Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring Comes to Dyken Pond

(a kiosk has trail maps and information on the area)
In the early days of Spring when the temperature rises to 60 degrees with a brilliant blue sky, Bill and I like to head for one of our nearby parks.  "I want to go near water," I say one Sunday morning.  We choose to visit Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center in Rensselaer County.

Dyken Pond has six miles of comfortable trails through a variety of habitats and reforested farmland--the perfect place to walk when other hiking locations are muddy. With no leaves yet on the trees, the woods are filled with warmth from a strong sun as we begin the short distance to the pond.                                                                                                                                                              
Although today only a few geese swim on the pond, this is not undeveloped state land.  Much of the shoreline is privately owned with visible camps and houses. In a couple of months, small power boats will bring fishermen onto the water in the mornings and waterskiers in the afternoons.  Today, though, not even a kayak has emerged from winter storage to skim this pond.

It's refreshing to see a stretch of open water after winter's ice, but we won't stay here long now.  We'll be back after we check out some of the trails, and when we're ready for the snack we've brought with us.

After a quick walk along the water's edge, we head into the woods, walking on the appropriately named Witchhobble Wander, where blooming witchhobble is abundant and just a hint of green appears. After about a quarter of a mile, we branch off to the Long Trail, up a short hill and into a beech forest.

One of the first points of interest listed on the trail map is the Grandfather Rock.  It stands alone as if dropped from a glacier just yesterday.  Bill peaks from one side, offering perspective on the rock's size.

While he takes a closer look, I discover a few trout lilies reaching for the sun next to a decaying log.  In a few weeks, a canopy of foliage will shade this forest floor, but, for now, these flowers open their petals wide as the day warms.  In the distance I hear a woodpecker tapping.  Despite the absence of leaves, I still don't see him.

Continuing on, we notice a foundation from a long ago homestead, reminding us that at one time this land was cleared and farmed.  Two old trees once sheltered a home here where families raised children and worked hard.  The trails that we walk on were once lanes traveled by horses and wagons to nearby fields and distant villages.

Educational opportunities abound in places like this that show the passage of time, and Dyken Pond offers many programs and field trips for schoolchildren.  Below, a stonewall now fences in trees, but, at one time, sheep may have grazed here.  The log displays cuts to signify how a tree becomes boards.  From this log, we can see cuts for two 4x4's and two 2x8's, along with slab wood on four sides that would not have gone to waste.

Below is a tree finder.  Although the dial is worn, we can discern how it points by color to trees marked  correspondingly to identify hemlock, maple, oak, and more. Visitors learn about both human and natural history here.

Returning deeper into the woods, we wind between the Sentinel Rocks.  These large rocks are reminiscent of the Druid gardens we saw in Ireland that offer mystery and enchantment.  A hemlock forest dims the strong sun making a cool shade that could harbor wood nymphs and other friendly spirits. Here, we feel a sense of timelessness that seems in opposition to the overgrown farmstead we just passed through.

From the Sentinels, we descend into The Bog.  With nearly 600 acres, Dyken Pond offers a large variety of ecosystems.  Thanks to this weathered boardwalk, we don't step on the spongy damp ground and damage sensitive plants. The same glaciers, that deposited the rocks, left this damp mossy depression.  I smell the rich aroma of muddy plant life.  Our walk has been a sensory journey.

We've been outdoors in the woods for a while and our thoughts turn to the rustic bread, locally made cheddar cheese, and crispy apples that I have in a backpack.  We meander back to the pond in search of a good place to sit with our picnic and enjoy the view.

I am distracted by this shed filled with canoes. Even though the warm sun makes me think of paddling, the water is freezing cold and unappealing for water sports.  Still, it won't be long before people want to be on the water.  The public is welcome to use these boats for 90 minutes at $10, or 3 hours for $20. Or you may launch your own kayak or canoe from here.

A few cabins line this side of the pond and are used by the Environmental Center for programs and summer camps.  We find a grassy spot in front of one and bask in the sunshine, the perfect place for a drink and a snack.

In our afternoon at Dyken Pond, we have only seen a couple of people and a few birds.  We think about the different seasons and when we might come again.  In the end, we decide that early Spring is best, before many other people venture out.

(Virginia enjoys the Spring outing)