March Madness

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. – Henry Van Dyke

Sometimes the first spring day comes well before the first day of spring. One shouldn’t be too surprised when winter has more to say…

We were blessed with a number of really warm days during February. Sunny days in the 60s, and even the 70s. Daffodils bloomed; trees began to bud. An early taste of spring.

Eager to shake a bad case of cabin fever, I found myself supplementing my customary woodsy walks at a local park with frequent jaunts to Tyler Arboretum. One very warm day, I discovered that the frogs had come out to play. Spring peepers were secretive as always, impossible to see and impossible not to hear. And the wood frogs! Dozens of wood frogs. I’d never seen so many.

They were out of hibernation, looking for love, and finding it. Shortly thereafter, the pond was full of frogspawn.

My cell camera doesn’t zoom in very well; this is the best image I took of the army of wood frogs. (Yes, a group of frogs is called an “army!”)

And why do I only have cell phone images of the wood frogs?

I blame a lack of vision. Not the creative kind of vision. Literal vision – my eye sight.

I’ve been battling rapidly worsening cataracts in both eyes for some time. Cataracts are easily corrected by surgery, but the process has taken far longer than I expected. In the meantime, my impaired vision has dampened my enthusiasm for photography and limited my driving to a handful of nearby locales.

Most of the time, lacking all confidence, I haven’t even bothered to take my camera. Inevitably, I’ve found something neat that begged for a photograph, and I’ve had to resort to my cell phone. That’s been great for my Facebook page, not so much for the Wild Edge.

So the next very warm day, I went to Tyler, with a real camera, specifically looking for frogs. Of course, there were no frogs, but I found other subjects to shoot. The bridge across Dismal Run offered a unique view of a water strider skimming along the surface.

This is one of my favorite spots, a bench under eastern red cedar trees at the top of Pink Hill. After climbing the trail up from Dismal Run, a nice shady place to rest and cool off is welcome.

One warm Saturday, Robb, Don and I found ourselves in a bit of a hot spot. The day was sunny and blessedly free of other commitments. So we went to the Pine Barrens, in search of green trees.

We weren’t expecting to find our chosen trail flanked by the site of a recent controlled burn.

A very recent controlled burn. So recent, in fact, that there were quite a few plumes of smoke where the fire still smoldered.

Controlled burns are conducted in the Pinelands to clear the forest floor of deep layers of pine needles and other brush. If left in place, this duff could fuel disastrous wildfires.

Burns like this help the pine trees, too. Pitch pine cones are serotinous. They require fire with temperatures above 108° to open and release their seeds. This strange cone got the job half done.

One of my favorite views in the Pine Barrens. White sand, tea-colored water, green trees, blue sky. Serenity on the Oswego River.

The calendar turned from fevered February to March madness, and suddenly winter returned. Don’t let the deep blue sky fool you. It was COLD this day at Fort Mifflin. And very windy. We took a walk along the outer seawall, and Don was almost blown into the Delaware River.

After a winter in which we’d had only two light snowfalls, a true winter storm was a rude awakening. Snow and sleet, frozen hard overnight, left an impenetrable layer 6” deep, even deeper to the north.

When the roads cleared, I went in search of interesting snow photographs. With a real camera. Lake Nockamixon and Haycock Mountain, in Bucks County.

Mostly I was looking for red barns. Found one!

Winter grass and snow.

Found another barn!

This one came with a lovely farm pond, flanked by Canada Geese, and, as I learned later, a Great Blue Heron.

Back at the lake I found some of the plants encased in ice.

The snow and ice got me thinking about those wood frogs. Wood frogs can survive freezing. But on the warm days they laid thousands of eggs. The frogspawn was still there on my last visit, masses of strings of dark-centered gelatinous spheres. Will they survive? Will there be tadpoles? Or will the madness of winter following spring be the downfall of this new generation of frogs?

This topsy-turvy winter may not have been beneficial to the frogs. It certainly hasn’t been beneficial to my photography. I feel as if am simply killing time, enduring an endless maddening wait for something just over the horizon, like frogs waiting for a warm spring day.

Waiting can have its own benefits. The lessons I’ve learned from this period of my life? Never take good eyesight for granted. Don’t sit in the house and mope; time in nature heals the restless soul. Don’t overlook the wonders that abound at even the most familiar places.

And don’t leave the camera at home!

Snow Scenes

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_7972acaWinter can be such a drab season. Everything is bare and brown. There’s no green anywhere, save for the invasive vines that are so obvious at this time of year. Trips to the Jersey Shore and the Pine Barrens (evergreens!) break up the monotony. But it takes a good snowstorm to really shake things up. Suddenly all those bare brown branches are sugar-coated and the ground is clean crisp white.

