Tag Archives: botany


DSCN9221September has arrived and the goldenrod is glowing. I spent my morning admiring its abundance at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island.DSCN9253

Last summer I tried my hand at natural dying using goldenrod from my mother’s back garden. There was not quite enough goldenrod left in the garden by the time that I got around to picking it,and the wool came out a soft yellow. Paler than the plants blossoms. I have enjoyed looking at it for the past year, but must admit that yellow is not a color that I wear. Fortunately, G looks excellent in yellow. Someday he will receive a goldenrod vest. Someday distant…

Risser’s Provincial Park

Leaving the general store in Petite Riviere, it was a short ride to our home for the night, Rissers Provincial Park. The wind was blowing off the ocean and there were few other campers around. We set up our tent in view of the water and then made our way across the beach to the Rissers Beach Boardwalk. The sand was soft and appealing, but it was far too cold for a swim. Seaweeds were scattered across the shore and bright lichens grew on the rough rocks. I thought about “color stories” and stranded colorwork as we strolled.

I took a phycology course in college. Phycology is the study of algae, and I found it as boring as you are imagining. The professor was kind and quietly passionate about his field. He spoke with endearing excitement about fucus, caldaphora, and dulse, but his excitement was not contagious. His soporific voice made me want to curl up in the back row and fall asleep, lovingly caressing my desk with my cheek. If I had spent more time along the Nova Scotian shore, I might have understood his appreciation of rhodophyta and chlorophyta. I would have seen the beauty of laminariales.

Past the beach, we came to the Rissers Beach boardwalk. This estuarine promenade fits in the landscape as though it grew there. It runs along one side of the calm Petite Riviere salt marsh. Lichen-covered spruce grow on the upland side of the boardwalk and shelter visitors from the open ocean winds. We lingered for the golden hour before twilight and then made our way slowly back to packaged dinner, hard cider, and a hot campfire.


Spring Ephemerals

Each year, I measure the arrival of spring with firsts.

The first maple trees flowering by my house…

the first spicebush blooming in the forest understory…

the first skunk cabbage swelling at the swamp…

the first kettle of Turkey Vultures on the wind…

the first frogs and salamaders growing in cold, dark murky ponds…

and, most exciting of all, the first spring ephemeral wildflowers bursting out from the wet forest floor.

My cousin and I found marsh marigold deep in the woods at Darien Lakes State Park. At the Niagara Escarpment Preserve, there are violets, toothwort, bloodroot (my favorite), white trillium, and squirrels corn (a close second). They are like long-distance friends, in my life for a weekend visit, and then gone for far too long.

Skylight, Marcy, and a Sweater for the Mountains

This past weekend, my dad and I drove up to the Adirondacks for two days in the High Peaks. The Adirondack High Peaks are our favorite place in the world to be, and we could not have asked for a better visit.

We arrived at South Meadows, off of the ADK Loj Road, well after dark on Friday, and quietly set up camp in a small clearing below the dense spruce trees. In the morning, we stuffed our still-warm sleeping bags into our packs, and heading off toward Marcy Dam via the truck road. The sky was just begin to grow light when we reached our first stream crossing…
…and the sun was striking the  mountains by the time we reached Marcy Dam.

We set up our tent at a nearby campsite, and then began the ascent to Skylight. The air was crisp and the light was soft. We took our time along the way, stopping to tape my toes…
DSC_0006…appreciate the trailwork…   DSC_0013

…and, of course, look at the plants.

We arrived at the peak of Skylight in time for lunch, and for plenty of knit sweater photos (Thanks, Dad).

DSC_0043 DSC_0099e Knitterly details about this sweater- nine months in the making (not counting the sheep’s work)- are here on Ravelry. The body and neckline are knit from undyed, farmspun wool from the Wrinkle in Thyme farm in Maine. I love this yarn! The other colors are also undyed fiber including alpaca, camel, and wool.

