Monday, October 16, 2017

Sunday Lunch on the River

Sunday was such a summery day, with a  bright blue sky and lots of brilliant sunshine -- a perfect day for lunch on the porch of Upriver Cafe in Lake Luzerne.  It was warm enough to relax in shirtsleeves out on the porch, never needing to avail ourselves of the warm shawls the restaurant provides for diners eating outdoors this time of year.

Not only is the food terrific at this riverside restaurant, the spacious porch offers spectacular views of the Hudson River at one of its most dazzling sections, where the entire river plunges through a rocky gorge at Rockwell Falls.  After lunch, my husband and I made our way down to the rocks to experience close-up the power of the waterfall.

The gorge must be no more than 20 feet across where the entire volume of the river plunges with an impressive roar, sending plumes of mist into the air.

My husband, being a physicist, is also fascinated by the fluid dynamics evident in the swirling, rippling currents of the water  above the falls.

Both of us marveled at the perfectly round kettle holes the power of that water,  swirling loose stones that act like drills, has created in the rocks that line the shore here.  Some are as capacious as bathtubs, while others are as small as a soup pot.

This large, green-eyed dragonfly was also enjoying this summery day, loathe to leave the leaf he was basking on, even when I moved in close to take a photo.  I guessed from the wide-spaced eyes and the bulge at the end of his abdomen that this was a clubtail dragonfly, but I needed the experts at to inform me that this was a male Arrow Clubtail (Stylurus spiniceps).  This species is common in northern New York, but it prefers rivers to lakes as its usual habitat.  So this dragonfly, my husband, and I were all where we wanted to be on a lovely autumn afternoon along the Hudson.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Lake Bonita, Rain and Shine

This past Monday was not the nicest day for a walk around Lake Bonita at Moreau Lake State Park: it poured rain the whole way around.  But I was due to lead a group of nature lovers from the Ecological Clearing House of Schenectady (ECOS) the following day, so I wanted to check the trail for what there was to see.  So I donned my rain gear and sloshed along muddy trails around the lake, which was lovely even through the pouring rain.

Happily, Tuesday dawned bright and clear and stayed that way the whole time our group was enjoying our walk around the lake.  When I lead a group on a nature walk, I rarely take the time to take photographs, but I did manage to snap this one, showing the lovely autumn colors reflected in the still blue water.  Our group was small, and not everyone completed the circuit around the lake, but those who participated expressed their delight in discovering that such a pretty little unspoiled mountain lake was now accessible to the public.

I did take photos on my preview walk, stopping often to enjoy the scenic shoreline, where trees hung over the water and little islands stood just off-shore.  The pouring rain added a misty quality to the scene.

In my write-up for the ECOS program, I described the trail as somewhat "rugged," narrow and rocky in places, mostly level but with occasional ups and downs and one long hill leading from the parking lot down to the trail that looped around the lake.  If I lead this trip again, I think I will emphasize the steepness and ruggedness more, for some of our group found the trail hard going, and one turned back quite shortly after we had begun our descent downhill over rocks and roots and a few muddy spots.  The complete circuit runs about two miles, a distance I covered in under two hours on my preview run (stopping often to take photographs), but which took us closer to four to complete on Tuesday, what with our stopping to discuss our finds along the way.

I advised our group that we would see few flowers this time of year, especially in the nearly pure hemlock woods of the north-facing slope where we began our walk.  But we certainly saw lots of pretty mosses.  This one with the graceful leaves that all look as if they had been swept in one direction is a Dicranum species called Broom Moss.

Here are two more:  the little green starbursts are Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune), and the one that looks like tiny Christmas trees is called Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens).

Here's more of that Haircap Moss curving atop a patch of Sphagnum Moss.

We saw lots of Sphagnum, including large patches of it along the banks and spreading into wetlands that reached back into the woods.  I explained that the Sphagnum had played a vitally important role in creating Lake Bonita's acidic habitat, which supports a large variety of special plants that thrive in acidic soils.  Most of those acid-loving plants grow out on the scattered islands that dot the lake, but a few can also be found on Sphagnum banks along the shore.  Sphagnum is the moss that forms the basis of what we call "peatlands," whether they are bogs or fens.

At first glance, this glossy green stuff that was covering many boulders sure looks like a moss.  But instead, it is a liverwort, called Bazzania trilobata.  It happens to be a very common liverwort with a name that is fun to say, so I had fun shouting out "Bazzania!" each time I saw it adorning many of the trailside rocks.  Which was quite often.

