Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Winter Walk In The Woods

Calm air and dwindling snow cover suggested that it was time for a walk in the woods.  Walking on thin new snow leaves footprints that can help the rescue squad find me if need be or help me find my way out should I venture too far into the forest.  Despite inadequate preparations for a long walk, the experience was safely concluded and pleasant in every way.  The stillness that fills a snow covered forest soon extends deep inside the hiker and quiets his very soul.

Our most reliable spring run prompted the first picture.  A large bedrock slab covers the origin of the water flow and is itself covered with green growth that flourishes in this favorable spot.  The rock provides a dry path over this moist area.  Uphill from here is a small shallow pond that has its overflow blocked by slightly higher ground.  That pond is most likely the source of our spring water.

This galvanized wire cage smashes the natural aspect of a walk in the wild.  During our first year here, Becky found dwarf ginseng in bloom on this spot but we were unable to find it again for many years. When the lost was finally found, the cage was added for protection and to mark the spot.  The plant continues to grow here but with no increase in its numbers.

Permission was granted by the farmer to our east for me to walk on his wooded ridge.  It looks like he has begun to open a roadway between his two farms.  The downed trees grew on the other side of the fence so a wind of unusual direction must have toppled them.  The number of posted signs facing each other here is large and created a feeling that I was walking in a no man's land.  No shots were fired while I was there but the signs did dampen the tranquil feelings of a quiet walk in the woods.

A glacial erratic never fails to catch my eye.  The enormity of the forces required to move one contrasted with the apparently gentle nature of the transport that left the stone intact seems to me to be a basic contradiction.  If this is not one rock resting atop another, then I am confused by the different angles of the bedding planes.  The basic question of exactly how this rock was formed lacks a complete answer by me.

Iron in some form colored the sediments that formed this red rock.  The varying thickness of the layers is a record of the relative severity of the rain storms that sent the sediments roaring into the sea.  A storm lasting many days might have preceded the formation of the thick layer.  Now lichens and moss are feeding on the surface of the rock creating new soil.  Weathering is opening up the tiny voids between layers.  A cause of the diagonal crack was not apparent to me.  The surface of the stone looks somewhat soft but I saw no need to investigate its hardness with a scratch.  Except for an occasional protective wire cage, we prefer to leave things as we found them.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sunrise and Snow

Staring out the window at the ridge while having my morning coffee was an extraordinary experience today.  The sun was just coming up and the sky was was a beautiful pink. This picture was taken at 7:23.

Just one minute later the color had changed.  I was dazzled by the display.  I confess I'm not up to observe the sunrise often, but at this time of year the sun gets up rather late.

By 7:32 the color had begun to fade and soon gave way to a bright sun reflecting off the newly fallen snow.  It was a lovely start to a beautiful day!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Buttermilk Falls

The Unadilla River valley is rather uninteresting when compared to natural wonders nearby.  Our flat muddy river has inspired little scientific publication and fails to draw tourists.  Occasional relatively deep gorges were formed by torrents of glacial melt water but go largely unnoticed.  That is certainly the case with this Buttermilk Falls.  Largely unknown and ignored, steep slippery sides make exploration here unsafe.  For us this is a recently discovered place of rare natural beauty.

The first picture is of the main named falls.  Water cascades over a shingled shale slope placed deeply in a narrow valley.  Time exposure photos are the standard for waterfall shots but these are point and shoot hand held snaps.  White bubbles are the result of numerous quick short falls not a time exposure.  This is actually what a person would see if standing here.  A picture taken at stream level would show the height of this 25 foot drop.


Numerous smaller drops are located upstream of the main falls.  This one may not qualify as an actual waterfall but the white water moving across long shale slabs is beautiful.  Nestled among hemlocks, the only sounds are those created by falling water.

None of the three streams that empty here are even named.  The smaller stream clearly shows water erosion of the massive shale deposit that underlies this area.

This picture and the previous one together show a single waterfall.  Recent snow melt and rain have this stream carrying far more water than normal.  We waited for two days after the rain so that the water would be clear of mud color.

