Solstice

Today marks the solstice.

Tree: looking up

It was a gray, heavily overcast day. Dark at night. Dark in the day. Well, at least not bright. There was a bit of snow on the ground, but not much. A perfect blend of autumn and winter to mark the solstice.

Leaves and snow

Much as I would love to see a lot more snow, the scant dusting let some pretty colors show through.

Pine needles, moss and snow

As the days get longer and we move into the frenzy of the holidays, be good to yourself. And get outside!

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The Gorge!

We had to park up near the first campsite and walk down the rest of Hannum Road.

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We saw evidence that people had been down there along the Westside Overland Trail on snow shoes and skis. But no one had been down the path to the creek in some time.

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I couldn’t help thinking about hemlock trees since I’ll be giving a workshop about them on Saturday.

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The gorge was very full and very frozen… so slippery, there would be no hiking along it today!

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And it was more frozen than I have ever seen it! So beautiful!

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Trees

I wrote this article for Jamestown Audubon’s weekly column:

Trees
by Jennifer Schlick

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Eastern Hemlock

The temperature has risen 30 degrees to a balmy 23F, perfect for outdoor recreation.  The snow in the woods behind a friend’s house is thigh deep, so I strap on snow shoes and head out with the dogs.  The little one makes me laugh sometimes disappearing up to her ears as she bounds through the sparkling white stuff.  The first fifteen to twenty minutes is fast-paced to get the blood pumping.  After that, I’m warm and toasty for the rest of the walk and even feel the need to stop and cool down – frequently.

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American Beech

To speed the cooling I remove my gloves and unzip my jacket.  While I catch my breath I marvel at the trees, reflecting on the time I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, where the only native trees seemed to be Saguaro cacti and the imported palms looked out of place.  How can people live without trees?  I only made it for a couple of years in the desert and had to return to the forested landscapes of my upbringing.  I never feel more at home than when I’m in the woods.  I just love trees.  The beech still clinging to dry shriveled leaves, the big old maples and oaks gnarly and majestic, and the hemlocks – by far my favorite tree.

Old Maple

Old Maple

Not a fan of sun, the deep shade provided by hemlocks draws me in no matter the season.  I trudge a little ways off the trail to sit beneath the boughs for a few minutes.  I can just barely hear a little trickle of water in the creek under the thick ice.  Chickadees, nuthatches, and kinglets jump from branch to branch above me chattering their social calls, foraging for winter insects.  I scan the landscape and notice that this woods is relatively new.  The trees are young and dense.  Down here by the creek, the species of trees are all native.  Up on the hill, there are stands of White Spruce, Scot’s Pine, European Larch and others that were planted by the landowners many years ago.  None of the trees are really old, though.

There are places nearby where I can commune with really old trees.  I’d love to know the age of the big Sugar Maple on the hill next to the Nature Center building at Audubon.  And do you know the massive oaks on the far side of Spatterdock Pond?  How about the really nice stand of old growth in Allegany State Park off the East Meadow trail, or the forest at Heart’s Content?  There is a feeling you get in the presence of these old trees that you don’t get anywhere else.  You begin to wonder how many people have walked by this spot and what stories the tree could tell if it could talk.  You begin to question the significance of your relatively short life.

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Oak

We’d like to give you a chance to meet a few old geezers in Chautauqua County in March.

Jamestown Audubon’s 2014 “Bucket List” calendar features twelve must-do, must-see nature phenomena to experience before you “kick the bucket.”  The March 15 event focuses on old trees.  Restaurant proprietor Chris Merchant is passionate about old growth forests.  He and Audubon program director Jennifer Schlick will lead a chat about trees over lunch at Mariner’s Pier Express in downtown Jamestown, New York, before heading out to see some of Chautauqua County’s oldest trees.  The regular price of $43, or Friends of the Nature Center price of $34, includes lunch and transportation.  Prepaid reservations are required by March 10 and can be made by calling the Audubon Center at (716) 569-2345 or by visiting http://jamestownaudubon.weebly.com. The trip begins at 11:00am and we expect to be back in Jamestown by 4:00pm.

Another opportunity to learn about trees will be offered on Saturday, March 8, from 1:00pm until 3:00pm.  After a classroom program to learn about the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an insect that threatens Eastern and Carolina Hemlock trees, we will take a walk to Audubon’s hemlock grove to search for signs – and hopefully find none!  The fee for this program is $16, or $12 for Friends of the Nature Center and can be paid at the door.  Registration is requested by Friday, March 7, and can be done by phone, or at our website.

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road, one quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania.  Learn more about the activities at the Center by visiting http://jamestownaudubon.org or calling (716) 569-2345.

Jennifer Schlick is program director at Jamestown Audubon.

