It’s been a challenge getting outside with all the rain we’ve been getting lately. It was drizzling when we got to the botanical garden Sunday afternoon, even though the weather people had promised that the sun would be coming out. We decided to walk anyway.
Along the path we met a staffer named Lauren, who was out in the rain looking for salamanders. We fell into a nice conversation and when we told her about our hunt for seedbox a couple of weeks ago she suggested another plant for us to hunt down. A tiny pyxie-moss was flowering now. She showed us a picture of it on her cell phone, and gave us directions to its location. We found it!
By then it had stopped raining so I went back to the car and got my camera. What a treat to see this plant so rare and unique to the Carolinas!
A rare minute creeping subshrub of xeric areas in the Sandhills region of North Carolina. This is the smaller of our two species of pyxie-moss. Very range-restricted, the entire known range of this species is a handful of counties in North and South Carolina. … The tiny succulent evergreen leaves are less than 5 mm long. … The flowers rarely set seed and the seeds rarely sprout. ~ Carolina Nature website
After enjoying our discovery we went on to explore more of the soggy gardens. There is always something different to see. It was still a damp, gray day.
This resurrection fern was growing abundantly on one side of a tall tree stump. On the other side of the stump it was all mushrooms.
I couldn’t get around to the back of the stump for a full all-mushroom shot, but you can see where the ferns ended and the mushrooms began in the photo below.
I close my eyes and listen to the voices of the rain. … Every drip it seems is changed by its relationship with life, whether it encounters moss or maple or fir bark or my hair. And we think of it as simply rain, as if it were one thing, as if we understood it. I think that moss knows rain better than we do, and so do maples. Maybe there is no such thing as rain; there are only raindrops, each with its own story. – Robin Wall Kimmerer (Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge & The Teachings of Plants)
And you know the light is fading all too soon You’re just two umbrellas one late afternoon You don’t know the next thing you will say This is your favorite kind of day It has no walls, the beauty of the rain Is how it falls, how it falls, how it falls ~ Dar Williams ♫ (The Beauty of the Rain) ♫
Lauren had mentioned that rainy days are the best time to look for salamanders. On warm wet nights from January to March here in the Piedmont they emerge from their underground burrows and head for vernal pools to mate and lay eggs. A week after that artic blast it did get unseasonably warm. I wonder if she found any salamanders after we talked. We kept our eyes open but didn’t see any.
Another trail! After visiting Mount Mitchell’s peak we found the Balsam Nature Trail, a 3/4 mile loop off of the Summit Tower Trail. The terrain here was very uneven, much to Tim’s relief after the flat pavement going up to the summit. Lots of up and down, even steps in some places and narrow passages between outcrops.
We didn’t encounter any wildlife or hear any birds calling. I’m guessing because this is a well-traveled trail and the creatures are hiding from people, if they are there at all. Every few minutes a couple or a family or small group of friends would overtake us and pass us. And just as often we’d pass folks hiking in the opposite direction. It was the most traffic we’ve ever experienced on a trail.
The best part of this walk could not be photographed — it was the amazing scent of balsam and Fraser fir. What an unforgettable olfactory delight!
Sadly, though, there wasn’t much left of healthy evergreen foliage. Most of the green we saw was mosses and ferns.
I am very familiar with the hemlock woolly adelgid insect pest that destroyed the hemlock grove surrounding my childhood home. It originated in East Asia and arrived here in 1951. According to Wikipedia, by 2015 90% of the geographic range of eastern hemlock in North America had been affected.
But I had never heard of the balsam woolly adelgid until I saw it mentioned on a trailside sign, explaining why there were so many dead and dying trees in this forest. This insect pest arrived here from Europe in 1900 and was discovered in this forest in 1957. The devastation is obvious in many of these pictures.
Mosses and mushrooms seem to be thriving with such an abundance of dead wood. I tried to identify the moss in the above picture — it seems to be some kind of feather moss. It looked different than the mosses I usually see. According to Britannica there are approximately 12,000 species of moss distributed throughout the world.