When we first began our walk through a nearly-pure hemlock woods, I pointed out the dearth of understory trees and shrubs that would otherwise be found if this were a mixed hardwood/conifer woods.  This dearth could be caused by the darkness beneath the hemlock canopy, as well as by the tannin in the soil from all the hemlock needles.  But as we approached the edge of the lake, where more light entered the woods, we began to find shrubs like this Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides), with leaves turned a beautiful shade of autumn gold.

And right at the water's edge was where we could find many of the shrubs that typically grow in peatlands.  These twigs on the branches of Leatherleaf shrubs (Chamaedaphne calyculata) contain both seedpods from this year's flowers as well as buds that will develop into next spring's flowers.

Here is another common denizen of peatlands, a glossy-leaved shrub called Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia).  It will have lovely pink flowers in the spring.

From the shore, we could see some of the little islands that dot the lake, islands that are covered with Sphagnum, which supports the growth of such peatland plants as Pitcher Plants, Sundews, and many others, including the lovely native orchid called Rose Pogonia.  In order to protect the water quality of this long-isolated lake, Moreau Lake State Park has banned all boating from the lake, but I was granted a permit to paddle out to these islands last summer to conduct a plant survey.  To see some of the beautiful flowers and blooming shrubs I found, click here to visit my blog post about that survey.

Because of a patch of Sphagnum that cushions a trailside bank, we found the distinctive vase-shaped leaves of several Pitcher Plants along the shore.  This plant obtains some of its nutrients by digesting insects that become trapped within the water-filled leaves.

Compared to the north-facing hemlock woods where our trail began, we found more Red Maples and White Pines as we rounded the lake and proceeded along the south-facing shore, which receives much more direct sunlight.

Probably the most remarkable tree we found was a full-grown American Chestnut.  Although we found no bristly nuts growing on its branches or littering the ground beneath, just last year I found this same tree producing those nuts.  It's rare to find such mature chestnut trees, and it's likely that this one will also succumb to the blight that has basically eliminated this native tree from our northeastern forests.  At least we got to see it in its glorious autumn foliage.

Now our American Beech trees are beginning to succumb to a blight of their own.   Although we found numerous beech trees along our trail -- some healthy but many not -- we also found the strange little flower called  Beech Drops even when we could locate no standing beeches nearby.  Since this flower is parasitic on the roots of beeches, they must still be feeding on the roots of beech trees that remain in the ground even after the original tree has fallen and rotted away.

It was obvious, however, that many American Beeches in this woods were healthy enough to produce an ample crop of nuts, since we found many of the bristly hulls littering the forest floor.

I was surprised we found so few mushrooms on Tuesday, considering the day-long rain we'd had the day before.  But we did find a few, including this Orange Jelly Fungus, vivid on the damp wood of a mossy fallen log.

Another fungus we found adorning fallen logs was this colorful Purple-toothed Polypore, with its rims of purple edging the brown-striped caps.  Green Algae added its own color to the caps.

Most abundant of all were the tiny Marasmius mushrooms scattered by the hundreds across the forest floor, their minute white caps topping dark wiry stalks.  This is a fungus that will disappear when the leaf litter dries, and will then sprout up again after the next drenching rain.

I was truly happy to lead a few folks from ECOS around Lake Bonita, a wonderful addition to the miles of woodland and lakeside trails offered within Moreau Lake State Park.  Perhaps a few of the folks I met on Tuesday will return to enjoy this natural treasure on some other beautiful day.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Scenes from an Adirondack Weekend

Based on the gorgeous autumn foliage that blazed from the Adirondack forest I visited this past weekend, I'm thinking perhaps we needn't despair about missing the annual spectacle where I live further south.  Maybe we just have to wait a week or so for our Saratoga County trees to put on their own show. This was the beautiful display that greeted me last Friday, as I drove the entrance road to Pyramid Life Center in Essex County, 70 miles north of Saratoga Springs.

The evening light did not show off the foliage colors around the lake to best advantage, but the serene stillness of Pyramid Lake offered its own kind of beauty.

Come morning, the sunrise lit up the forested shore of the lake in a spectacular display.

Even as clouds moved in to dim the sun, the beauty of the scene continued to glow.