A stream bed visit is planned but wisdom demands that it happen when the water volume is smaller and the rocks are free of ice.  Scrambles around the waterfalls will be necessary as will walking in the stream.  Moss covered rocks cover the flat ground and form the cliffs.  These obstacles may explain why this natural wonder largely goes unnoticed.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Late December Thaw

Recent frigid cold accompanied by generous amounts of snow are both unusual for this time of year. Today, daytime temperatures exceeded 62 degrees F and now the snow is all gone.  Snow melt accompanied by rain has sent the river into fields.  We found a break in the rain and ventured out to have a look at some of our plants.

Serbian Bellflower, Campanula poscharskyana is a vigorous plant that will find a foothold between wall stones.  One of the top stones was lifted out and a handful of soil thrown on the base stones. Roots of a transplant were fanned out before the top stone was replaced.  A sprinkling can of water during long periods of no rain was the only attention this plant needed.  Next summer, long stems of lavender colored flowers will reach nearly to the ground.  Now the plants seems to thrive under the snow.  It looks like next season's growth is already underway.  Clean wet stones look uncharacteristically bright today.

Clara Curtis chrysanthemums have proven hardy here.  Their masses of pink flowers remind one of carnival cotton candy.  These plants appear to be readying themselves for another great year.  We must take time to pinch them back this summer to increase their blossom count and to keep them tidy.

Our transplanted Fringed Polygala is thriving inside of its wire cage.  We learned the hard way that evergreen plants face destruction from hungry birds and animals during seasons when few plants are actively growing.  Marauding crows very nearly destroyed this treasured wild flower during its first year in captivity.  Protected by a wire cage, this plant is now sporting generous growth.  We may have many tiny magenta orchids here for Mother's Day.  The cage lifts off when we sit on the nearby wall to enjoy the flowers.

Bluets have long been favorites of Becky.  We have failed several times to bring this plant into the garden.  Our original transplants have vanished but new plants have now become common.  Marine shellfish fossils are also common here.  They remind us that this area was once covered by an inland sea.  We were unaware that the fossils were formed as a result of a massive die off caused by a flood of sediment laden water that covered and suffocated wide areas of marine life.

This bright vigorous growth is one of our most hated weeds.  Each tiny set of green leaves springs from a huge wide and deep mass of roots.  Quantities of soil are removed with each pulled weed.  If the stem breaks, then new minuscule growth will appear.  That combination of tiny top growth and massive roots is nearly impossible to weed out intact.  Weeding looked inviting today, but the cold soil would soon make for screaming hands.  This area will get early attention come Spring.  We would like to completely weed out this pest but will settle for buckets of weeds and soil to add to the compost pile.    

Friday, December 20, 2013

Deer Tick Wars

Deer ticks and Lyme disease have become factors that limit our enjoyment of time spent outside in the open air.  We know people that have had their lives severely impacted by this disease.  Our daughter worked with a newly blind college student whose condition was attributed to Lyme disease.  A former student of mine had his teaching career ended by the disability that followed his infection.  Becky and I have both served as hosts to deer ticks and I tested positive for the infection but suffered no permanent after effects.  We now dress in white clothing from head to toe while working outside with only our faces are uncovered.  Naked inspection follows each day spent working in the gardens.  Special tweezers make tick removal quick and complete.

We used to see the barberry as an attractive bush but no more!  Recent studies have identified barberry shrubs as a perfect host for ticks.  Despite the statewide ban on outdoor burning, the DEC recommends  destroying these plants by fire and poisoning the stump and roots.  With a generous snow cover and the forecast of rain, it seemed like the perfect day to attack a barberry growing into one of my favorite walking paths with a fire.

The bright yellow color of the interior wood came as a surprise to me.  I wondered if this wood was ever used in inlay work for chests of drawers.  Such thoughts were pushed aside and the shrub was cut into small straight pieces that would support fire.  A small fire can consume wood faster than I can cut it so a fair sized pile was cut before the fire was lit.  Chunks of long dead white pine were added because they burn fiercely.

Several hours were spent in the company of new snow, light rain and chickadees.  A resident deer snorted at me as I was working in one of their regular paths.  I reek of wood smoke, was slightly drenched but thoroughly enjoyed the time spent outside.