First Hike of 2014

My first hike of 2014:  Allegany State Park, of course.  We started on Coon Run Road, heading out the Fire Tower Trail.  Somewhere before we reached Willis Creek, we needed coffee and donuts.  Here was the view from our log:

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Once we crossed Willis Creek, we headed upstream, bushwhacking at first… but then finding the trail marked “indistinct or abandoned” on our topo map. Someone has been working on it! It was easy to follow – most of the way. Then either we took a wrong turn, or the maintenance stopped.

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After a bit more bushwhacking, we found the lean to:

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The doggies quickly gobbled down a cup of dog food each. We ate our chili a bit more slowly.

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After conversation about the “State of Emergency” the NYS governor has issued, I wrote the following in the trail register:

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NYS Gov declared a state of emergency. What else to do but hike! Started at Coon Run Rd Fire Tower Trail. Followed Willis Creek up to lean to. Stopped for coffee and donuts along the way. Had chili, apples, oranges and chocolate for lunch. Do we know how to handle an emergency or what? ~ J, T, L, and G

IMG_7853The hike was to continue along the North Country / Finger Lakes Trail back to Coon Run Road. We got a bit of a false start, but eventually found the blazes.  When many trees have tufts of fluffy snow stuck to the bark, a white blaze can be hard to find.

There is a feeling of peace and comfort that I get every time I hike the trails at Allegany – but especially when I’m on a ridge that gives me a view over a valley to another hill beyond.  It’s like I’m in a big cradle or being hugged by huge unseen arms.

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And what is it about shadows on sparkling snow that I feel obliged to photograph?

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I hope this first hike of 2014 is just the beginning of many hikes this year!

Happy New Year!

I Come Alive

I awoke to snow on Tuesday morning and I was (to borrow a phrase from Karen Eckstrom) irrationally happy. I come alive in winter. The air is fresh and crisp – not heavy and humid. I sweat only from exertion, not from merely sitting. There are no bugs pestering my ears and neck. And the world is pure and clean. I decided to get to work early so I could start the day with a walk.

The light changed several times during the walk, the sun peeping out sometimes, then clouds dumping more snow at others. Here are the pictures I took in the order I took them so you can walk with me:

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OK, now get to work!

A Difficult Winter

This winter has been rather challenging for me.  A fall back in December threw my spine out of alignment and that has caused all kinds of aches and pains.  It’s hard for me to follow doctor’s orders to rest and let things heal, especially in winter, my favorite season.  So I still attempt skiing and hiking… but I’m slow and it hurts.

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Squirrel Activity Under the Spruces

Still, my last meander with the dogs through deep snow, once powdery, now sinking into a heavy wetness, while physically challenging, managed to lift my spirits, as walks in the woods so often do.

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Snow, once light and fluffly, drapes heavily on branches that long for spring.

The creek tumbled over rocks, trying to ignore the snow.

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The creek rushes on.

I am WinterWoman.  But honestly, I’m ready for spring.

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I sort of feel like this: tattered, torn… but still hanging on…

There. I said it.

This Loop Has No Name

I got “lost” on this loop the last time I tried it.  This time, in addition to the 2 dogs and the topo map, I also brought a human friend… who brought a compass.  This time, while we did get momentarily “lost” a couple of times, we were able to find our way – and that was definitely thanks to the compass!

We hiked the loop in the opposite direction from last time.

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Coon Run Road was not plowed.  I parked the car near the maintenance area and we walked up to the red arrow on the map to start the hike following blue blazes and hiker signs – the first leg of the Park’s Fire Tower Trail.  Due to budget cuts, a lot of the Park’s trails are in disrepair and we encountered a lot of downed branches and trees.  The worst of it was just after we crossed Willis Creek.  The trail appears to go off to the right paralleling Quaker Creek – but then it ends.

We took this as a sign that we should have a coffee break.  Certain members of the party thought that mean a play break.

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After coffee, we re-traced our steps, pulled out the topo and compass, and discovered that our way was blocked by a significant tree-fall! Once we had picked our way around it, I took this picture from the other side:

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Zooming in, you can see a blaze, and an orange flag that someone put there to be helpful.

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Anyway, once we found the trail, we were good to go again… though a few more blue blazes would have been helpful.

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It was this kind of a day – fresh snow, though not a lot of it, setting off the brilliant blue sky, orange-tan beech leaves, and deep green of the hemlock trees. So beautiful.  As with many of the trails at Allegany State Park, there is a lot of uphill climbing on the first part of your walk.  The views from the top are worth it, though not entirely photograph-able…  Still, I try:

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The yellow star on the map above is where the Fire Tower Trail meets up with the Finger Lakes / North Country Trail. This trail is maintained by the Allegany Chapter of the Finger Lakes Trail Conference and is well marked with white blazes and well-maintained.

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We followed this to the lean-to at Willis Creek (green circle on the map above), then back down to Coon Run Road at the blue arrow on the map. It took us 6 hours. That’s with 3 snack breaks. And we’re not very fast hikers.