New York Visit

With SouthWoodsTreesnow still on the ground and snow in the future forecast, we decided to beat the winter doldrums by turning west towards Central New York to visit our eldest child. We selected this particular weekend since it was the opening week of a photography exhibit she had on display in a local library. After the long drive, followed by the reception for the photographer, we settled in to a relaxing weekend which would include some form of an outdoor activity.

Although the occasional snowflake was falling on Saturday morning, we headed out to the woods, knownSouthWoodsBridge as South Woods (or Utica Switchbacks) in Roscoe Conkling Park. Once there, we donned our snowshoes and left the packed road behind us. Cutting across the golf course, I paused to admire the symmetry of a lone tree surrounded on either side by an avenue of trees.

Except for this walk up the hill, which we could have avoided by staying on the snow packed road, we really did not need our snowshoes. My husband was starting to have some difficulty with his hip as we climbed the snow covered hill, so once we reached the top we opted to continue on the well groomed trails through the woods. I do wonder if we will have matching hips at some point in the SouthWoodsLeaffuture.

As we were getting ready for this adventure, I amused the rest of my family by pulling out a pair of hiking socks that were labelled as “insect shield” socks. There were a few comments about “being prepared” in case the weather warmed enough for insects to emerge. Well, I will have you know that as we were walking across the golf course I spied the movement of a small speck on top of the pristine snow. On closer examination, I discovered that it was a small flying insect (which someone commented was reminiscent of a mosquito), probably regretting its mistake of emerging in such cold weather. I may be overly optimistic, but perhaps we can call this a first sign of spring.

WalkingSouthWoodsBud through this white covered landscape, I could not help but remember that by this time last year I had already witnessed signs of a warmer season to come. By the beginning of February, I had discovered shoots of spring flowers poking through the earth and a few weeks later snowdrops were blooming everywhere. Alas, this year’s new growth is insulated under several feet of snow. Where were the signs of hope that lift our spirits after a long winter? And then, I saw it! A branch displaying leaf buds that were beginning to display the colors of a lighter season. As I looked around at the different trees, I noticed that many of the leaf buds were beginning to swell as the days were becoming longer. Spring cannot be far behind.



South Woods


Plantain-leaved Sedge

We spent the past weekend in Utica, New York, taking some time to explore a wooded area not far from where we were staying. The woods, known as South Woods (or Utica Switchbacks) is part of the Roscoe Conkling Park. According to Explorer’s guide 50 hikes in Central New York’s Leatherstocking Country, the South Woods portion of the park was donated to the city in 1909 by Thomas Proctor. The park is named after U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling, a civil war era senator from Utica. What is truly amazing is the remarkable use of space in this city park. Within various sections of the park are located a small zoo, a ski lift and a golf course. The South Woods section is located just above the golf course.

We began our walk near the golf course, strolling along a paved walkway between the street and the course. Once we reached the gated entrance near the park maintenance buildings, we continued on this promenade towards the woods. As the path entered the woods, we paused to admire the stonework of the picnic pavilion. Upon entering the wooded area, we found several old stone fire-pits scattered throughout the area; remnants of a time when the park was first created.

TheUticaColtsfoot trail gradually ascended up the hill and I wondered if leaving my hiking poles in the car was a mistake. As I felt the effort of exertion I remembered one of my blog followers asking about my hip. Thinking about it, I realized that it is not such much that I need the poles for my hip at this point. I probably use them more as a crutch to push me up the hill when I need the extra effort. In other words, I need to be in better physical condition overall. The joint itself no longer bothers me. When I feel discomfort due to weather, it is the scar that lets me know it is there. Most of our walks are less than 2 miles and my hip is fine during these. It is the longer walks or more strenuous hikes involving uneven terrain when my leg lets me know that it is time to stop. Again, this may pass with a more serious effort to getting in better shape.

In any case, I made it up the hill. As we rounded out first switchback, we found an abundance of Plantain-leaved Sedge in the woods. The area was filled with these feathery yellow flowers. Not realizing what this was I first I attempted to use my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide with no luck. I guess I need to add a field guide to grasses and sedges to my collection.

It is surprising how far I have come in my observation and identification skills. As we continued along the trail we found small yellow flowers along either side of the path. I recognized them as Coltsfoot. A year ago, I would have only known them as pretty yellow flowers that are not dandelions. I was pretty pleased with myself for knowing what they were.

It wasn’t long before we exited the woods and descended the hill down the golf course. As we arrived back at our starting point it began to rain. We had walked about 3 miles.

Mystery Plant

I first created this blog as an incentive to get me outside and walking every week following my hip replacement surgery last October. The goal was to regain the strength in my leg and eventually to build up to longer or slightly more complicated hikes. There has been some success in this area. Although I am still aware of some slight discomfort in my hip, I have accomplished a few walks over 4 miles and I have also managed some uphill walks during vacations.GreenLakesUnknown

I also wanted to become more aware of the natural world around me. I think I have accomplished this. However, I seem to have acquired a new hobby (or obsession) during the process. I have now become obsessed with identifying the wildflowers I observe in my travels. Weeks are spent pouring over “Petersen’s Guide to Wildflowers in the Northeast”, the Go Botany New England website and a number of other websites in the attempt to identify that nameless plant.