Barberry thorns did contribute to today's activity.  According to the DEC, transmission of the ticks from the bush to the deer happens when the deer use the bush as a scratching post.  The thorns did manage to penetrate my gloves and pierce my fingers today.  The words used to express my displeasure were somewhat inaccurate and completely inappropriate.  Questioning the martial status of a plants parents is absolute nonsense as is suggesting that its mother was a dog.  Indicating that the plant was capable of both thought and independent motion was absurd.  The plant took no active part in attacking me and it is incapable of the act I credited it with.

This area of hedgerow separates the river bottom field from our hummocky ground.  A wall of sorts marks the edge of ground suitable for cultivation.  I frequently take a detour here when returning from the mailbox.  Rain ended the burn of the barberry today but I will complete the job later.   Anything that may reduce the number of ticks here is well worth doing.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Yellow Footprints

An outside walk was absolutely necessary today.  Air temperatures were well above freezing with fifty plus degrees forecast for the weekend.  Warm rain will soon melt all of this snow.  This was a last chance to tramp about in our December snow.  New sightings were there if one looked closely.

Frost had entered the ground in advance of the snowfalls.  Despite recent days where the air temperature remained below freezing, the insulative blanket of snow kept that cold away from the surface and allowed the warmth of mother earth to thaw the covered ground.  As I walked back down the lane today, I was surprised to see that my incoming tracks were well wet with yellow moisture.  Organic litter that had fallen from the trees was decomposing in melt water trickling under the snow.  A water bar at the base of the hill directs runoff into my woods.  Solids settle out in the deep leaves that cover my nearly level ground.  Each spring I harvest this black gold and use it to enrich soil around my cultivated wild flowers.  I cannot work my garden today but natural processes are at work helping with next year's garden.

A stone bench marks the final resting place of  Becky's parents.  Its location was selected in a somewhat remote spot that overlooks a long ago favored fishing hole.  Two quarried blue stone slabs cap this bench and Vermont marble marks the graves but the bench is built with stone found here. The end stone that rests on an outward slope may work itself free in a geologic time scale but its placement remains solid for now.

This huge red maple tree was the first treasure found when we initially looked at this land.  Its location near the declining end of a bedrock ridge saved it from the early farmer's axe.  Between two of the numerous trunks was a hollow that perfectly fit my back.  Every hike here included time with me standing almost in this tree.  The first trunk to fall had formed my sanctuary.  Now a second trunk is nearly on the ground.  Its snow cap neatly outlines the fallen giant.

My plan was to have my ashes scattered at the base of this tree.  It seems to be failing faster than me so a new plan is needed.  My stone walls seem to be holding up over time.  Perhaps one of them will  do.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Winter's Fury

Recent weather forecasts described a powerful winter storm system heading in our direction.  Most of the time we catch only the edge of these storms and that was the case once again.  Between eight and ten inches of snow cover the ground here now but we have been getting small daily snowfalls in addition to the big storm.  Road travel has been hazardous as I watched a nearby car that lost traction and crash on an ice covered bridge.  Some combination of new equipment, luck and experience kept us out of the accident.  We traveled safely but spent much of the storm time at home. Walking about after a storm brings scenes of beauty while surrounded by still air.

Snow, stones and sunlight combine to produce interesting science.  Our air temperatures have remained below freezing for several days but signs of snow melt can be seen near the stones.  Heat from sunlight is trapped and held by the dark stones causing some snow melt.  Clouds frequently block out the sunlight and the frigid air quickly refreezes the water.  Clear ice forms at the bottom and in this instance supports the snow column.

This wind formed deposit of snow has nearly reached the tipping point.  Soon the weight of the melt water icicle will pull its source snow to the ground.  Here again the only human involvement in the placement of this snow was the building of the wall a decade ago.  Wind currents pushed this snow into the cave created by poorly fitted stone work.

The picture allowed me to see for the first time the different colors of the sediments that formed this rock.  Recent reading revealed a description of seasonal impacts on the colors of layers of sediment. Light and dark layers may be the result of different seasons but here the red and grey likely reveal different chemical makeup of the sediments.