After our January blizzard, I went walking every day to enjoy the snow. There’s a local park with a trail that parallels Darby Creek. Of course I took my camera along.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8101acsWhile I was watching the wildlife, the wildlife was watching me. I’m pretty sure this is a Red-tailed Hawk. I’m out of practice identifying birds. Been spending a lot of my time with plants and pebbles.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8044acsSnow-covered rocks in the stream – Mother Nature’s cupcakes.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8227acsMemories of summer days.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8320acsCarolina Wrens are tiny birds with BIG voices. I usually hear them long before I see them.

160129_PA Lancaster Farms Snow_8582acsSame storm, different location. Lancaster County barn.

A couple of weeks later Don and I went to the Pine Barrens on a Thursday to look for, what else, pebbles. On the following Saturday, Don, Robb and I were concerned that our chosen destination for the day would be too icy. So we debated an alternative. Don suggested a return to the Pines. I said “But, Don, you know the Pines got 4 inches of snow Thursday night, right?”

“Nonsense,” he replied “my family drove the Atlantic City Expressway right through the Pine Barrens yesterday and they said there was no snow.” So that’s where we went.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9672acsUm, Don, no snow? What’s all this white stuff on the roads?

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9650acsWe tried to drive to Apple Pie Hill. I’m pretty intrepid on the sand roads, but not when they’re covered with snow and crisscrossed with icy truck tire tracks.

Eventually we turned back, and opted for a short walk in Penn State Forest. The white snowy roads were the perfect complement to the evergreens against crisp blue sky.

Pine cone icicle.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9603acsThe perfect shelf for a miniature moss garden. Look very closely for the red moss sporophytes just at the left edge of the snow.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9772acsAhh, the essence of the Pine Barrens in any season. Pitch Pine cones, snow frosted.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9705acsPerfectly lovely photo of snowy pine boughs, photo-bombed by Robb.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9780acsWe are trying to learn about geology, and the identification of rocks. It’s a tough thing to learn on our own without experts to guide us. We’ve had an ongoing argument about whether the pebbles we see in many places are naturally occurring rocks, or from fill placed by man. Don had a point to make in that debate.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9668acsOur boot prints. From left to right: Kim, Robb, Don. The sizes are deceiving; my foot is smaller than the guys’. Really it is.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9696acsOur “short” little walk didn’t go at all as expected. Mistaken shortcuts took us far beyond the bounds of Penn State Forest into unexplored territory. The Pines are a mysterious place filled with unmarked sand roads, and even Pines veterans can find themselves bewitched and bewildered. We ended up having to retrace our path; though we were certain of the route back, we were grateful for the confirmation of our boot prints. We left at noon, and hours later found ourselves back at the car, hungry and thirsty.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9824acsJust in time to see the sun set on a lovely day in the snowy Pine Barrens.

At the Top of the World

The Winter Queen is imperious and aloof, demanding and notoriously fickle. This year she opted to remain far to the north, leaving us in the gentle arms of Lady Autumn until late in January. Then Her Majesty swept in on howling winds of ice, and buried us in feet of snow.

She is beautiful, and her passage leaves a photographer is eager to get outside to admire the winter wonderland. But first her demands must be met: two days of shoveling, and the passage of enough time for the roads to clear.

Many are the photos I have of the lowlands wreathed in snow: Heinz Refuge, Valley Forge, Ridley Creek. Lacking are any images of snowy scenes from on high. Nearly a week after the blizzard, I set forth on a journey to visit the Winter Queen in her mountain fastness.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8336acsCardinals kept me company as I hiked up the narrow channel of compacted snow where others had walked before me. The soft sigh of the wind in the trees whispered above the rhythm of the wet crunch of my footfalls and squishy creak of my trekking poles.

I wondered what I would find when I reached the Pinnacle. How would the Susquehanna River below be dressed? Open dark water? Or would it be garbed in Her Majesty’s mantle of white?

The wind quickened as I neared the Pinnacle. The first glimpse through the trees made me gasp.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8339acsMy heart soared and I hurried to the overlook.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8355aYes! The Winter Queen has indeed been here!

