Sunday, July 15, 2012

Northeast Amblings

Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)
This fair maiden was inconspicuously sitting amonst tall grass in a dry meadow where I often like to take a moment to catch my breath while out on a trail run. When I retured to this very spot just a week later, she and her friends had dried and shriveled to brown husks. Now, a good month later, all that remains are the thick velvety basal leaves. It was a privilege to admire you for the short time you bloomed.

Let me begin by saying it's been a full spring and summer thus far. Four days a week, after working 10 hours in a 100 degree kitchen whipping up cupcakes, flipping omlettles, and pressing paninis, I drag my slug-feeling self to the trail, lace up my sneaks and sprint. The first half mile is always the toughest as the thoughts of doubt creep in..."maybe it's too hot out here today"..."you had a long day, maybe you should just take it easy"..."maybe I'll just run to that bend and turn around"...but before I know it, my tight hamstrings have loosened up, my blood feels thin and flowing easily, my arms pump in unison with my legs, and all I can hear is the periodic birdsong loud enough to be heard over the whooshing wind in my ears and the huffing and puffing of my breath...and I can run for miles. By the time I return to where I've started it's as if the workday never even occurred; I have reset.

Spleenwort (Asplenium) - This single frond stood tall amidst the brown leaf litter alongside a trickling spring off of Old Mine Road in Montague, New Jersey.

The spring surfaced from beneath this enormous Oak - to give you a concept of size, Kiely here is 6'8" and normally appears quite tall. A deep stone pit along with a rusty pipe remained at it's mouth, evidence people had once collected water from this spring for use. The water was crystal clear and cold- refreshing on a muggy, buggy, humid NJ summer day. 

On my days off I sleep in late with my sweetie, have a lazy breakfast of eggs, toast, and cowboy coffee, and ponder what we'll do for the day. It may be a stroll along the D&H towpath following the Mongaup River dropping in for a dip in its frigid fast-flowing mountain waters. This path is lined with blooming Rhododron and Mountain Laurel, reminiscent of the southern Appalachians, trailing arbutus, and hemlock. Other days, we drive a windy road up to Point Peter- the highest peak in Port Jervis, NY, mind you a rather short peak in comparison to the nearby Catskills- where we can follow a deer path along the ridgeline, affording us expansive views of the grimy town below and flat-topped NJ/NY green/blue moutains in the distance and Mack trucks rolling along like ants on I-84. At our feet are oak saplings, blueberry bushes, barberry. In the moss and collected soil on the rutted cliff rocks are corydalis and various members of the Heath family. On days where we have more time  we'll take a longer hike to Stairway Falls, a rocky narrow trail through mixed woods, where Dwarf Ginseng, Common Cinquefoil, and Blue Violets isit at our feet. The reward at the end of this walk is a crystal clear lake, complete with water fall, dying trees on the horizon and a sweeping view of the Delaware River below and Appalachian mountains beyond.
Viper Bugloss (Echium vulgare) - This all-over bristley black-speckled member of the Borage Family was crowded amongst Common Moth Mullein, Milkweed, Daisy Fleabane, and tall grasses inside the Iona Island Preserve located in Bear Mountain State Park, NY. According to Peterson leaf tea is useful for promoting sweating, as a diuretic, and externally in healing boils; however it also contains the toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can cause liver damage. I would recommend using this plant as an external medicine only.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) - Check out those "fairy wing" stipules (to quote Juliet B.)! This is a key identifier to Red Clover, that and its cluster of irregular magenta colored flowers that resemble a pom-pom. This flower makes an excellent lymph-mover when steeped as a tea, while also offering a healthy dose of phytoestrogens. Ladies, drink up! Be certain to only harvest fresh flowertops, as the brown and wilting ones can have a blood thinning effect, dangerous to those on meds such as warfarin. I have seen these beauties along roadsides, in meadows, and on the edges of woods - an abundant medicinal wildflower.

What I have by far loved the most however about being back in this area is the easy access to swimming holes and river rock from almost anywhere in the area. Within minutes, I can be jumping over a jagged cliff into the Delaware, bracing my feet against slippery smooth stones in the rushing Mongaup, squatting in a shallow swimming hole in the Sawkill between car-sized boulders, or wading into the Raymondskill at the base of a crashing waterfall. It has by no means been a summer of hardcore hiking, but certainly a season of greeting the colorful faces of woodsy, roadside, and railroad wildflowers from Bloodroot in the early spring to Prunella and Wild Strawberry in the late spring to Milkweed now in midsummer.

Just one of the many lovely swimming holes along the Sawkill Stream. I took this pic while literally hiking up the stream, the large flat rocks combined with thick treeroots making perfect flat steps to make the hike easy.