Thursday, December 25, 2014

Comfort and Joy

December 25, 2014
Merry Christmas to one and all !

This year's Christmas carol comes from the mid-eighteenth century,with a tune first published during Thoreau's childhood. 
As with many carols, it came about as a festive alternative to the somber church songs of earlier times.
May you all be refreshed by the joys of the season!

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

In Bethlehem, in Israel,
This blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn
The which His Mother Mary
Did nothing take in scorn
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain Shepherds
Brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

"Fear not then," said the Angel,
"Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan's power and might."
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind:
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

And when they came to Bethlehem
Where our dear Saviour lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy

Thursday, October 16, 2014


October 17, 2014
Water's Edge, Hudson Falls, NY

I hear a cricket in the Depot field,
walk a rod or two,
and find the note proceeds from near a rock.
 HDT Journal, August 20, 1851

No matter how busy a person may be, the world keeps turning,
and the seasons progress.
Now the days become shorter, and tinged with a vague melancholy.

In the twilight – which arrives earlier and earlier each day – one can still hear katydids out in the yard.

The crunch of leaves underfoot foretells the end of the growing season
-- the end of many things, for a while, 
such as the evening songs of the crickets. 
We cling to the sounds and smells of Summer, hesitant to let it go.

This year, we’ve been granted an extension of sorts.
With the exception of a few chilly mornings, the temperatures have stayed well above normal.
We have yet to experience a frost.

And for a little while longer, the crickets are still with us – a summer sound which, for Thoreau, was always a harbinger of autumn.

They are shy as birds, these little bodies.
Those nearest me continually cease their song
    as I walk,
so that the singers are always a rod distant,
and I cannot easily detect one.
It is difficult, moreover, to judge correctly
    whence the sound proceeds.

They are somewhat protected
    by the universalness of the sound,
each one’s song being merged
    and lost in the general concert,
as if it were the creaking of earth’s axle.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Snappy Birth-day !

September 11, 2014
Water’s Edge, Hudson Falls NY

Back in June, we watched several snapping turtles emerge from the canal
and dig nests in our backyard, here at Water’s Edge.
There was construction going on at the time, but they kept appearing in the morning, digging here and there, ignoring the clamor around them,
seemingly oblivious to the risks they took with themselves and their offspring.

After all, they’ve chosen this spot for perhaps as long as the canal has been here
(it was built in the 1820s.)
 With cautious optimism, I’ve told my curious neighbors that we might see hatchlings some time around Labor Day.

On the last day of August, I did find one little guy,
back in my old neighborhood, along Meadowbrook Road.
(I know where to look for them there.)
Of course, I helped him get to the marshy slough across the road. 

A week later, despite all my apprehensions,
the long-awaited hatchlings appeared in our yard at Water’s Edge.

It was a warm clear evening,
and as several of us sat out on the porch after sunset,
one neighbor mentioned that about an hour ago,
someone had seen "a little turtle" out there in the grass.

I jumped out of my chair and the search was on !
We found four of the little guys  --
there they were, clambering over the grass and weeds,
right out in the open.

Despite sod, concrete, large stones, a vigilant family of crows,
and other obstacles,
they had left their well-hidden nests
and headed straight toward the canal.

They were not fooled by the swimming pool, which they bypassed.
It was that murky canal water they aimed for. 
Home sweet home.

We were witness to a miracle -- to see how they had triumphed,
despite the odds being against them.

And on September 11, 1854,
Thoreau wrote in his
Journal of a similar evening:

It is surprising how much cunning it already exhibits.
It is defended both by its form and color
and its instincts….

When to-day it lay within half an inch of the water’s edge,
it knew it for a friendly element and,
without deliberation or experiment,
but at last,
when it thought me and all foes unobservant of its motions,
with remarkable precipitation
it committed itself to it
as if realizing a long-cherished idea. …

It does not so much impress me as an infantile beginning of life
as an epitome of all the past of turtledom
and of the earth.

P.S. – Special “Snappy Birth-day” wishes for my friend
and fellow nature-blogger   Andrew Lane Gibson,
whose birth-day it is to-day.
May you also realize long-cherished ideas in the coming year !

Saturday, August 2, 2014


June 26, 2014
Here and There

More mid-summer thoughts ...
there is so much going on in the natural world right now,
so many different flowers blooming,
so much leafy abundance,
that it's almost overwhelming.

But then again, it's meant to be !