The spruce-fir forest is a forest type dominated by needle-leaved, evergreen red spruce and Fraser fir trees. It exists only at elevations above 5,500 feet, and contains plants and animals that are adapted to cool, moist conditions. Some of the plants and animals living in Mt. Mitchell’s spruce fir forest are found over much of the state. Others, however, are the same as (or are close relatives of) those found in the spruce-fir forests of New England or southern Canada. ~ trailside sign
The climate of a spruce-fir forest can be harsh. Wind and ice storms are facts of life here: trees with their tops missing are common sights. And, as with any high-elevation ecosystem, rain, fog, sleet or snow can occur unpredictably — in any month, at any time of day. ~ trailside sign
Though spruce-fir forests are found in a broad region of northern North America, they occur south of New England only in a thin zone along the Appalachian Mountain chain. ~ trailside sign
All that being said, I was still enchanted with this forest and will cherish my memories of this little taste of New England here in North Carolina.
It’s hard to believe we haven’t been back to the nature center since June! For this nice walk we found lots of mosses to satisfy some craving for color. And we enjoyed seeing the latest patients in the outdoor rehab enclosures.
Mosses are prolific under the moist shaded canopy of evergreens, often creating a dense carpet of green. But in deciduous forests, autumn makes the forest floor virtually uninhabitable by mosses, smothering them under a dark wet blanket of falling leaves. Mosses find a refuge from the drifting leaves on logs and stumps which rise above the forest floor like buttes above the plain. Mosses succeed by inhabiting places that trees cannot, hard, impermeable substrates such as rocks and cliff faces and bark of trees. But with elegant adaptation, mosses don’t suffer from this restriction, rather, they are the undisputed masters of their chosen environment. ~ Robin Wall Kimmerer (Gathering Moss: A Natural & Cultural History of Mosses)
Resuming our walks! When we arrived at Moore Woodlands the birds were singing and it sounded like spring. It was 44°F/7°C and cloudy on this warm-for-January day. As we started walking around the meadow a song sparrow came down to the bushes and started singing for us. This made my whole day!
It is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift. ~ Robin Wall Kimmerer (Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge & The Teachings of Plants)
In the woods we found a great many eastern red cedar trees that must have come down in a storm. Where they fell across the trail they had been cut and moved off to the side. It was interesting seeing the redness of the freshly cut wood.
We also saw a lot of English ivy growing on the ground and climbing some of the trees. I did some research when I got home and learned that the ivy is invasive and greatly weakens the trees they climb, making them more likely to fall during strong winds. It looks like the Avalonia Land Conservancy has been working to remove the ivy from this patch of woodland. We also saw quite a few eastern white pine saplings.
It also looks like the land conservancy is starting to identify the trees with little tags! I’d like to get more familiar with our local trees and welcome this new aid. This was a lovely first walk for the new year. 🙂
The ground was pretty soggy from melting snow and days of rain so we decided to take a walk in the village of Stonington Borough, rather than traipse through the muddy woods. I visited this lighthouse many years ago with my sister-in-law and climbed the very narrow circular stairs up the tower to the lantern room on the top. The view was wonderful. There wasn’t much space to move around or stretch out, though!
The Stonington Harbor Light is a historic lighthouse built in 1840 and located on the east side of Stonington Harbor in the Borough of Stonington, Connecticut. It is a well-preserved example of a mid-19th century stone lighthouse. The light was taken out of service in 1889 and now serves as a local history museum. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. ~ Wikipedia
The Stonington Harbor Light is located at the southern end of Stonington Point, marking the eastern side of Stonington Harbor. The light station consists of the tower and keeper’s house; both are built out of large granite blocks, and the keeper’s house has a wood-framed ell attached. The tower is an octagonal stone structure 35 feet (11 m) in height and 10 feet (3.0 m) in diameter, with a circular glass lantern house on top. The house is 1½ stories and about 30 feet (9.1 m) square. ~ Wikipedia
The promise of a water view behind the lighthouse lured us around the back and across the spongy lawn. How nice to see a bench there. Looks like a nice spot to enjoy a warm spring day. But no sitting for us on this wet day!
There were lots of sparrows chirping and flitting about, making it feel like a spring day. We found a sundial in a corner of the yard but it was too cloudy out for the sun to tell us the time. It might have been accurate, too, because we are not in daylight savings time. I wish they would do away with the time change. We’re only under “real” time for about four months out of the twelve…
Looking west on our way down to Stonington Point we saw a moment of blue sky! From the end of the Stonington Borough peninsula one can see two lighthouses in two different states.