Machinery is now necessary to remove the snow from our long driveway.  When we first made this location our home, the man that plowed for us only came when the snowfall exceeded four inches. Lesser snowfalls were removed by hand.  A full day was needed to clear from the trailer to the road but not a single day of work was missed because of snowfall.  Either age or wisdom has changed our approach.  Our snow thrower will blow a high arching plume of snow but then the wind blows tiny stinging snow particles in my face.  A low throw may not look  impressive but my cheeks remain dry.

The snow continues to fall .  We will postpone a planned outing and Ed will get to spend more time today clearing the driveway.  It is as pretty as a Christmas card out there.  I hope when he gets outside with his plow that the kid in him will kick in and he will have fun.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Snowy Lane

Our snow covered lane looks like what Robert Frost must have seen just before he wrote that poem.  We will stay away from his words but this might just be an experience shared but in different times.  A curve takes the lane out of sight and that creates mystery.  Just what is it that lies around the bend?

It seems like only yesterday that building this wall filled my days with quiet time alone in the woods. Stones have been scattered nearby, ready for when weather permits more stacking.  This section of wall has reached its end so new work will start at the end and build back towards the center.  An end will create an opening that will allow me access into the woods with my truck.  For now, the wall is standing watch to see if the  right of way users can read the signs.

When this area is cleaned up it will become a beautiful spot to sit close to nature.  The broken white pine branch needs to be pulled clear of the gaping hole in the trunk.  We hope that the deep hole into the trunk heals somewhat so that we do not get to watch this tree die at the hands of another.

The dark cylinder above the center of the wall is a remnant from logging that was done by a previous owner years ago.  That cherry trunk end was destined to be firewood but it fell from the truck.  I rolled it to the edge but its owner never bothered to retrieve it.  More than a decade has passed, the land has changed hands several times, so I guess that I can safely claim a piece of aged cherry.

We plan to introduce trailing arbutus to the area between the wall and the tree.  If patience rules, we will place seed from our transplanted patch.  Otherwise, more transplants may find a home here. Winter is not officially here yet but we are already impatiently longing for Spring.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Snow's Gone Woods Walk

 All of our early snow has melted.  Big game hunting season is nearly over and the sounds of gunshots have become infrequent.  With my head inside of a bright orange hat, it seemed safe enough to venture out into our woods.  Expecting only a walk outside in sunshine and fresh air, spots of unusual color surprised me.  This long dead hemlock stump is supporting life forms of amazing variety.

Green moss and ferns are common in the woods now, but the bright purple fungus caught my attention from a considerable distance.  The identity of this mushroom may be Ganoderma lucidum. Its form, texture and color certainly catch and hold the eye.  A massive stem seems to spring from the interior of the stump.  Guide book drawings suggest that the root of the growth may originate in the ground beneath the stump.  An attempt to stage the photo by moving the fern leaf aside was thwarted since the fungus had grown around the fern stem. That turned out to be a good thing as the contrast in color makes the picture.

These tan fungus are fairly common in our wet woods.  Fallen trees are all too common here as a result of the unusually strong storms that have recently passed by.  We expected our trees to long outlast us but sadly that has not proved to be the case.  Still, the fallen trees support a wide variety of life.  I wonder what drilled the series of tiny holes in the lower right corner of the picture.

Orange peel peziza, Aleuria aurantia, appears to be the name of this bright beauty.  Our guide book describes it as edible but we do not eat wild mushrooms.  A mistake in identification can end ones kidney function so we prefer to avoid that risk.  This must be a young specimen since its surface is unblemished.  Whatever the actual identity of this mushroom is, finding it made my walk in the woods a memorable experience.
PS. See comment from Wiseacre for corrections in identification on this post!

Quick Garden Thaw

It was kind of a dreary day, but with the snow completely gone from the garden I just had to walk around and take a look.

Ed's gorgeous stone entrance to the basement was all cleared of snow.

The lamb's ear looks fuzzy and fine!

In the bed down by the road most of the plants look great, but this perennial flax looks especially terrific.

This big mound of foxglove  looks all ready to put on a magnificent show in the spring.