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8453acsThe evidence of her frigid touch is everywhere, frosting the hills rising above the river…

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8461acs…and tracing the surface of the ice in intricate swirls and waves.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8373acsOn previous visits to the Holtwood Gorge Pinnacle, we discovered a wondrous place just down the trail.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8376acsIt’s a place where pine trees and rhodendrons stand guard over a garden of rocks.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8385aIn dry weather, it is a fun boulder scramble to the farthest of the rocks to look straight down to the water. When the Winter Queen is in residence, it requires much more caution. I clambered carefully down the rocks, often on my butt, very tentative when on my feet. Sometimes my foot plunged through the snow to my knee.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8393acsThere was the point beyond which I would not go. The Winter Queen cares nothing for the safety of her admirers.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8383acsBut, oh, what there was to admire! I sat on a dry boulder for a long time, soaking in the sights and sounds of the Gorge in snow. The wind howled through the trees, a whisper no longer. I felt it stinging my face, as the cold seeped into my legs from the rough rock below me.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8419acsBoulders loomed above me, their surfaces braided in stripes of dark grey, white and rust, dusted with lichens and puddles of snow. Three Bald Eagles circled past, and a kettle of Turkey Vultures.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8427aA flock of Robins passed through, flitting noisily through the shrubs. Did the Winter Queen take offense at the cheery presence of these harbingers of spring in her frozen domain?

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8448acsSlowly I made my way back up the boulders.

The climb was tricky; I had learned the hard way not to trust that there would be solid ground beneath every patch of snow.

I used my hands and knees more than my feet.

Walking the trail was easier.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8478acsAt the top, I turned once again to drink in the wonder of the Her Majesty’s creation, the pearly white ribbon winding through dark hills and twisting out of sight.

As if to remind me of the Winter Queen’s capricious temperament, when I reached my car, it began to snow.

Finding Refuge in the Snow

160126_PA HNWR Snow_7764This has been one weird winter. December and January were abnormally warm. Philadelphia set a new record for latest first snow.

Then the meteorologists started beating the drums for a winter storm of near-blizzard proportions, a full week in advance. When it finally came, it was a doozy, dumping 30″ of snow in some locations, and 22″ at the Philadelphia Airport. It took two days to clean up.

Finally, I escaped to John Heinz NWR to enjoy it.

160126_PA HNWR Snow Tracks_7740acsLooked like we weren’t the first to venture out.

Who goes there?

Great Blue Heron, definitely.

Red fox, perhaps. Or maybe one of the feral cats that hang out at the Refuge.

160126_PA HNWR Snow_7733acsWe weren’t the first humans out either, judging by the well-beaten path.

160126_PA HNWR Snow_7781aEverything looks new in the snow. Darby Creek was frozen on a gray day…

160126_PA HNWR Snow_7864acs…and the impoundment wore a mantle of white.

160126_PA HNWR Snow Ice_7853acsThe snow storm brought strong gusty winds, which created some intricate patterns on the surface of the impoundment.

On this walk we had one destination in mind, and we were going to reach it, no matter what. And what, pray tell, was the object of our desire?

160126_PA HNWR Snow_7869acsThe Refuge’s big pride and joy – our new Marsh Boardwalk. A year in the making, it extends hundreds of feet into the freshwater tidal marsh, and gives visitors and schoolchildren an up-close look at the ecosystem. This was the first time I’d seen it in snow.

160126_PA HNWR Snow_7917acsThis is the marsh in winter. Because it’s tidal, the water rises and falls beneath the ice, and the ice rises and falls with it, fracturing into frozen plates. No smooth skating rink here!

160126_PA HNWR Snow_7885acs160126_PA HNWR Snow_7915acsDarby Creek flows through the marsh in braided channels. Where water ran, the ice yielded to its passage.

160202_PA HNWR Downy_9311acsOne week later, the sun was shining. Another oddity. We’ve had more than our share of blue-sky days this winter. This Downy Woodpecker was busily looking for something yummy to eat.

160202_PA HNWR Ice_9423acsThe impoundment was peppered with little balls of snow. Or so I thought. On closer inspection, I discovered they were balls of air bubbles that had puffed out of small holes in the ice.

160202_PA HNWR Ducks_9381acsThe duck icebreakers were hard at work. This Mallard hen was determined go somewhere new. She would try to climb up on the ice to walk, only to break through to the water. Rinse and repeat. After a while she had opened up quite a channel.

160202_PA HNWR GBH_9535acsA Great Blue Heron fished in the golden glow of sunset.

160202_PA HNWR Geese_9557acGeese streamed in with the dying light, ready to call it a night.

Two weeks after the Big Storm, the temperatures have rebounded. The snow is all but gone. Darby Creek is ice-free. The trails at Heinz Refuge are clear. People were seen in shirt-sleeves. One weird winter!

Winter Weary

150224_HNWR In Snow_7843acsWe are weary of winter.

150224_HNWR In Snow_7886acsWe are weary of being bound in ice; we long for open water.

