Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Walk in the Woods

(snow-covered crab apples look festive)
It is just a week before Christmas and I am "feeling low," as my mother would say.  I am thinking about my friend, Sandra, diagnosed a month ago with terminal brain cancer.  Last night I spoke to her on the phone and she told me that new tests showed cancer in her lung, and four vertebra as well. Her family is reeling, and I am sad.

I go about my tasks for the day, but I need to get outdoors. Twelve inches of gorgeous fluffy snow fell over the weekend with an additional five inches yesterday.  It beckons.  Where should I go?  I want someplace peaceful, restorative, and quiet--a woodland area, but nearby, so I don't have to drive far.  Oh, and I can't spend too much time there, so it needs to be a small place.  It is already after 1:00 p.m. and darkness comes early these days.

(the Onesquethaw Creek)

No ideas that fit the bill jump into my head, so I consult my old ECOS book on Albany County trails.  Hollyhock Hollow!  How could I forget?  It fits all the criteria.  I toss my snowshoes into the car and head out.  At first I feel a little guilty, having the luxury of being able to take off like this, but I soon put that thought behind me.

The parking area has not been plowed, so I drive farther along the road where I see a couple of safe pull-offs.  I choose one near the Creek Trail, a trail I would normally finish with, but, since I'm parked here, I will begin on this trail and go in the opposite direction from my usual walk.  I put my snowshoes on and stand by the  creek for a moment.

A former farm, Hollyhock Hollow is in Feura Bush, and is owned by the Audubon Society.  At only 138 acres, it is very small.  I can make a nice loop in just over an hour.

With numerous warning signs to watch for cars, the trail leaves the creek and crosses the road into the woods on the other side.

How odd to be going in reverse.  I enter the woods where I would normally exit.  Someone else has been here after the first big snow, but before yesterday's.  His snowshoe tracks are softened by the more recent snowfall, and I add a fresher track through the snow-laden hemlocks.

I walk slowly.  I'm not in any hurry.  My point today is not a work-out.  Instead, I absorb the quiet.  At this pace, I am easily side-tracked by natural curiosities.

A few feet off the path, I see a deep hole in the snow, surrounded by animal tracks.  I peer in, but can't see too far.  Maybe I shouldn't disturb whomever may be living there!

About six feet away is this, much smaller, exit hole.  Only a few animal tracks are visible at this end.

And what about this tiny hole?  I know mouse tracks when I see them with the fine line of a tail dragging between the paw prints. This guy went in and hasn't come out, unless he has another exit too. 

I leave the hemlocks and enter a hardwood forest.  The sun comes and goes.  When it comes out, it creates beautiful shadows.  I take a minute to enjoy them before the sun slips behind a cloud again.  Even though I'm walking slowly, I can feel my heart beat.  Maybe I'm getting a little work-out after all.

I go up this hill that we usually clamber down.  Going in reverse is fun, but a little confusing.  I had to check for trail markers a couple of times.

Big rock ledges criss-cross the hillside.  Today, the rock is barely visible under deep snow.

At the top of the hill, the land levels out into a little plateau.  I can see over the wire fence into a private field not owned by the Audubon Society.  I like the variety in the landscape.

My trail takes me back into the forest.  The sun is low in the sky, already, even though I've only been here about 45 minutes.

As I descend from the plateau, I see this crazy snake.  It's a heavy vine, making an odd curly shape.  Generally vines like this climb trees; they don't hang in mid-air off the ground.  I walk closer and see that it is actually attached to a tree, but that the tree has fallen.  I wonder if the vine will begin to climb a new tree.  I know better than to touch it, though.  I have learned that thick climbing vines like this are sometimes poison ivy!

And juxtaposed in this natural environment, is evidence of man.  This beautiful stone wall, made from Heldeberg blue stone, is actually fairly high, with this section in pretty good condition.  I'm guessing that, in this area long ago, it fenced in sheep or cows.  Now it fences in trees.

And what about this flower of birches?  They rise up as if coming out of a vase.

On closer look, I see an interloper!  See the tiny pine tree growing out of the middle that I have circled with a hexagonal line?

The snowshoe tracks that I had been following left the trail long ago, and I am breaking trail.  For being so close to Albany, Hollyhock Hollow is often left untouched. There are other places, like Five Rivers Environmental Center, that people visit first.

Whenever I come here, I like to take the Wildlife Trail which goes by this remains of a quarry.  It is believed that stone from the quarry helped build the Brooklyn Bridge.  How far away from here New York City must have seemed in the late 1800s.

I'm ready to cross the road again. I have arrived at the place where I would have expected to park, in the parking lot next to the Audubon Society headquarters.  It looks like no one has come to work here this week.

I jog down the short steep hill from the building back to the Creek Trail.  Today's snowshoes all have teeth on the bottom, so I can't slide down hills like we used to, but I like the feeling of control that I have now.

The sun is behind the ridge even though it's still only mid-afternoon.  A small flock of ducks hears me and scatters, as I walk along the creek back to my car.  I feel refreshed.  Coming here this afternoon was a good idea.