Latimer Reef Lighthouse, which was placed on the western end of the half-mile-long rocky reef, consists of a prefabricated, cylindrical, forty-nine foot-tall, cast-iron tower with a cast-iron, concrete-filled foundation. … There were a number of other lights built around this time using the same design and employing the same construction methods. They were initially referred to as “Coffee Pot” lights because of their shape, but a few decades later, after the internal combustion engine was in common use, these towers became more commonly known as “Spark Plug” lighthouses. ~ Lighthousefriends.com website
A good portion of the parking lot at the point was still covered with the snow deposited there from the blizzard. It blocked a lot of the views! But in the distance between these mounds (above) I spotted Watch Hill Light, which we visited in October. So I walked across the waterlogged lawn area and used my zoom lens to get a picture of it from Stonington Point. (below)
Our plan to keep our shoes dry failed completely! But at least they were less mucky than they would have been had we gone for a walk in the woods.
Years ago I used to be a member of the Stonington Historical Society but discontinued my membership when paying the dues didn’t fit in our budget. But it was there that I found a letter written to the Society by my great-grandmother in a file. Emma Flora Atwood was asking them if they had any information about her husband’s parents, William Martin White and Ellen C. Hill, who lived in Old Mystic, another village in Stonington. I don’t know what their reply might have been, but the folder had little else in it. It was exciting to handle a piece of paper that she had touched, too. I like to think my great-grandmother was as interested in family history as I am. She was my mother’s Grammy and that’s why I wanted to be Grammy to my grandchildren. ♡
The other thing I learned while I was getting the Society’s newsletter, was about my 2nd-great-granduncle, Pvt. Rufus C. White, brother of my 2nd-great-grandfather, William M. White, mentioned above.
Rufus C. White, born 6 June 1839, died 16 May 1864, age 24, at Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia. Rufus served as a private in the Union Army, Company E, 21st Infantry Regiment, Connecticut and was killed at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff. In the 1860 census, Rufus was recorded as a farmer with a personal estate of $100.
The following is from Stonington’s Forgotten Heroes of 1861-65 by James Boylan:
The second large Stonington unit was Company E of the 21st Infantry Regiment, which was recruited in the summer of 1862 from eastern Connecticut. About seventy Stonington men served in Company E, under Captain Charles T. Stanton, Jr., of Stonington. Like Company G of the Eighth, this company became involved in the fogbound battle of Drewry’s Bluff, in which Stanton was severely wounded, and the siege of Petersburg, where Captain Henry R. Jennings of Stonington was wounded. Partly because its term of service was shorter, it suffered fewer casualties.
And there was another pleasant memory, which Tim & I recalled as we passed the Society’s Captain Palmer House Museum on our way home. It must have been in the early 2000s, when I read with great interest, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. I am distantly related to some of the sailors he wrote about on that ill-fated voyage. Imagine how excited I was to attend a lecture he gave about his book at the museum. Tim and Larisa came with me and we had a brief conversation with him afterwards.
Friday afternoon we had a lovely visit with four very charming goats, and their guardians, our friends Bob & Julie. The kids, Chai and Brie, are seven months old. We brought them a treat to eat, our holiday tree. 🌲 I had a blast with the photo op!
Chai loves to be held, although she’s starting to grow out of that a little.
Addie (above) is a fainting goat, which I learned from Bob is a goat with a hereditary condition that may cause her to stiffen or fall over when startled. Thankfully our presence didn’t startle her.
The fir tree was a hit, at least when the goat crackers weren’t being offered. 😉
Clearly, Julie and her goats adore each other. It was so heartwarming to see. 💕
We walked with them back to their barn and got to see where they spend the night. What a treat and change of pace this visit was for us. Thank you, Bob & Julie!
It is in midwinter that I sometimes glean from my pines something more important than woodlot politics, and the news of the wind and weather. This is especially likely to happen on some gloomy evening when the snow has buried all irrelevant detail, and the hush of elemental sadness lies heavy upon every living thing. Nevertheless, my pines, each with his burden of snow, are standing ramrod-straight, rank upon rank, and in the dusk beyond I sense the presence of hundreds more. At such times I feel a curious transfusion of courage. ~ Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings on Ecology & Conservation)
After nine months in self-quarantine life still seems pretty bizarre. The coronavirus pandemic still rages and is getting worse with every day. Our fervent hope is that getting everyone vaccinated will turn things around sooner than later. Two of our elderly relatives-in-law have caught it, one is still fighting for his life in the hospital and the other is still sick and isolating at home. Some of Tim’s friends have lost loved ones. These are truly dark days.
