An Escape…

Fire Tower Trail

Fire Tower Trail, Allegany State Park

Sometimes when the world is weighing down heavily on your shoulders, the only thing that helps is a little escape… a chance to walk, explore, breathe crisp Autumn air.  A chance to surround yourself with the familiar, yet be open to the novel.

The Art Roscoe Ski area at Allegany State Park is a wonderful place for cross-country skiing in winter.  Turns out, it is also a wonderful place for hiking when there is no snow.

Fire Tower

Fire Tower at the Art Roscoe Ski Area, Allegany State Park

A side trail runs parallel to the main trail and takes you to a Fire Tower.  I pushed my fear deep down into my boots and climbed the stairs, hoping for a glorious vista from the top.  There were hand rails and the stairs were sturdy.  Still, my heart pounded hard and my breath came in short, shallow fits.

It was indeed worth it!  The view from the top was spectacular and very much justified the climb.

The Allegany “Mountains” are really a big old ocean bed that was carved out over time by melting glacier water and various other forms of erosion.  When you climb up for a view from the top, you can see that all the “peaks” are the same height.

View from the Top

View from the Top

It was helpful to have my hiking buddy in front of me on the descent… much easier looking at his backpack than at the steep stairs that went on and on.  Back on the ground, it took a while before the adrenaline left my muscles and I could relax again… and turn my attention from big sweeping views to the forest’s minutiae.


A tiny moth kept trying to hide from me under the leaves...

Most of the Sweetwater trail is wide and in winter two trails for skiing are groomed making for fast, easy skiing. Along the way we found a narrower trail that crossed Sweetwater. Always favoring the road less travelled, we took a right hand turn.

Peeling Bark

Loose and peeling bark is back-lit by the Autumn rays.

It was late afternoon and the long, slanting rays of the sun were golden, creating vibrant, colorful mini-landscapes.

Icicle Fungus - Teeth you can Eat

The log we chose to rest on was decorated with a familiar "Icicle Fungus"

A bit further down the trail, there was an opening and the combination of “plant” life was simply delightful… Some I recognized and knew the names of… Others I recognized, but have no names for…  And one brand new!  (I put the word plant in quotes… because back when I studied biology the first time, there were only two kingdoms:  Plants and Animals.  And under that scheme… all these things would have been classified as plants…)

Lichens and Mosses

Lichens and Mosses

The first thing I noticed was a thick carpet of lichens – some 6 or 8 inches tall, punctuated with mosses competing for space.  Tucked in here and there were mushrooms… so bitty it would have been easy to miss them altogether…


A tiny mushroom manages to pop up through the thick mat of moss and lichen.

A little trail nibble was provided by a patch of Wintergreen that was sharing the soil with the others.


Wintergreen... not the juiciest of berries... but a very pleasant flavor.

Very near the bushy-shrubby type lichens were stalks that resembled small cups on stems, decorated with a bit of red.  I’m not sure if they are a structure of the the shrubby type, or a whole separate species…

Cup Lichen

This seems to match other photos I have found labeled "Lesser Sulpher Cup Lichen."

And then there were the Lycopodium…

Ground Pine

These little "club mosses" or "ground pines" are considered "exploitatively vulnerable" in New York State. They have been over-harvested for wreath-making.

If I have seen the next one before, it was never in such abundance and so easy to investigate… It warrants several pictures…

Running Club Moss

Running Club Moss

Oh dear… this post is getting very long and there is still so much more to tell… I guess I’ll click “publish” and tell you more later…

Arbor Vitae

I trudge down the old road between the red pine plantation on my right and the horse pasture on my left. The deep snow doesn’t slow the dog as much as it slows me. At the bottom of the hill we cross the creek and start up the road on the other side. Every time I walk this property, I marvel at the resourcefulness of the farmers who have owned it for generations. I could write volumes from the observations here…

Before I reach the top of the rise, my path is blocked by the skeletal remains of a once majestic tree.  I look for clues to what species it is. The branching pattern is unfamiliar to me.

