Spring 2013 – Early April

Sing along: “It’s beginning to look a lot like April!”

If you don’t know the tune, write me and ask for it.  Just kidding.  Here it is, as written and sung by the great Johnny Mathis (biography):

If your brain is racked anything like mine, that song will be stuck in your head the rest of the day.  So, in a sense, we will be singing along together.  Just remember to use the word April.

Anyone living south of our Clinton County, New York (in the far northeast corner of the state, bordering Vermont and Canada) may enjoy seeing the still somewhat wintry nature of early-to-mid April here.  Folks north of here, go ahead and laugh, especially Alaskans, Siberians, Antarcticans (just north of the south pole), etc.

For reference, in case there is someone reading this not acquainted with Clinton County, NY:


Also in our geography lesson today, that’s “the other Great Lake” on Clinton County’s east coast, Lake Champlain, part of the Adirondack Coast, named for our Adirondack Mountain Region (see also Adirondack Mountain Club).

Moving on from geography to cryptozoology, the 400-foot-deep lake is also home to a 600-year-old sea monster, known to the Abenaki Indians as Tatoskok.  While fighting the Iroquois on the shore of the lake, the great French explorer Samuel de Champlain saw the creature and declared, “Mon Dieu!  Kunta Kinte, I found you!” (A line later used in an unrelated movie scene.)  Today, the giant serpent (actually a plesiosaur), our local version of the Loch Ness Monster, has been co-opted for economic purposes, like almost everything, a sort of mascot of local chambers of commerce, especially in the village of Port Henry.  Its name is now Champ.  Our local economy does need all the help it can get, even from dinosaurs.

And finally, what you’ve all been biting your nails waiting for: what April looked like at Balsamea Headquarters (it gets better AFTER this slideshow):

April 4, 2013:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m trying to use the camera to keep a chronological record of the things spring brings.  It means carrying the camera with me on our thrice-daily forest saunters (and while doing trail mending, trail tending, and trail bending, one of my bigger hobbies, a critical factor in being The Balsamean).  Sometimes I don’t carry it, especially after dark.  Some forest saunters should be just walks for the sake of walking in the woods.

So … watching for the first thing to come out of spring — or the first one I noticed — as the snow receded, the bright red heads of my favorite lichen showed up.  It’s not that they “bloom” in spring.  They were red all winter.  But they were the first brightly colored thing revealed by the snow’s retreat.  I think that these pictures of our British Soldier Lichens (Cladonia cristatella), from April 15 and 18, are better than my old ones from May 2012, published here in British Soldiers in Balsamea Woods! (go there to learn about these lichens).

These photos are from the same location as the old May 2012 shots: one of our woods openings called Five Stump Skypatch.  There are seven stumps, but only five big, obvious ones, each blanketed with lichen, moss, tiny balsam fir seedlings, and a billion microscopic things I don’t know about.  Skypatch is our name for an opening in the woods, where the sky is a dominant feature of the place, and one may get a sunburn, unlike the generally dense shading of our woods.

(Click a pic to see them bigger.)

It’s like going to another planet, ain’t it?  Why do people want to pay a quarter million dollars for a ride on Virgin Air’s space shuttle, when entire alien worlds are right here for free at Balsamea?  They’ve got to be out of their minds.  Maybe it’s better they want to leave the planet.

All our first three spring show stoppers are deer food: lichen, maple, and pussy willow.  The first “normal” plants to flower, that is, plants with shoots and leaves, were sugar maple and red maple trees, one with a bird’s nest:

Now for the second (and even more fun) plant to “flower” (if these are actually flowers), the mysterious pussy willow.  It took about 200 shots to get this handful of pictures that were not too bad.  So applause WILL be appreciated.  This is a mix of shots from April 14, 18 and May 1.  See if you can guess which ones were from May 1.  In one shot, you can see where a deer (presumably … I suppose it could have been a moose or a turkey or a porcupine) chomped off a bud.

(Click it to dig it.)

No pussies were injured in any manner whatsoever in the making of these pictures.  However, in one of these pictures you can see where a stem ends abruptly where a deer (presumably) bit off a bud.  This browse damage has frustrated the growth of this tree all its life.  This year I pruned it and put it under the protection of a wildlife net, along with several other trees I now protect from the deer.  Our deer overpopulation has a major impact on the progression of this forest, as with effects of all human presence (in this case our removal of big predator animals).  This is human habitat now, as much as that of any other native animal.