When I have identified a plant, I will label it in my posting for that week; sometime with certainty, most times with some trepidation. And here is where the obsession comes in. For the photos I have not identified, I will continue trying to hunt it down. Sometimes I will give up for a while but I always return to the hunt (And I always thought my daughter inherited this trait from her father).

With that rather long preamble, let us turn to my mystery plant. Back during the first weekend in July, we were up in Central New York and took a stroll through Green Lakes State Park. I posted a photo of this mystery plant, asking anyone who had a clue to drop me a comment. But did I leave it there? Of course not!

I have spent months looking in various identification books, probing websites and emailing people who had backgrounds in gardening, wildlife ecology, botany, etc. I asked people if they knew of anyone who could help me identify this plant. The hunt went on for months.

Finally, a coworker came up with a response from someone she knew. My mystery plant is an Epipactis Helleborine, also know as Common Helleborine. For confirmation, now that I had a name, I searched for images of this and found what I was looking for on the Ontario Wildflowers website. If you scroll down to images 9 and 11 you will find my mystery plant. Apparently, this wild orchid was discovered in the Syracuse, New York area around 1879 not too far from where we were that weekend.

And so, I can breathe a little easier knowing that I have solved another mystery.

Root Glen

RootGlenJapaneseSpireaOur second walk, during our visit to Central New York, was the Root Glen Arboretum. Root Glen is located on the grounds of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. This lovely, little  sanctuary was founded by the Root family, who later transferred ownership to Hamilton College in 1971.RootGlenBlackBugbane

As we entered the arboretum we were greeted by a large pink and white display of Japanese Spirea. It seems that even the bees were affected by another excessively  warm day as they lazily flew around the large bunches of flowers. We continued on  a few feet until we came upon a nice collection of Black Bugbane in the early stages of flowering.

Here RootGlenBenchwe had a choice of heading towards the well manicured, formal garden or continuing on a path that meandered through the woods. We decided to stroll through the woods on a trail that followed and, on occasion, crossed over a gorge.

Benches were placed throughout the park, inviting the traveler to stay awhile and absorb theRootGlenPagoda sights and sounds of nature. I believe these thrones of contemplation were deliberately set with the purpose of encouraging the traveler to linger and meditate, and in so doing, wash away the hectic pace of life for a short time. As if to confirm my thoughts, our path led to a spot where a pagoda had been placed near the gorge.

After studying the pagoda for a few moments, we continued on, walking through woods blanketed with RootGlenWoodsperiwinkle. Occasionally, we would find some False Solomon Seal, wild raspberries and pockets of ferns.

Eventually, as the trail looped back to our starting point, we decided to visit the formal garden section of the arboretum. Here we found a well manicured lawn with flower beds on either side of this enclosed area. Since the garden was completely exposed to the hot sunlight we quickly admired the labeled flowerbeds and beat a hasty retreat back to the shaded path that would return us to our car.

Green Lakes State Park

GreenLakesReflectionWe spent a few days in Central New York this past weekend and managed to get in two walks despite the humid 90 degree weather. The first adventure was a 3 mile loop around the lakes of Green Lakes State Park in Fayetteville, a town east of Syracuse.

The two lakes of the park are the larger Green Lake and the appropriately named Round Lake. To begin our walk, we rounded the northern end of Green Lake which serves as a very popular beach area. Given the temperature of the day you can just imagine the crowds that were occupying the area.GreenLakesBench

Once we left the noise of the beach and entered the woodland trail we found a much smaller population of humanity enjoying the serenity of nature. We passed the occasional family exploring the trails and nodded to the runners who ran by us (at least three times). For those of us who wanted to take our time, there were places available to sit and just contemplate the view. There seems to be something about being near a body of water that just invites one to slow down.

As weGreenLakesLopseed walked along,  we noticed the bluish-green color of the water. Apparently the combination of the depth of the lakes and the fact that the layers of water do not intermix has created this unique feature. An informative article on the park and its geology can be found at the Fayetteville Free Library.

During our excursion we stopped to admire the lopseed, a tall plant with  tiny pink tinted flowers evenly distributed along the stem. The flowers were small enough for me to be grateful that I had discovered the macro feature of my “point and shoot” camera. For a better perspective on the size of these flowers look at the stem visible in the lower right corner of the photograph.GreenLakesHorseNettle

We also came upon some horse nettle and here is where I put my hip to the test. Since my hip replacement in October I have been wary of two things; maneuvering downhill anything that I would consider even slightly steep for fear of falling and kneeling down for fear that I won’t be able to get up again. Until now I have gone through some interesting gyrations in order to get close up pictures of some of the flowers we have found but this called for getting close. So, I went down on my bad leg, took my picture and…..pushed off with the weight on my good leg. GreenLakesUnknownHooray, with just a little bit of difficulty I had done it! I was standing!

Further on, we came upon a rather interesting plant that I have been unable to identify. There seems to be one set of leaves at the base of the plant and a leafy type growth curling from the top of the plant. I have not found this in any of my field guides or the the usual websites I consult for plant identification. So if anyone knows the identity of this mystery plant, please let me know.

We finished our walk in about 1.5 hours feeling rather warm and sticky. It was a good time to find a large glass of lemonade to help us cool down.