to have extended into a second full week, which I don’t recall happening before.
Jackie came up to visit today, and we have been indoors most of this afternoon, going over a slide presentation we are going to give next month on Spring Flowers at Moreau Lake.
Calling it a day, we hastened down to the riverside trail in South Glens Falls for a short walk before sundown. Which would come soon, it being an overcast day.
Neither of us was wearing winter gear, and so we hose the Betar Path, which is actually plowed and cleared all winter.

Driving to the Falls, we neared the River, and saw a tremendous fog bank paralleling the river valley. We parked our cars at the trail entrance, and proceeded to stroll along the path, which follows right along the river's edge.

The day got darker and gloomier as we walked on.
This warmish air, coming into contact with the thin layer of old snow, was kicking up this dense fog.
It was as if a dark coverlet was being drawn over the town.

Maybe it was because I had just spent hours looking at photos of colorful spring flowers – but the day seemed absolutely dismal.
Like Thoreau, I am wishing hard right now for a nice fresh coat of snow.
Winter, despite a slightly snowy beginning, seems to have stalled out.

So today we grasped at the crumbs Nature had left us -
-- crows raucously coming in to their evening roost on a wooded island,
-- the dried remains of various waterside flowers,  
and startlingly red globs of sumac-fuzz and bittersweet husks strewn here and there on the faded snow.

But you won’t see any photos of these things today, since none of those came out. It was just too dark and dreary.
I'm trying not to catch this somber mood.
It just goes to show you, winter around here is not all sunshine and sparkles!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Second Snow

Otter Point, Moreau Lake State Park, NY
December 30, 2012

It is pleasant to walk now
through open and stately white pine woods. …
It is cold but still in their midst,
where the snow is untracked by man,
and ever and anon you see the snow-dust,
shone on by the sun,
falling from their tops and,
as it strikes the lower limbs,
producing innumerable new showers.
For, as after a rain there is a second rain in the woods,
so after a light snow
there is a second snow in the woods,
when the wind rises.

   HDT Journal, December 17, 1851

Time for a quick trip back to the recent past, a day to be remembered as a glimpse of winter beauty. After the bustle of the holidays, both Jackie and I were itching to get outdoors, and the first real snowfall just added incentive.

At the Potter Road Gate, we happily put on snowshoes.
Mine had been virtually unused the previous winter.
See how happy Jackie is be out playing in the snow!

We walked down through the woods in the fluffy snow, to some setbacks along the Hudson River. On the maps the area is called Potter Point, but we have renamed it Otter Point, after seeing sign of these critters consistently here.

Overnight, a light snowfall had come down and rested on the tree branches.
Being fine and dry, it was delicately balanced.
The slightest puff of air would soon dislodge it, and the forecast was for gusty winds by afternoon – one reason why we wanted to be out here early.

It would be a good day to see Second Snow !

And as we walked in the hemlock woods, the sun filtered through the trees.
Ever and anon, (as Henry would say) a breath of air would come through,
 and we would be dusted with sparkles.

The edges of the river were partially frozen, but all of this ice is decidedly unsafe to walk on. That's West Mountain, shining across the river.

We didn’t go too far. It was good to breathe the crisp air, and lope around on snowshoes again. And of course, take pictures of any little thing that caught our fancy.

Like these odd raised tracks - who walked here during the night?

And here's a surprising walker - this little Orbweaver spider, who rappelled from a hemlock branch, and picked her way delicately on top of the snow.

 We walked out to Rippled Rocks, an open point of land where you can see up and down river. I remember paddling to this warm cove in the summer, gazing at flowers!

The cracking of the river ice ends that reverie.
There were a few little bursts of wind overhead, as we stood there blinking in the bright sunshine. Looking back toward the hills, you could see hazy wisps of snow blow out from the treetops, smoke-like.

The wind gusts got a little stronger.

Suddenly, one long sustained blow came through –
and it looked like the mountain was on fire !
We stood with mouths agape.
What else could we do, with such a vision before us?

    [Music: New World Symphony]

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

On Snowshoes

January 6, 2013
Un-named Trail nearby

We are hunters pursuing the summer
on snowshoes and skates,
all winter long.
There is really but one season in our hearts.
   HDT Journal, December 6, 1856

Another day in which to spend hours outdoors ! It continues warm today, hanging around the freezing mark. (It takes a good cold snap to make 30 degrees seem nice and toasty.)

Today Jackie and I were invited to join some of the Adirondack Pirate Paddlers on a land-expedition. These Pirates are not just summer-sailors, but enjoy outdoor pursuits year-round. It's a sort of shore party.
We meet them at a certain trailhead not far away. There are daunting signs that strike terror into my heart, but it seems I'm the only one it frightens.

Well, we'll walk gently in this beautiful area.
In fact, some of us did some Trashpaddling right there at the trailhead. Thanks to the long-distance influence of our friend Al -- whose transparent image appears on one's shoulder like Jiminy Cricket when litter is spotted -- that area is cleaner now than it was when we arrived !

It's a popular area with locals, and we see people skiing, walking dogs, and snowmobiling during the course of the day. Not all at once, of course.

It is unexplored territory for me, and it’s nice to be here with folks who are familiar with the lay of the land here.
Last year, there was almost no snow, mostly crunchy ice.
We all know that these conditions could change in just a few days - the January Thaw is coming next week, right on schedule.