The miracle of digital photography.  Imagine having to pay for 200 Kodak prints to find a handful of nice ones?  Barbaric!  Kodak went bankrupt, but we got the blogosphere instead.  My sympathies — seriously — to all my former neighbors in Rochester suffering the demise of their iconic employer.  (The company is resurrecting in a much smaller incarnation.)

And, thanks to the magic of mouse-driven zoom and crop, I can see things in these natural wonders that completely escape my naked eye.  I mean, did you ever see a pussy willow bloom a foot wide?  I shrunk these a little to fit in one computer view without scrolling around in it, but you get what I mean.

One of our most numerous wildflower is the tiny violet.  There are hundreds of clusters of these scattered here and there throughout our 19 acres.  This year there are more violets than ever (as with our bursting population of trout lily, but that’s for another post).  These pictures are from May 5, 2012, because I have so many nice violet pictures I didn’t bother taking any this year … except one, just to document when Balsamea first presented them to us, magically on May 5, 2013.

First, a little aside (as are most things I say):  As I work with these pictures, thinking about those times I spent focusing my attention on these wonders of nature, learning about them, sharing them with you, I realize how blessed I am to have such abundance right outside my door.  It’s more than that.  It is medicine to my mind and body.  I am a better person because of the time I spend immersed in the experience of being welcomed as a fellow sylvan among all these others, who tend to my soul as they do, cultivating The Balsamean.

I’ve been personally acquainted with some people of the type, so I guess there may be some reading this, who see this kind of statement and the feelings in it as silliness.  Emotional bubblegum.  Self-serving drama.  They won’t say it, probably not even in their own minds, not per se, but their perception of it leans toward, “Be a real man, would you?”

I’ve never been closer to a truer me.  My immersion in Balsamea has gone a long way toward washing away the paint, putty, pretense and pain of too often suppressing, ignoring, neglecting or abusing this one laying on the ground trying to get a good picture of a violet, and later, in a moment like this, having tears running down his cheeks because of realizing how blessed he is, and not such a bad guy when he is most fully living the life of The Balsamean, which includes making these scribblements, even if nobody reads them.

So, thank you, violets, and all the other Balsameans here before I arrived, before they adopted me as their own.

April is always loaded with surprises.  I recall a mid-April day years ago that came with a foot of snow, and we almost always have some snow in April.  Sometimes we get slammed with a heat wave (to me that means anything over 70 degrees in spring, over 80 in summer, 30 in winter … I get depressed when it’s over 30 in winter … Fahrenheit, that is).

Here’s a pleasant surprise we found on our morning walk this past April 12: iced balsam fir, that boreal tree (Abies balsamea) for which Balsamea is named …

I hope you enjoyed this little virtual visit to April in Balsamea.  If not, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

I invited an overstressed, unemployed, completely broke, downtrodden person to an all-expense-paid trip to Balsamea for as long as he wanted this spring, including room and board, and … would you believe it? … he decided to get a job instead!  People are nuts.

This is the beginning of my Spring 2013 series.  More to come.

I often question why the heck I feel compelled to record these events and processes in nature, then scribble about them to an almost entirely anonymous audience.  I can’t help it.  It’s bred into being The Balsamean.  It’s a great hobby, and I learn a lot, and have fun doing it.  This self-questioning continues, but I’m moving toward not troubling myself with “the why of it,” and just be it.  Thanks for being an audience for my self-entertainment.  It’s just not the same as writing in a journal notebook.  An audience makes it another kind of scribblement, probably a better kind.

Was it good for you?

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes  –Marcel Proust


Related article:

Colouring the Landscape by Sarah Boon, in her blog, Watershed Moments: Thoughts from the Hydrosphere.  Quote: “I’ve been trying to follow Proust’s advice, renewing my gaze to find out what I’m missing. What I’ve discovered are lichens …” and she made terrific photos.  Ms. Boon is “rediscovering [her] writing and editing roots after 13 years primarily as an environmental scientist,” and she is “a member of the Canadian Science Writers Association and The Explorer’s Club, and [has] been nominated to be a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Societyand she is an inspiration.