Eastern White Cedar-1

Most of the “leaves” are gone. A few brown ones remain… needles that aren’t needles – more like reptilian scales surrounding the twigs… just enough to give me the informatin I need.

Eastern White Cedar-2

Ironic that this dead tree is called Arbor Vitae – Tree of Life.

When I get home, I open my tree books and search the ‘net. The first three sources list three different ways of presenting the common name:  Arbor Vitae, arborvitae, or Arbor-vitae.  It also goes by Cedar, White Cedar, Northern White Cedar, and Eastern White Cedar.  The Latin name is Thuja occidentalis.

The USDA range map is a little misleading for it shades an entire state when the tree is found anywhere in the state. 


The Forest Service map attempts to be a little more precise… But since the tree is now cultivated for ornamental uses, you can find it in places outside the native range maps.

Forest Service Map

Since I do not live in the tree’s official native range, I assume that the fallen tree was planted here, like so many of the trees on this property, and I wonder what the motivation was for selecting this species.

It is doubtful the landowners wanted the tree for its vitamin C, though the foliage is rich in it and the tree therefore rich in the legend of a cure that saved a French expedition. The story is well told by retired horticulturist Gerald Klingaman at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension site:

In 1536, the French explorer Jacques Cartier (1491 – 1557) was sailing up the St. Lawrence River with a crew of 110 seamen and a pair of native youths he had picked up on his first voyage to modern day Canada two years earlier. He was looking for the famed Northwest Passage to China and made it as far upriver as possible.

After the sea crossing and the trip inland, the crew was suffering from scurvy, the vitamin C deficiency, which causes bleeding gums and tooth loss, bleeding under the skin, extreme fatigue and often death. On his way upriver, he left the two natives in their home village, expecting neither to survive the serious scurvy attack, which had beset them during the Atlantic crossing.

In his journal, Cartier described the condition of Domagaia, the younger of the two boys as “very sicke and his knees swollen as bigge as a cild of two years old, and all his sinews shrunken together, his teeth spoyled.”

After ten days absence he returned to the Huron village of Stadacona – today the site of Quebec – and found the two boys alive and well and fully recovered. On seeing their speedy recovery, he appealed to the boy to show him how the cure was achieved.

Shortly Cartier was presented with several branches of the evergreen tree and told how to chop and boil the leaves to extract the elixir that would cure the crew. [source]

Because of this miracle, Cartier is reported to have transported Arbor Vitae to France after this expedition, making it the first North American tree to be introduced into Europe.

I read on, looking for a more plausible motivation for planting this species. Since the landowners of the property I walk have been practical farmers for generations, I would guess they were thinking of future fence posts when they planted. The wood of the Arbor Vitae is soft and lightweight, yet resists decay for decades.

Eastern White Cedar



Trees delight me… no matter the season.
Bursting forth in spring…
Verdant in summer…
Vibrant in autumn…
Bare and skeletal in winter…
Each species with its own pattern,
each individual with its own character.

American Beech
American Beech
ravaged by weather, disease, and time… still living… continually putting out new branches with leaves that will not leave…

Yellow Birch
Yellow Birch
curly, distinctive bark-skin… unmistakable – even when I forget the branching pattern and the shape of the buds…

European Larch
European Larch
bumpy, warty stems promise poofs of soft needles come spring…

Roadside Maple
this youngster stands proud and hopeful by the side of the road, unaware of the strange shape it will take when branches interfere with wires…

White Pine

White PineI was going to write about the White Pine… But I don’t have to.  Please click –>here to read Marcia Bonta’s wonderful piece about this historically important and beautiful tree!

UPDATE (1/16/2010):  Trying to catch up on blog reading, I ran across another post about White Pine, this one by Seabrooke Lecki.  Click –> here!