Of course the weeds are  getting ready for spring too. This garlic mustard just begs to be pulled, but the ground is only soft at the surface.  I'll deal with it later.

Finally a very small patch of yellow caught my eye as I headed inside. I suspect it is a temporary fungus. If you click on the picture to make it bigger and look closely you can see a tiny slug.  I have never seen one that small before. I usually dispatch slugs found in the garden, but this baby slug was a cute as they ever get. I let him live. It was fun to see the garden uncovered briefly but I'm sure these plants would like their blanket of snow back.  It sounds like they won't have long to wait!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


We believe that our gravel bank was first opened about one half  century ago to bury the remains of the barn that burned following a lightening strike.  More recently, town road crews had removed gravel to repair roads.  In the two decades that we have owned this land, gravel has been taken only by me using hand tools.  A four tined stone fork is used to pull the material down hill separating out some of the larger stones.  Various sized screens are then used to sift according to the demands of the job.  A level pile is kept between me and the undercut bank.  So far any slide that has happened while I was working has been stopped by the level ground.  This small car sized slide happened while no one was working the bank face.  Much material slid closer to the spot where I sift and I was not trapped in it.  Luck continues to be with me.

We understand that the most recent glacier created this feature.  The hill is cone shaped in sharp contrast to the surrounding landscape.  Surface material is unsorted stone, gravel and mud.  Beneath this top layer are bands of water sorted deposits.  Wide brown bands of fine sand are overlain with a thin layer of clean black sand with larger grains.  These sorted layers are not level but occur on a slope.  How these slanted layers happened has puzzled me.

Many of the gravel mines in the area feature deposits that were dropped in standing water.  Sediments fall out of the stream in a some what orderly fashion if the stream empties into a lake.  Recently I read a description of streams pouring over the edge of the ice face.  Sediment laden water falling some distance into a pool of water would pile material in a cone shape.  Since all of the sediment load was dropped in a heap, no sorting by size occurred.  During periods of low water volume only fine material could be carried by the stream.  This change in the force of the stream flow would explain the sorted sloped deposits.

I stand in wonder when I work this material that has been buried for thousands of years.  When new gravel is exposed I am looking at stones that are just as the glacier melt water left them.  The occasional fossil bearing rock is seen for the first time by me.  Then I destroy all traces of historical record by sifting the gravel and adding it to my driveway.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Cold Walk In The Snow, Photos by Amy

A visit from Amy usually includes a walk about with the camera in her hands.  It is interesting to see what catches her eye.  Here I saw a large number of patio stones that had absorbed sufficient heat from sun light to melt their snow cover.  Amy saw lichen and thyme growing on a snow framed stone.  Living color under the snow always amazes us.

A wide area of untouched snow was dotted brown.  The close view of the camera revealed seed pods adjacent to scattered seed.  A black birch tree is up wind of these seeds and may be the source.  We will leave them where they fell but will return to see if either the chipmunks or the red squirrel take advantage of this possibly sweet tasting food source.

Heat from sunlight falling on dark leaves or heat from life process itself has opened a hole in the snow cover over the arbutus.  Any walk outside includes a detour to check on these treasures.  Some tiny nibbler has been feeding on several of these leaves.  So far the damage is slight but we would like to know who feeds here.  A nearby edging flat rock is littered with hulled acorns but something smaller than a squirrel or chipmunk ate these leaves.

Sumac is considered by many to be a trash tree.  It does grow like a weed but its leaves are a source of beautiful fall color.  Its red seed clusters supply food for many birds.  Tracks in the snow seem to indicate a feast on a fallen cluster but only the small red bits could be found.  All of the tracks were made by birds leaving no clue about how all of this ended up on the ground.

Two walking trips up the driveway are made most days.  Unusual stones catch the eye and they are carried to the wall near the basement entrance.  None of these exotics are native here.  They were all carried a great distance from their points of origin by the last glacier.  We would like to be able to identify each stone by name and understand how it was formed but we are far from that knowledge.  Holes in the surface of a specimen may point toward limestone created by the coral growths in a ancient inland sea.  The yellow one's rough texture says sandstone but the water worn smooth surface of the others keeps their identities secret.

If one looks, their is always some natural wonder to be seen.