Dad pointed out each of the high peaks…DSC_0058and I looked at the plants…DSC_0059 DSC_0076 DSC_0077 DSC_0085DSC_0057DSC_0101DSC_0080

I could have spent all day looking at the minature leaves, the shades of green, and the fading flowers, but there is only so much daylight in late September, and we had to continue. Leaving Skylight, we hiked over to Marcy for another hour above treeline, and then down, down, down to our camp and hot meal by the dam. We are already thinking about our next visit…DSC_0088

Summer Wildflowers

Here in Western New York, summer has only a few precious weeks left. It has been a season full of wildflowers.

In early July, I found these Canada lily (Lilium canadense) underneath an electric right-of-way line in Schoharie County, NY. They are not a flower you can walk by without stopping to admire the color. So bright!DSCN6194 DSCN6199

And these milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) were growing in a farmer’s old field, left to go wild for a few seasons.DSCN6224 DSCN6233 DSCN6236DSCN6243

In the middle of the month, my family spent a weekend in the Adirondacks, as we do every year. On Friday, my mom and I summited Noonmark- a wonderful mountain with views of the high peaks…
…and we found one of my favorite plants growing there- crowberry (Empetrum nigrum).

On Saturday, my dad, sister, and I climbed Esther and Whiteface Mountains. C and my mom met us at the top of Whiteface via the road. This was M’s 46th Adirondack High Peak! DSC_0286

On the way down, we passed by this wee alpine goldenrod (Solidago leiocarpa)…DSC_0277…and then almost missed the rattlesnake root (Prenanthes boottii)!

In late July, there were more milkweeds to be found, along with this Eastern Swallowtail slurping his lunch.DSCN6308DSCN6322      DSCN6315

Now the goldenrods are yellow across the fields, milkweeds are in seed, and I am greedily gathering their seeds to scatter in our wildflower garden and the unmowed space across the street. Next summer I hope to see one of these beautiful butterflies in our own backyard!

West Highland Way – Sallochy to Rowardennan & Kinlochleven to Lairigmor

Into the Highlands!


On our third day on the West Highland Way, M and I decided to make our way north via foot, ferry, and bus, so that we could spend at least a day in the true Scottish Highlands. We set an alarm for the first time on our trip, and woke during that magic time when the sky is starting to lighten.DSC_0065 We packed up our things and made our way to Rowardennan to catch the 9:30 am ferry to the town of Luss, passing this amazing Juniper along the way…P1010959 P1010967 P1010969 Luss is a “conservation” village. (We would say “historic preservation” here in the US.) It is full of beautiful stone cottages, and there is a sheep pasture just on the edge of town, where a shepherd was working his collie. P1010972We bought toasted scones with butter and jam (I could not get enough of these scones!) at a small cafe with incredibly friendly staff, and then made our way to the bus station on A82. It would have been nice to spend an afternoon in the town, but we needed to catch the next ride north to Glencoe, where we connected with a second bus to Kinlochleven. (Incredibly grateful for the wonderful public transportation available to these small towns!) From Kinlochleven, we were able to get back on the Way and continue our walk toward Fort William. Here I am at the western, Glencoe side of Loch Leven.P1010973 Our guidebook claimed that Kinlochleven- a planned town built up around a now-closed aluminum smelting factory- was one of the ugliest towns in the region. M and I could not disagree more! Clearly the author has never visited any rust belt towns in the US… Kinlochleven was made up of white town houses, each with a well cared for garden. P1010976 P1010975P1010977We would have stayed the afternoon, perhaps eaten some fish and chips, but we were also eager to get back on the trail and into The Mountains. Up the Devil’s Staircase – our first real hill- and through the birch forest, there were views back to Kinlochleven…P1010986…and back toward Glencoe…P1010985 There were lovely little streams…P1010981 and there were sheep! (Cheesy photo for my benefit.)P1010996 Just before Kinlochleven passed out of sight behind us, M posed for these photos with her Hansel Half Hap (Ravelry link)…P1010989The colors of the yarn blended with last season’s dried grasses and the red-brown heather stems.

