After an unexpected allergic reaction from a bald-faced hornet sting, I feel fortunate to experience another autumn season. As woodland creatures prepare for the winter by caching food and planning for shelter, I start to wonder if the old wives’ tales told to predict winter will prove true this time. If so, we might be in for a good one. And, by good I mean power outages and lots of shoveling.
But now, the calm before the storm. A near autumn-peak woodland. Deciduous trees will soon lay down their leaves to reveal naked branches, as they curve and twist this way and that way. The decaying leaves will soon provide nourishment to the naked figures, and an insulated vessel for overwintering insects. The systems at work, even during what appears to be dormancy, are complex and wonderful.
Violets and Trout Lilies bloomed for well over a week at home on the New York / New Jersey stateline, but the narrative in Wilmington, Vermont was different. We arrived on a windy night. A thin blanket of snow swirled over the New England town. By morning, the landscape was draped in fluffy white snow. Congrats – we traveled back into winter!
In the next 24 hours, the sun broke through the gray thickness above and the snow soon disappeared. Our ambitious gang of goldfish snack inhalers (and their parents, the coffee guzzlers) could not stay put for long. We set off on an adventure to summit Haystack Mountain!
The missus and I bundled ourselves and the little imps as if we were headed to the arctic. With bladders bursting and fingers already numb, we were ready for the trail! We carried our luggage (the kids) on our backs and shoulders through mud and rocks up 1,000 vertical feet. It was not long before we found the snow again. With sun blaring, snow became slush and feet became pruney.
We pressed on and the giant slushy stairmaster with complaining children soundtrack finally gave way to a tremendous vista at the top of old Haystack. Glory was ours! We had made it (all of us)! And then…we realized it was time to climb back down…oh shit.
Around the same time last year in late March / early April we went for a walk in a woodland near the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. We were on the lookout for spring ephemeral wildflowers, as this is their time of year to shine, and then shortly after, bid us Adieu until next spring. One of my favorite spring ephemerals is Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). A single leaf and flower emerge from under the leaf litter. The leaf, if injured, bleeds a red-orange juice, hence the name (bloodroot).
We came upon an old tree, upon which beautiful green moss sprawled. The forest floor had been blanketed with bloodroot flowers, but they were just coming up and the flowers were half closed. As we returned to this same spot on our way back, the flowers were on full display. It was the largest population of bloodroot I’ve ever seen and what a show!
Not long ago, I met Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) growing on a dry rocky slope in Harriman State Park on the NY/NJ boarder, near Pine Meadow Lake. I had already been familiar with Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) and Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), but Winged Sumac was new to me. Our acquaintance was in the fall season. The plant’s foliage had been ablaze with various shades of red, and I thought it would make a great painting.
Not far from our house, is the Liberty Loop path! Located in Pine Island, NY, it is our go-to place for a walk. It is also part of the Appalachian Trail, but completely flat terrain. A hit with walkers (zombies included), this area is also popular among bird watchers and bird photographers, as it is a wildlife refuge with abundant waterfowl habitat. I hope to one day see the Northern Pintail Duck, which can be found here.