I was here to help close the center's main lodge and cabins for the winter, when all the boats will be stored away in this boathouse that serves as a gathering house for retreat attenders during the summer months.

The center's rustic cabins are hidden high up in the woods overlooking the lake and are accessed along this pine-needle-cushioned road that hugs the lakeshore.

Benches placed along the shore offer a resting place for contemplating the majestic beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains.

A new lodging option was created this year, with the construction of a yurt along the shore road.  Furnished with comfortable beds and tables and chairs, the yurt offers a more comfortable camping experience than that of a lean-to or tent.  But those more rustic options are also provided for, in campsites at the end of the road or out on the lake's large island.

It rained off and on most of Saturday, while I was working to help wrap beds and other furniture to protect them from mouse damage over the winter.  And lucky for me, by the time my work was completed in late afternoon, the rain had stopped and I could venture out on the lake for a paddle.

My paddling destination was a cedar swamp that lies at the far eastern end of the lake.  Down here, where the water is always quiet even when winds roil the open lake, the shallow water is studded with sphagnum-covered hummocks and fallen logs that serve as nursery sites for the kind of plants that thrive in swamps and bogs.

Those fallen logs also serve as basking sites for Painted Turtles.

The sphagnum moss that covered this hummock was a beautiful rich red.

The leaves of Marsh Cinquefoil were held like pretty pink parasols above the water.

Cranberry vines covered some of the fallen logs with glossy green leaves and ruby-red fruit.

I even found a few flowers still blooming back in these quiet waters, many weeks after their typical time of first bloom.  The bright-yellow blossoms of Horned Bladderwort were held high on slender stems.

A few of the Sheep Laurel shrubs were adorned once more with the rosy-pink flowers that typically bloom in May.

These tiny green floating orbs are called Nostoc Balls, membrane-enclosed colonies of cyanobacteria that thrive by the millions in the shallow waters at the far east end of Pyramid Lake.  Unlike the toxic algae blooms that pollute some bodies of water, these jelly-like organisms thrive only in the cleanest lakes and are in fact a sign of their cleanliness.  I always look for them each year in this cedar swamp, when I visit Pyramid Lake in October, for they only make their appearance late in the year as the water turns cold.

I find the Nostoc Balls again and again, each year I look for them at Pyramid Lake, but never have I seen them abounding in such numbers and in such a wide distribution as I found them this year.

I saw this delicate little moth floundering on the surface of the water and was able to lift it clear. I placed it on my shoulder to dry off, and eventually it flew away.  It was probably nearing the end of its lifespan, but I'm glad I was able to give it a few more hours or days of life.

As I departed Pyramid Lake, I visited a stream in the nearby hamlet of Paradox.  Here, the stream tumbles in multiple waterfalls, surrounded by trees adorned with their autumn hues.  What a spectacular site, allowing me to absorb the beauty of an Adirondack autumn and carry my delight in it all the way home.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Return to the Center

Pyramid Lake is certainly one of the jewels of the Adirondacks. But this crystal-clear wilderness lake encircled by forested mountains means far more to me than just a pretty place to spend a holiday weekend. This lake is the home of Pyramid Life Center, a spiritual retreat center to which I fled in the summer of 1991, full of anguish over the war my nation had waged against Iraq, angry and sad that my fellow Americans were so excited and proud and happy to go to war. And here, at a retreat with  the late Jesuit priest and anti-war activist Daniel Berrigan, I found I was not alone in my feelings of alienation. And more than that, here I found heroes -- social workers, drug counselors, healthcare providers, advocates for the homeless and poor -- whose witness gave me the courage to choose for myself a more authentic way to live. I left a job that required me to be very nice to the very rich just because they were very rich, to learn how to care for the dying as a nursing assistant for Hospice -- a choice that brought me far more joy and spiritual riches than I ever dreamed possible. So yes, my love for Pyramid Life Center runs very deep, indeed.

This love for Pyramid Life Center is why I return each spring and fall to help open and close the center's facilities, and so I am heading up there today to help the center prepare for the coming winter. Each year, my advancing age and continuing pain from old injuries make me a little less able to contribute as energetically as I did in past years, but I am so, so grateful for the health and strength that remain to me, that allow me to do what I can.  Pyramid Life Center continues to be a great source of peace and joy to me.  May it always remain so, for all who seek healing, happiness, and the holy here in this place of profound natural beauty and loving companionship.