Annual New Year’s Day Tromp

Brrr...I love waking up late on New Year’s Day with thoughts of where I should take the dog for a romp. Usually Emily joins me, but she was off at a friend’s and so I headed out into a snowy, blowing day without her.

I’m not sure she was very happy with me.  Sorry, Em.

As is often the case with a winter walk, the low temperature combined with wind made me feel very cold in the beginning, but as I walked, it didn’t take long for me to warm up.  I headed down into a protected ravine at the bottom of which runs a creek.  There are hemlocks and yellow birch all along the way… beautiful.

Stonefly Nymph (or exuvia?)On the bark of one of the yellow birch trees, I found gypsy moth eggs… and also a gorgeous Stonefly nymph.  I couldn’t really tell if it was a dead nymph, or if the back had cracked open to allow the adult to fly free… Here’s another picture I took a while back of a living stonefly nymph we found in the creek at Allegany State Park:

Stonefly Larva

I played around a bit with slow shutterspeeds to try to capture the essence of the wind. The orange-brown leaves on the Ironwood tree were dancing up a storm…

Ironwood in the Wind

Even though I have billions of pictures of Witch Hazel, I can never resist another.

Witch Hazel

Emily finally arrived home shortly after I did. We may go out later this afternoon or evening and see how our cross country skis are working after a long summer in the garage…

Happy New Year, everyone!

Pitch Pine

Every year I think, “I should do some posts about the conifers. It would be fitting for the season…” And then I get caught up in the chaos of the season and suddenly it’s spring and… well… you can see the dilemma. I can’t promise to write about all 12 species that can be found on the Audubon property this season… but let’s start with one: The Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida).

Pitch Pine

There’s only one on the property that I’m aware of, and that is in the Arboretum – just to the right – inside the main entrance off the parking lot. All the trees in the Aboretum are native to New York or Pennsylvania, though not necessarily to our part of New York… The U.S. Forest Service range map below shows a couple of spots nearby where it might be found growing wild, but most native stands are south or east of us.

Native Range of Pitch Pine

The Peterson Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs describes the Pitch Pine as “usually low, irregular, scraggly.” Needles can be 1.5 – 5 inches long and are arranged in clusters of three. It’s the only pine tree on our property with needles in clusters of three. Cones are 1 – 3 inches long, stout and the scales have sharp thorns.

It is unlikely you would use a Pitch Pine as a Christmas tree. The tree does have its uses, however. According the US Forest Service account, “Pitch Pine was an important tree during the days of wooden ships and iron men. Its coarse-grained wood is only moderately strong but contains a comparatively large amount of resin. Consequently, the wood resists decay, which makes it particularly useful for ship building.” (source)

In surfing the internet for more interesting tidbits, I came across this little anecdote at the Wood Magazine site:

The Pine Barrens did not represent valuable land back then. Just the opposite — the soil was boggy and sandy, as it remains to this day. But the land did support a thick forest of pine trees. And in the damp, soggy ground one could find iron ore.

To early Americans, that combination of pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and iron ore was heaven sent. That’s because iron ore was transformed into iron by melting it to remove impurities, a process called smelting, and the fuel of choice was wood charcoal rather than the mined coal of later times. The resinous pitch pine — its sappy, hard-to-work wood seldom desired — proved perfect as a source of charcoal. (source)

That was so interesting, I wanted to know more, so I began searching for “pitch pine and iron ore”… which led me to a book I never knew about:  The Natural History of North American Trees by Donald Culross Peattie.  I immediately ordered a copy of the 2007 release – an abridged version of the original 2-volume set that came out in the 1950s… which I would also like to find!  Since ordering it, I have found that you can also buy a Western Trees version and a Central and Eastern Trees version…  Can’t wait for my copy to arrive!

It was just supposed to be a simple little post saying that needles are in bundles of three and the cones are stout with sharp thorns…  And look what happened…  Oh the dangers of the internet…

Learn More: