Purple and Yellow

With the autumn chill most definitely in the air, summer has receded down the road … ebbed away like the tides of the salt marsh. Farewell summer! Until next year.

So I’m posting some photos I took a couple of weeks ago when the vivid colors of summer wildflowers were still looking pretty and cheerful. We will have fall colors of course, but the summer brights are fading away. Here’s a last hurrah. I love these purple asters. They look lovely mixed with yellow  🙂

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The Mudflats

Mud has negative connotations. From being a “stick-in-the-mud” to “dragging someone’s name through the mud” to “mudslinging”, mud gets a bad rap. Images of acid-tripping 1960s hippies sliding around in the mud at Woodstock don’t help matters, unless of course you’re into that sort of thing 😉

But at the salt marsh when the tidal mudflats are exposed, the landscape acquires a character that is in some ways more interesting than during high tides. Those swaths of shiny, brackish, waterlogged mire create different shapes and textures, reveal the hidden creeks and narrow conduits, host crabs and crawlers, and provide an open scavenging spot for waterbirds.

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You can see the high tide line on the stalks of the grasses, a reminder of the vital force of ebb and flow and nature’s intelligent, purposeful systems.

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A sprig of green grass against the mud and rocks:

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This gull was perfectly at home in the low tide mudflats. I also spotted on this day two cormorants flying overhead, a black crowned knight heron, a rabbit, and a school of what appeared to be snappers swimming beneath the observation platform:

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The view facing south. Hello herons! Hello ducks! Enjoying the mudflats?

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As I left the marsh, I turned around to take one last picture. Even from this distant vantage point you can see the channel of mud through the grasses, doing its thing:

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Hail to the Queen

Wild carrot. Bishop’s lace. Bird’s nest. Daucus carota. Pick the name of your choosing. She will always be Queen Anne’s Lace to me … and I will always delight at the presence of this biennial wild plant. It thrives at the marsh, bursting out in masses, its white flowers unfurling from nest-like bundles. They are really fun to photograph, especially when its various stages of blooming and seeding are mixed in together – a still-closed cluster, a semi-opened cluster, a fully opened flat lacy flower, Queen Anne’s Lace puts on a show:

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Of course, Queen Anne’s Lace is labeled an “invasive weed” by the USDA … and of course, that means nothing to me because I think they are brimming with playful charm and jocund beauty. I’m almost tempted to plant them in my garden alongside the “respectable” plants.

Look at how they form a bright, breezy edging along the pathway. Just lovely 🙂

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Queen Anne’s Lace’s edible taproot was cooked and cultivated by Romans, Europeans and American colonists. Because of its high sugar content it was also used as a sweetener in some cultures. Herbalists attest to its positive effects on digestion and kidney health.  And it’s even been believed to have contraceptive properties which inhibit pregnancy. Queen Anne’s Lace attracts and benefits many insects, such as bees, butterflies, and green lacewings.

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It’s not a weed. It’s wildflower royalty. Long live the Queen!!

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Curly Dock

My plant identification skills are being put to the test this summer. It can be tricky, but I think this city girl is getting better at it, slowly but surely. I take pictures first, and research later. I focused in on this spiky plant which stood  out conspicuously against the green vegetation and blue water. What a fantastic color. Rusty reddish brown. It’s called curly dock which, like many of the odd, interesting, mostly ignored plants near wetlands, is classified as a “weed”. That’s a mighty fine color and appealing spiky posture for a crummy weed. I think it looks great:

IMG_6457Curly dock leaves are edible and nutritional. Rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, and zinc, they can be gathered, cleaned, and prepared like you would any leafy green. Sauteed with olive oil and garlic perhaps? The plant is a perennial and is pollinated by wind rather than insects. And it will grow almost anywhere from vacant lots to riverbanks to open fields to marshlands. Songbirds eat the seeds.

More curly dock among Queen Anne’s lace, sumac, grasses, and other marsh plants. A wonderful little snapshot of botanical diversity.

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Trees on the Trail

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
~Joyce Kilmer,”Trees,” 1914

On my walk through the Alley Pond nature trail, the Northern Red Oak reminded me, and all the other hikers, why it’s a stately and stalwart inhabitant of woods and marshes throughout North America. A tall, sturdy shade-giver extraordinaire with distinctive “striped” bark and an indomitable spirit:

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From the shadier side, two trunks hugging:

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A vertical shot of the leafy canopy overhead:

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A few yards away on the trail, one of my favorite trees since I was a child, the white birch. So completely different in character from the red oak. Of course, the salt marsh and Alley Pond are home to a tremendous diversity of living things.

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A small sapling that I believe is a bur oak.  It will take him a mighty long time to reach the magnitude of his Red Oak neighbor. Wonderful leaf shapes:

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And the old established trees will have even more young company very soon. Around the bend, I came upon a clearing where new trees were being planted by the Parks Department:

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Sights and Sounds

Oh salt marsh, how I’ve missed you; your scents, textures, and tidal wetland pulse. Spring is springing and you’re coming back to us, slowly but surely. Good to see you again 🙂

The Long Island Railroad crosses over the marsh about four times an hour and manages to do so with minimal disruptive effect. Personally, I find the constant swooshing of cars on the parkway much more intrusive. That sound is aggressive and unrelenting. The train, in contrast, moves through in a manner more like “Don’t mind me, just passing through!”. And in a few short seconds, it’s gone. This train chugged along at medium speed, traveling westbound between Douglaston and Bayside. As the marsh inhabitants go about their daily lives, so do humans and their urban commute.

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Those parkway cars I mentioned? Most bothersome is how they drown out the sounds of marsh creatures – birds primarily – and the trickling waters of the small brooks and creeks that feed into the marsh. This afternoon I managed to hear the vocalizations of the redwing blackbirds, grackles, marsh warblers, and honking geese flying overhead. Can you spot the black bird in this picture? He was chattering up a storm amid the dry reeds:

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I really like these old lattice style steel electrical poles. They look antiquated but aren’t nearly the eyesores that are most modern utility lines. I thought this one looked interesting against the clouds. In a few short weeks, those vines will be fully leaved, covering the entire thing:

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View at the base. A hikeable area along the golden phragmites. You can often see a bunny hopping around:

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Green carpet getting a jump on spring growth:

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A couple of sandpipers scoured the mud flats, while some mallards went on their way, perhaps in search of deeper water, or to tend to nesting duties. And white flowers in bloom.

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On Golden Pond

While we humans may be impatient for the arrival of spring, the season known for regeneration proceeds on its own terms and on its own timetable. We, in our restlessness, demand blooming flowers and warmer temperatures ASAP. But in the last of days of March, the thawing process is still underway, vegetation is still wearing its drab colors, and the fragrant floral aromas that infuse the air are still a long way off. So until the spring of purple lilacs, red azaleas, and luscious green leaves arrives, we have to make do with swaths of “earth tones” – or as my artist friends would call them, “ochers” and “umbers” 🙂

Golden Pond is just on the other side of the Cross Island Parkway from the salt marsh and Little Neck Bay. A tranquil kettle pond, Golden Pond is named after John Golden, a wealthy and successful Broadway producer who resided in Bayside, Queens from 1920. From the NYC Parks website:

Upon his death on June 17, 1955, Golden’s will bequeathed his Bayside estate to the City of New York as a park “for the use and enjoyment by the young people of the community of all races and creeds in a manner similar to that in which I made this property available for recreation and community acts during my lifetime.” The dedication of John Golden Park took place on October 18, 1965. The speakers included Mayor Wagner, Robert Moses, Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris, department store owner Bernard F. Gimbel, President of Actors Equity Association Frederick O’Neal, cartoonist Rube Goldberg, comedian Harry Hershfield, and restaurateur Vincent Sardi Jr.

Either from bequests of private citizens’ estates or protected natural habitat, northeast Queens is blessed with parkland, wetlands, and wildlife, with the salt marsh serving as the wild, nourishing nucleus. I encountered mallard ducks and mute swans at Golden Pond the other day. Their smooth glides across the water and bright plumage provided a nice contrast to the otherwise dreary, boggy surroundings:

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The reflections were wonderful and the ripples on the water an early tease of spring stirrings and activity – a far cry from the marsh’s barren solid frozen tundra of January.

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This picture captures early spring perfectly. A swan doing its thing, while a clump of budding daffodils have pushed their way up out of the ground, awakening from their winter slumber:

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Farewell little friends. See you soon .. when Golden Pond is abloom. That’s my spring rhyme 🙂

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