150224_HNWR In Snow_7880acsWe are weary of frigid temperatures and gray gloomy days; we long for the warmth of the sun.

150307_HNWR 420 Snow_9877acsWe are weary of endless nuisance snows, freezing rain and ice; we long for grass and green leaves.

150305_Snow Day at Home_9137acsSo weary of winter are we, when at last we get a real snowstorm, our only thought is – Please, GO AWAY!

150305_Snow Day at Home_9181aStill the snow falls softly and steadily throughout the day, coating every branch and bud in a frosting of white.

Soon we have other thoughts.

Look at how beautiful it is! How quiet and peaceful.

150305_Snow Day at Home_9345acWeariness cast aside, we long to be out among the snowflakes, forging new paths across the virgin whiteness.

We are alone with a camera in a small hushed world of wonder.

150305_Snow Day at Home_9214acsWe see how ordinary things are transformed by winter’s touch.

150228_Port Mahon Road_8400a150307_HNWR 420 Snow_9868acsWe admire the delicacy of a seed pod, and the oddity of a horseshoe crab, when each is cast in snow.

150307_HNWR 420 Snow_9781acsWe remember that the fox is glad of the ice and the snow that give him easy passage where on warmer days he would have wet feet.150228_Port Mahon Road_3425acs

150228_Port Mahon Road_3536acsWe marvel at the strange forms of the ice blocks tossed up along the bay.150228_Port Mahon Road_3578a

150307_HNWR 420 Snow_0194acs150305_Snow Day at Home_9186aAll too soon, the fingers grow numb and the wonder fades.

We long anew for days of warmth and sun and the sweet laughter of little girls at play.

We long for days when we will not be winter weary.

It’s a Marshmallow World in the Winter

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6945acsIt’s a marshmallow world in the winter

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6807acsWhen the snow comes to cover the ground

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6547acsIt’s the time for play

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6759aIt’s a whipped cream day

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6930acsI wait for it the whole year round.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6562acsSince we began exploring the Wissahickon Valley earlier this year, I knew it would be a wondrous place in the snow. So I’ve been waiting.

Alas, unlike last winter, the snows have been late to come, and meager. More waiting.

In the midst of a severe cold snap, we finally got a few inches of snow, followed by a crisp blue sky day. At last! No more waiting! Valley Green Inn.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6600a*SIGH* There goes Don, straight onto the ice in the middle of the stream, without a thought for his own safety. He’s old enough to know better.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6624aI’m old enough to know better… than to go first. I let Don test the ice, clamber down the steep and slippery stream banks. If he survived, then  I followed. Do you think I’m going to let him get all the good shots? Wissahickon Creek, down on the ice.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6679acs150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6744acs150218_Wissahickon In Snow_7049a150218_Wissahickon In Snow_7153aIn winter it’s a marshmallow world.

Old Man Winter

150201_PA VF Betzwood_4847acs bwThe Winter Queen, beautiful and imperious, does not always condescend to trifle with us in person. Last year we were bound in her glacial grip, locked in snow and ice for weeks at a time. This year Her Majesty’s attention has been drawn elsewhere, and she has delegated her duties here to her henchman, Old Man Winter.

150201_PA VF Betzwood_5040acs bwOld Man Winter has an artist’s fickle temperament; warm days follow cold, and snowfalls are light. Not that we escape his touch. Rivers freeze, trees shiver when he passes by. His palette is white and gray, and his brushes are the biting winds that accompany the most frigid days. See how he blows water into ice!

150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5313acs bwIslands in the stream, bearing not palm trees, but ice blocks and frozen stalactites.

150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5375acs bwIce forms, melts, then freezes again, into ever more fantastical shapes. Icicles may drape an entire cliffside in cascading curtains…

150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5369acs bwOr dress twigs in chunky nuggets like rock candy on a string.


150201_PA VF Betzwood_4865acs bw

150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5251acs bwOld Man Winter paints in abstractions made of seemingly random lines, textures and patterns.

Look closely at his artwork; perhaps you will see waves crashing upon the shore, doves in flight, a duck swallowing a fish…

150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5242acs bw150201_PA VF Betzwood_4896acs150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5206acd bw150201_PA VF Betzwood_4866 acs2 bw

Look! Old Man Winter is feeling frisky!150207_VFAS Mill Grove_5236acsOn a sunny day, even the old master is tempted to reach for a spot of color. In a playful mood, he blows ice bubbles in cobalt and blue.

Can Lady Spring be far away?

Variations on an Icy Theme

RCSP Ridley Creek Snow_ 0740 The old cliché says that the Inuit have fifty different words for snow. Around here this winter we have come up with some words of our own, none fit for polite company.