Despite its age, the snow cover remains soft and fluffy. We don our snowshoes and file into the sound-absorbent woods, chatting and getting to know each other, or merely catching up on news.
It's interesting to be tromping through the snow, and hearing lots of talk about paddling. Visions of summer are truly never far from our thoughts.

Then we go up

And up

And whew ! it’s time to peel off a layer.
It’s great to feel so comfortable yet surrounded by a cold landscape.
[I am thanking Santa Claus for my Christmas present right now. I'll bet Henry Thoreau was never able to enjoy the merits of silk longjohns !]

The Captain and Jacques lead us up and around the western edge of the long narrow pond.
There are some pretty huge hemlocks here and there, and later we see some giant white pines. At some point in time, this area had been logged. These old-timer trees remain.

Everywhere are deer trails, looping and dragging around the soft ridges.
It took days for them to create all these tracks, but one can imagine it all happening at once during one great big Deer Dance Night.

Whew ! these guys go non-stop.
It’s all I can do to snap a quick photo before they disappear around the bend.

We cross a brook,

Then head downwards, which is fun on snowshoes that have a good upturn at the tip.
(My old wooden raquettes were completely flat, and the tips would catch on crusty snow, resulting in many unscheduled faceplants.)

No faceplants today, but I am starting to get clumsy after several hours of snow-walking.
Finally I plead for a halt, mainly so we can all pause for a tiny taste of a seasonal treat:

[photo courtesy of Jackie Donnelly]

Mmm, snow is delicious anytime, but this is pretty good.
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of ... Bailey's ? [There goes our Pirate Street Cred ...]
Some snowmobiles approach noisily.
The Captain ponders some "piratical action" against them, but the only plan he comes up with is using "one of our wenches" as a decoy.
Being vastly out-numbered by said wenches, that plan is quickly voted down.
The snow machines buzz on and away, unaware of their brush with Danger.

At this point we are almost back to the starting place. 

Time for one last stop -- the obligatory group photo of today's shore party:

 Ellie, The Captain, Kristen, Jackie, Jacques Deuxlames

Then Ellie took the camera so I could get into the picture –
(a rarity.)

Why is there a big arrow pointing to the Captain's head?

All in all, it was a great time to be out tromping around in the woods with some new friends.
Bring on the snow!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Parlor of the Fishes

January 5, 2013
Moreau Lake State Park, NY

Then to my morning work.
First I take an axe and pail and go in search of water,
if that be not a dream. …
Standing on the snow-covered plain,
as if in a pasture amid the hills,
I cut my way first through a foot of snow,
and then a foot of ice,
and open a window under my feet,
where, kneeling to drink,
I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes,
pervaded by a softened light
as through a window of ground glass,
with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer;
there a perennial waveless serenity reigns
as in the amber twilight sky,
corresponding to the cool and even temperament
of the inhabitants.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
   HDT, Walden, “The Pond in Winter”

A visit to Moreau Lake began and ended with fishes today.
It had been a while since either of us had been over to the Big Lake, so Jackie and I decided to meet there today when we heard that it had finally frozen over.

Once there are 4 inches of ice, you just can’t keep the ice-fisherman off the lake.
It was a pretty popular place to be this weekend, since many other local fishing-spots are still open water.

We came not to fish, but instead, cut across one end of the lake to get to the Red Oak Trail. 
Jackie laughs at my skittishness, as I realize that I am walking over deep water.
Well at least today, the ice wasn't making any noises!  Still, it's a somewhat sobering concept, especially since the ice is varied, with all sorts of holes and cracks.

(By the way, my mother's back is just fine!)
Returning to dry land, we headed up the trail. The trees were striped with snow, which must have blown in from the east the other day.

We stopped at Zen Brook - which is still tumbling freely down the hillside, creating lacy frills of ice here and there.

I become fascinated by the edges where two worlds meet – in this case, solid and liquid.

After some time at the Brook, we had an appointment with a Tree with large buds, whose identity was a disputed subject. That cleared up once we saw the telltale fuzz surrounding the buds, which form in late fall – it was as we had suspected, a shadbush.

But we couldn’t stay away from the Lake for long. The sun was shining, and folks were fishing, walking dogs, skating and generally enjoying the thin warmth of the day.

As we walked along the sunny shoreline, I saw an insect fly by – and took his photo when he landed on the snow. Can anyone identify him?

And nearby, what looked like a giant version (1/8 inch long) of a springtail.
(I have enlarged him for detail)

The ice on the lake was almost snow-free, and full of curious spidery shapes (which we were careful to avoid)

Some like comets

Some like eyes

And some that were full of bubbly jewels, if you got down close to observe them.

As if jealous of all this attention turned downward, the Sky himself put on a show for us.
From the northwest, there suddenly appeared clouds of such dramatic shapes

they were impossible to ignore

After some sky-gazing, it was time to call it a day.
And what a day it was !

We walked slowly, stalling, like kids not ready to come in for dinner.

We stopped to chat with a few of the fishermen, who patiently answered our questions. Some of them had been here since before sunrise --
and you know, some things have not changed since Thoreau’s time …

Early in the morning,
while all things are crisp with frost,
men come with fishing-reels and slender lunch,

and let down their fine lines through the snowy field
to take pickerel and perch;

wild men,
who instinctively follow other fashions
and trust other authorities than their townsmen,
and by their goings and comings
stitch towns together
in parts where else they would be ripped.

They sit and eat their luncheon in stout fear-naughts
on the dry oak leaves on the shore,
as wise in natural lore
as the citizen is in artificial.

   HDT, Walden, “The Pond in Winter”