We now have roses on the land
and lilies on the water,
-- both land and water have done their best, --
now just after the longest day.
Nature says,
“You behold the utmost I can do.”
 HDT Journal, June 26, 1852

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hunters of the Beautiful

June 21, 2014 - Summer Solstice
Orra Phelps Preserve, Wilton, NY
and Moreau Lake State Park, NY

To begin this summer, Jackie and I planned one more full day of walking.
It was a Saturday, the Longest Day of the Year, and I had all day to ramble !
In the afternoon we would visit Moreau Lake. For the morning, we both signed up for a walk led by Linda Eastman, a nature photographer from Broadalbin, New York.
The walk took place in
Orra Phelps Preserve, where paths wander through lush shady woods along the Snook Kill creek.

Linda started right at the beginning, with a discussion of the basic concepts of photography, and shared some practical tips as well.

She also had worksheets for us to take, with practice exercises to do on our own. 
Those of us who participated may have varying levels of experience, and own cameras of all sizes and shapes, but we seem to have one thing in common -- we are all hunters of the beautiful.

 Forest Tent Caterpillar

Along the campground road in Moreau,
several cars slowed down" to help," but Jackie was only
checking out the cool liverworts we found !

Thanks to Linda, for sharing her wisdom with us, and to Saratoga PLAN for organizing another great excursion.
And now to go forth on a summer’s day, with a particular Journal entry tumbling around in my head:

I wish to begin this summer well;
to do something in it worthy of it and of me;
to transcend my daily routine
and that of my townsmen;
to have my immortality now,
that it be in the quality of my daily life;
to pay the greatest price, the greatest tax,
     of any man in Concord,
and enjoy the most!!
I will give all I am for my nobility.
I will pay all my days for my success.
I pray that the life of this spring and summer
     may lie fair in my memory.

May I dare as I have never done!
May I persevere as I have never done!
May I purify myself anew as with fire and water,
     soul and body!
May my melody not be wanting to the season!
May I gird myself to be a hunter of the beautiful,
     that naught escape me!

        HDT, Journal, March 15, 1852

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Day Before Summer

June 20, 2014
Along the Powerlines

And so the seasons went rolling on into summer,
as one rambles into higher and higher grass.

-HDT, Walden

The third and last day of my vacation, I planned to walk with Jackie up to the Spring Overlook, which has become a sort of Solstice tradition.
The skies were full of gentle sunshine and small clouds, so typical of a June day.
Before meeting her for our walk, I made a stop at the powerline easement at Mud Pond, to check for Wood Lilies in bloom.
Two years ago-- before some major clearing and herbicide spraying occurred here -- we had counted over 80 lilies in one short section.  Last summer, we saw but a handful.
Today, I was hard-pressed to find ten rather small plants.
The effects of the spraying seem to last for more than a year ... must be pretty nasty stuff !

All were still in bud. They are blooming later than usual, as are many other plants this year. 
On the way back to the car, I almost stepped on this one – in full bloom. 

Glaringly bright and beautiful…
yet I had walked right past it on the way in!
So basically, my day was complete:  I’d seen a Wood Lily on Mid-Summer Eve.
Anything else would be gravy.

There’s a section of easement on the way up to the Spring Overlook too, which was part of our plan. That’s the first spot we had seen these lilies, a few years ago. 
We started up the Spring Overlook trail, and after a short time walking through the woods, reached the easement crossing.
Lots of careful searching revealed oceans of ferns, 

lots of whorled loosestrife, and deer tongue grass -- but no lilies in bloom.
We did find one lily plant in bud, about 8 inches high, tucked in among the ferns.

At that point, Jackie suggested a change of plan.
Well, we had all day -- why not?
She knew of another section of easement, a mile or two to the east, and it led up a ridge that had intrigued us for a long time. Jackie had gone partway up this ridge, back in the fall.
Not only could we check for lilies there, she said, there would be fine views of the river valley as well.
So we returned to our cars and drove back to the other easement.

View from the road

Only problem was, there was no trail. Whatsoever.
From a distance, it looked like easy walking, but soon we were waist-deep in ferns and brambly brush. Uh… I muttered to myself … there’s not enough tick repellent in the world to protect you in a place like that !

As we worked our way up, the walking would get easier, at openings in the brush, then harder where the plants surged taller again.
Shady woods bordered the easement on both sides.
But the plants we sought would be out in the open -- so through the ferns we went.

Then I heard a noise, like a large dragonfly a-buzzing.
It got louder and louder, and I looked down at the river valley to see a little black helicopter, flying along the powerlines, just above the tops of the metal pylons.  

And it was heading our way !
“Hey, er …. let’s go into the woods till they pass by,” I suggested, thinking of how we were, technically, trespassing. 
“Nah,” said Jackie.  “We’re just looking at flowers.”
I started searching for an easy way over the woods, as the chopper noise got louder.