Philadelphia’s average snowfall is 22.2 inches, for a whole winter. So far this year we’ve had 58.4”, and there are still four weeks until spring.

Taylor Arboretum Creek Ice_ 1147acsAll that snow, combined with a long stretch of sub-freezing temperatures, has created some magnificent ice formations, especially near moving water. Dripping moisture builds strange sculptures on Ridley Creek, above.

Intricate patterns etch cold surfaces on Crum Creek, below.

Smedley Crum Creek Ice_9957acs

TX White Rock Lake Frost_7282acsHoar frost on a leaf in Texas.

Ridley Creek Geocaching_9610acsLoyal readers of The Wild Edge will remember this photo from our Ridley Creek geocaching adventure. This is called “needle ice”. It forms when the air temperature is below freezing, but the ground temperature is above freezing. Water forces its way out of pores in the ground by capillary action. When it reaches the air, it freezes. As more water keeps pushing out behind it, it forms into a growing column of ice. Needle ice is most common on steep slopes with seeping ground water, which is exactly where we found it.

07 Valley Forge Valley Creek_ 2696a 07 Valley Forge Valley Creek_ 2697acsSome ice formations are man-made. Bubble-wrap shaped ice on the wall of the Valley Creek dam, Valley Forge National Historic Park.

01 Valley Forge Farm_ 2350 Whoops! Who left the water running?

FUN FACT: Snowflakes form when water vapor condenses into ice.  Snow crystals all start as simple hexagonal prisms. But as more water vapor condenses onto them and they continue to grow, they begin to grow branches. This creates an amazingly large variety of snowflake shapes, including columns, needles, plates, and dendrites. The classic six-armed shapes with side branches, like we cut from paper in school, are stellar dendrites.  Stellar dendrites with an abundance of side branches are called fernlike stellar dendrites, for their resemblance to ferns.

RCSP Ridley Creek Snow_ 0663The dry powdery snow we had in January showed off several different snowflake shapes to good advantage. Which shapes do you see here?

Blue Snow_2768a

FUN FACT: What color is snow? Actually, snow crystals individually look clear. When they get together with their friends, the incoming light is reflected by the crystals and bounces around before scattering back out. Since snow generally scatters all wavelengths equally, it usually looks white.

But, it also happens that red wavelengths are sometimes absorbed by the snow, making the snow look blue or aqua. The deeper you look into a hole in a snow bank, the bluer it will appear. Since heavy, wet snow absorbs a lot of red light, we’ve seen a lot of blue snow in February. This is a close-up of a snow boulder left by a snow plow.

RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0444

Also resplendent in shades of blue and aquamarine, the dam on Ridley Creek at Sycamore Mills was spectacular in late January. Bubbles and stalactites and little ice daggers, oh my!

RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0440 There’s a lot of water flowing behind the spikes and icicles formed here. More and more of it froze every day. In only one week, the ice would grow into the thick solid curtain seen below, dusted with a recent snowfall.RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0689

RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0432

Fifty different words for snow? At the wild edge where the water runs, there’s just one word:

BEAUTYRCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0450

Unsweetened Iced Tree

Ice Storm_ 1453 acs The wonderful thing about weather is that it’s never the same from day to day. Variety is the spice of life, right? Well, this was one variety we could have done without: ice.

Ice Storm_ 1484aLast week we had a significant ice storm. Ice coated the branches and twigs of the trees, and many of the older, larger trees lost limbs or came down completely. Downed wires led to over 700,000 power outages in my area of Pennsylvania, and many homes and businesses were without power for days. It was just hours for me, and I’m counting my blessings for that.

Ice Storm_ 1533acsAfter the rain stopped, I tried to capture the beauty in the beast before the ice melted away.

Ice Storm_ 1471acs Ice Storm_ 1455acs Ice Storm_ 1493acs Ice Storm_ 1539a Ice Storm_ 1523a Ice Storm_ 1490aA friend said that the patterns in the ice remind her of crackled glass, and I realized that is why I have been so fascinated with the ice this winter. I love glass in all its forms. Really, anything transparent or reflective. I must have been a raven in a former life – I love shiny things. (The image above is worth clicking to see the intricate ice patterns.)

Ice Storm_ 1575acs This has been the winter of our discontent. As I write this, a Nor’Easter has once again buried us in snow, and wind and sleet assault my windows.

Yet, this too shall pass. As the ice of last week melted away, this winter will melt into our memories. Underneath the snow my crocuses sleep, well-watered and warm, waiting for the Spring yet to be.Ice Storm_ 1556a