Since I took a sunset picture for the summer solstice in June I decided to take a sunrise picture for the winter one. But we had fog and clouds on solstice morning, not even a hint of daybreak in the sky. There was a travel advisory for black ice on the roads so we stayed home and I took the picture from an upstairs window.
We had tried to take a walk on Saturday but found a sheet of ice on top of the snow making it too hazardous to continue. So instead of attempting another trek out on Monday I put Grandfather Frost out on our balcony, hoping to catch him casting the longest shadow of the year at noon. At first there was no sun and no shadow but by some miracle the bright star came out from the clouds right at solar noon for just a quick minute! I took the picture and then it disappeared again. (If I had known where the railing shadows would fall I would have located him standing fully in the sunshine!)
A year indoors is a journey along a paper calendar; a year in outer nature is the accomplishment of a tremendous ritual. To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimages of the sun, and something of that natural sense of him and feeling for him which made even the most primitive people mark the summer limits of his advance and the last December ebb of his decline. All these autumn weeks I have watched the great disk going south along the horizon of moorlands beyond the marsh, now sinking behind this field, now behind this leafless tree, now behind this sedgy hillock dappled with thin snow. We lose a great deal, I think, when we lose this sense and feeling for the sun. When all has been said, the adventure of the sun is the great natural drama by which we live, and not to have joy in it and awe of it, not to share in it, is to close a dull door on nature’s sustaining and poetic spirit. ~ Henry Beston (The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod)
We kept trying to get a decent picture of our lovely “snowball and icicle” tree but our cameras refused to focus — at least you can get a vague impression of it from this one. I suspect the camera doesn’t know what to do with the little lights and glass reflections. Then again, I’ve never mastered the art of indoor photography. Outdoor light is my friend. I tried to get a few close-ups of ornaments with mixed results. The best ones follow….
May your holidays be merry and bright and full of blessings and gratitude. As the light returns and as our days grow longer may the coming year sparkle with hope, love and peace. 🌲
With 16 acres of 11 kinds of evergreen trees, we had a nice long walk at this tree farm before we (I) settled on one to take home. We thought we were looking for a Fraser Fir but none of them seemed right and with the guidance of a helpful employee we finally came home with a lovely Nordmann Fir. I’m in love!
An excellent needle retaining species with soft glossy dark green needles. Nordmann Firs are the preferred Christmas tree of Europeans, with long, full, lush, dark green foliage, similar to a Fraser fir, but soft to the touch and with excellent needle retention. … Their soft and lustrous black-green needles stem from symmetrically arranged branches, producing the ideal pyramidal specimen for a Christmas tree. ~ Pick Your Own Christmas Tree website
We liked the color of the Nordmann better, for some reason we never noticed how yellowy the Fraser was before we saw two, one of each, growing right next to each other. The only thing the Nordmann is missing is fragrance, but we’ll just burn some scented candles to make up for it. 🙂
I was so busy trying to stay six feet away from the young man helping us that I forgot to take a picture of our solstice tree before he cut it down. I have to say, he was very patient to answer all our questions, and my last minute change of mind didn’t faze him in the least. Tim was relieved when the tree was finally cut and loaded into the truck. It was all bundled and ready for us when we returned to the holding area.
On the way back I saw a bluebird! But it was too quick for me and the pictures came out too blurry to use. Sigh… My luck with birds seems to be waning.
There seems to be a shortage of Christmas trees this year, or so I’ve been hearing on the news. More people looking to make their pandemic holiday extra special. Every time we thought we spotted a good looking tree it turned out to be tagged already. Next year we might just pay the extra few dollars to tag a tree before Thanksgiving. But we’re still happy with the one we finally found.
Since my last post the new guidelines say that those over 65 years old should have their groceries delivered now during this surge. So it’s back to Instacart for us. Staying home except for our walks in the unpopulated woods.
Latest statistics: New London County now has 6,648 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 54 people are currently in the hospital and 180 have lost their lives. That’s 1,980 new cases since November 15 when I last reported.
Connecticut’s positive test rate is now 5.7%. (It was 6.4% on November 15.) It looks like we’re doing better than many other states. Still, we’re hunkering down for the next few months.