There were piles of slash here and there, from previous clearing work.

“Oh !” she suggested.  “--maybe they are SPRAYING”
– at which point, I lept like an spastic deer, over to the edge of the woods.
There I stood under the trees, knees shaking.
The buzzing was a dull roar now. I could see Jackie standing in the clearing, her bright pink shirt shining in the sun, giving a friendly little wave at the sky.

It sounded as if the helicopter hovered in place for a moment --
(although I’m not sure, since I was cowering in the woods, thinking of those Vietnam movies where the platoon leader yells,
 “Don’t look up !”)

Of course, the chopper did nothing;
it moved on, whirring its way up and over the ridge on its maintenance mission.

Jackie did NOT collapse, clutching her throat from herbicide exposure;
and I regained my composure enough to venture out into the open expanse again.

We walked some more, and stopped for lunch in the shade of the woods’ edge.
(That’s probably where we picked up all the ticks- not in the brush. We found a bunch of them on our clothes, back at the cars. Surprisingly, they were wood ticks, not deer ticks.)

After lunch (during which the helicopter came back down the slope !) we resumed our upward walk, not going very far before looking up to see a decidedly steeper section. 

It seemed best to call it a day.
I think Jackie would have gone for it, had she been on her own.

The view on the way down was fantastic – you could see all the way upriver to the Dam.

It's that little blue line just under the horizon

Jackie added two new plants to her life list –
which is remarkable, since her list is very long.
My life list gets added to almost every time we go a-botanizing together.

Desmodium rotundifolium

Monday, June 30, 2014

To Float Thus

The Fen, Queensbury NY
June 19, 2014

To float thus on the silver-plated stream
Is like embarking on a train of thought itself.
You are surrounded by water,
Which is full of reflections;
And you see the earth at a distance,
Which is very agreeable to the imagination.

   HDT Journal, August 14, 1854

The second day of my small vacation promises to be clear and sunny,
with less wind in the forecast. 
I hastily fetch my boat from the storage bin, and am on the waters at The Fen by 8 a.m. 

The Fen is hardly wilderness; it’s right off the road to Glen Lake, and within earshot of the Northway.
At its southwest end, it brushes by a huge amusement park. Later in the morning you will hear the muffled roar of roller coasters, and faint screams carried on the wind.
But at this hour, I have the marsh all to myself.

Among the Leatherleaf and grasses at the put-in,
a tiny spark of pink catches my eye  - a Rose Pogonia!
This one is still curled in sleep and covered with morning dew.

I’ve seen this small and elegant native orchid in places further north – is this just a fluke, or are there others back in the fen? I vow to keep an eye out for more of them.

Pushing off  – ah that moment when gravity drops away, and I am floating.
The still water reflects the clouds, and the boat is a bird in the sky.

It’s early yet; the white water-lilies are still nodding their little heads.
When morning sun shines upon the water, they awake, enlightened.

One can never take enough photos of water-lilies.
I am strongly attracted to my name-sakes.
Each one seems more beautiful than the one before.

A superb flower,
our lotus queen of the waters.

How sweet innocent, wholesome its fragrance.
How pure its white petals,
though its root is in the mud.

    HDT Journal, June 26, 1852

Paddling against the sluggish current, I pass several small forks in the stream.
I take one of them back into a wider pondy section.
Suddenly I see more Rose Pogonias, blooming delicately amid Leatherleaf, Bog Rosemary, Water Willow and all sorts of grasses and reeds.

Another bit of color are the dainty beaks of cranberry-flowers.

Sprinkled here and there, floating on underwater leaves full of tiny air-pockets, is Common Bladderwort.

The young leaves of Pickerelweed poke up out of the water, but there are no flowers yet. When they bloom, the shore will be lined with purple.
Arrow Arum is not blooming yet either, but the foliage has a splendor of its own.

On little islands, the flower-stalks of Pitcher Plants stand alert
like so many pinwheels.

I float along, hearing the creech of a Broad-Wing overhead and the sad whistles of an Oriole from the oaks above the cove.

I'm sad too, to find a little orange symbol flashing on my camera, telling me it's time to replace the battery - and the spare battery is back at the car !

Not until I turn about for the return do I meet anyone else. I can hear them long before they come around the bend.
It's the happy chatter of three friends who are out paddling the Fen for the first time.
I show them where to find the Rose Pogonia.
They never knew that orchids grow in New York, and are delighted to see it. 

This is a good time to come here. Soon there will be many more lily-pads stretching across the narrow channel, making it too difficult to paddle.

I drift back slowly. There’s time to think, and not-think.

The sun’s glare coats the pads with silver,
and lights up the lilies like candles.