P1010990      P1010992(I knit this small version from Gudrun Johnston’s pattern just for our trip. My intention was to complete one for myself as well, but other projects got in the way. Perhaps mine will be done before next winter…) We spent the late afternoon walking west with the sun on our cheeks.P1010999e There was a gentle breeze, the air smelled fresh, and we couldn’t have been more content. We paused at the ruins of an old croft house…P1020010P1020005and then set up camp at Lairigmor – the big pass.P1020014M and I have camped together and with our dad in a lot of spectactular places. This site, however, felt special. We were alone, but for a few sheep, and the world was quiet, but a sense of history hung in the valley. It was easy to imagine armies, shepherds, and hikers passing through this land- their footsteps on the road, their voices in the air.P1020017

West Highland Way – Drymen to Sallochy


On our second day on the Way, M and I woke up after for the last time well after the sun had risen. The campers around us were starting to roll over in their bags and to emerge slowly from their tents. We packed up our things, shook the dew from our tent, stuffed everything in to our still-too-heavy packs, and hit the road. (And it was a road all the way to the town of Drymen.)

Drymen is a small town, with lovely houses and colorful gardens. The town center is dominated by a large bed and breakfast, and there is also a grocery, a cafe, and a few restaurants. (Until recently there was an outdoors store for hikers, but this appeared to have closed permanently.) I was hoping for a cup of coffee and M had read that the butcher sold pies to-go, but it turns out that Drymen is impossible to get to [on public transit] on Sundays and just no fun to get to on Mondays. The butcher and the cafe were both closed for the day.

From, Drymen, the Way passes through a few pastures before entering land owned by Forestry Commission Scotland (Comisean na Coiltearachd Alba). Our guidebook (2013) described this section, as “…a shaded track through mature conifer forest”. Apparently since 2013, someone in the Commission decided that the forest was a bit too mature, and went about clear cutting the entire hillside.DSC_0028eNow, I am aware that clear-cutting, especially when slash is left in place, can be part of a responsible forest management strategy. This scene, however, was painful, disappointing, and confusing for us. According to the Forestry Commission’s Cowal and Trossachs Distric Strategic Plan (PDF), forests make up only 9% of Scotland’s total land area. Is clear-cutting the little forest that there is truly the best approach?

From the Forestry land, the Way continues toward Loch Lomond, taking a turn through sheep pasture, and then up over the shoulder of Conic Hill…

P1010941Views of Loch Lomond

DSC_0030 (2)A managed burn, visible from Conic Hill

…before descending through plantation forest…

DSC_0035Primrose (Primula vulgaris) growing in the forest understory

and to the loch-side town of Balmaha.

Balmaha is home to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Centre. M and I have visited dozens of National Parks together, and we always go to the Visitors Centers to read the interpretive panels, speak with the staff, and, if possible, become Junior Rangers. (OK, this last one only applies to me.)

National Parks are new additions to Scotland; Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was the first in 2002. We go the impression that Scots are still figuring out just what having a National Park means for them. (There were survey questions for visitors to answer. Should the main road through the National Park be expanded? Miles of forest would be affected, but the local people would have a safer route to and from their homes. Should a popular trail be closed in order to save an endangered species of flower?)

M and I bought ice cream at a cafe, stopped for a photo with Tom WeirDSC_0040 …and followed the paved path out of town.

We reached Loch Lomond’s most famous tree in the afternoon…DSC_0047e…and took time to play on the rocks.


The rest of day was spent on sidewalks and paths through the woods along the road…DSC_0056We reached Sallochy Camping late in the afternoon, with sore feet and crabby additudes. Enough of this walking on pavement!

Fortunately, out campsite was beautiful and quiet…DSC_0057

and right on the loch. We made tea and drank it with our toes in the cool loch water…



before eating a simple dinner as the light faded…DSC_0062