Trail Shots: Calvert Cliffs Red Trail in the Snow

Today, the thermometer passed 40 and we’re quickly saying goodbye to the snow that has covered the area for the last five days.  I was lucky (determined) enough to get out to Calvert Cliffs State Park for a quick hike on the red trail before the white stuff waved goodbye.  Here are my shots from the snowy trail:

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Plenty of folks had gotten out to hike the trail before me; I only met two other hikers while I was out, but there were plenty of footprints and pawprints – and even one bicycle track! – in the snow.

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The fishing pond was frozen solid . . . except where footprints lead out into the snow and onto the thin ice, where the end of the track was punctuated by a giant hole.  

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One of the great things about snow is that it outlines the shape of the land.  Where in summer I might not even notice the hill beyond the trees, now it’s impossible to miss and has got me thinking about this trail as more of a stream-side hike.  

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Itty bitty hidey hole.  The single digit temperatures we’ve had over the last week have got me thinking about how the wild animals survive the cold.  They all must find places to crawl into to be safe and warm.  Thank goodness for rotting logs and shallows made by the upturned roots of fallen trees.  

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A frozen stream emerges beneath the trail, heading down to join the main stream in the bottomlands between the hill I’m on and the one pictured above.

The red trail follows this stream closely for 100 yards or so as the water splashes down over a few mini-falls.  The covering of ice over the moving water created the most wonderful gurgling sound.  Check it out in this short video I took:

Gurgling

 

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Just after the mini-falls, the stream becomes only partially iced, but what beautiful ice it is!  Blow up the photo on your screen and see the beautiful wavy patterns.

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The even horizontal lines of quarter-inch holes drilled in this pine tree are likely the work of a woodpecker called the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).  Unlike most woodpeckers, which feed on insects and larvae found beneath the surface bark of a tree, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (say it five times fast and you’ll get the giggles) is drilling holes to tap the tree for sap, which it then licks up with its brush-like tongue.

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The bottomland, with stream running on the far and near sides of the middle, has widened out in a classic floodplain pattern, the contour of the land revealed by snow and bare branches where for three seasons of the year it would be masked by leaves.

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Gum ball polka dots.  The sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) above my head has dropped a good portion of its mature fruits, making a nice polka-dotted pattern in the snow.  I’ve always called the fruit “gum balls”  (while simultaneously warning children not to chew them if they want their mouths uninjured) but, according to Wikipedia, the fruit are also called by a number of nicknames, including “burr balls”, “space bugs”, “monkey balls”, “bommyknockers”, and “goblin bombs”.

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I am sending out cosmic thanks to whomever cleared off one butt’s-worth of space on this trailside bench.  It gave me a chance to sit and listen to the forest for a minute.  I’ve just started an excellent book, What the Robin Knows by Jon Young, and used this opportunity to further my studies in “deep bird language”.

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The stream gets wider and wider until . . .

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Wetland!  This view is between mile markers 1.1 and 1.2.  I had planned only to walk half way down the trail (0.9 miles), but I couldn’t bear the thought of turning back without seeing the frozen marsh.  I was rewarded for my perseverance by a mixed flock of birds foraging in the grass tufts that break through the ice.  I saw several white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) and at least two other types of LBB (Little Brown Bird).

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Opportunity Taken: The Bloodroot Trail

No question about it, it had to be today.

It’s been windy and in the teens for two weeks, we’re expecting snow tonight and tomorrow, and then even more frigid temperatures to follow.

This afternoon, however, was a balmy 33 degrees with gentle breezes that kept the “feels like” temp in the upper 20s.  For a gal still learning to be “weatherproof” today was the day to get out for a hike.

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The trailhead sign for the Bloodroot Trail, which winds around the ridge inside and above the Stream Loop I hiked a few weeks ago.

Or, rather, a walk in the woods.  Hiking, to me, carries a connotation of physical exercise.  This makes me feel obligated to move quickly along the trails, keeping up my pace and heart rate.  Walking quickly on the trails is also a great way to miss everything going on in the woods that I came out to see in the first place.  So, my “resolution” for this year is to quit hiking and just walk (slowly, pausing often) in the woods.

(Exercise will have to be accomplished at home on my NordicTrac elliptical machine.  I call it “Hellga” for obvious reasons.)

So today, despite a hip-deep mound of unfolded laundry and before the urgent grocery run, I hit the Bloodroot Trail in the American Chestnut Land Trust’s (ACLT) Parker’s Creek Preserve.

It was a good choice.  Nature never disappoints.

I started the trail walking way too fast.  Three weeks of holiday preparation and family visits, the last two of which I was basically stuck indoors, had me in my head.  And my head up my backside.  (I could tell because my thoughts were all crappy.)

All I heard was the crunch of leaves and the rustling of my many layers against the extra blubber I’d built up over the holidays (warm, but bad for my self-esteem) as I barged down the trail.

Luckily, I ran into another woods-walker, an ACLT volunteer who was out to bow hunt the evening hours in order to check the local white-tailed deer population.  He didn’t know me.  He didn’t care about my holidays.  He was just glad to be in the woods, and glad for me that I was there, too.  We chatted for a minute about the beautiful lacy leaves still decorating the beech trees, about how Parker’s Creek had frozen solid and so the raft crossing is closed, about how some unwise soul would probably try to cross it on foot anyway and be sorry for it.

I thanked him for his good trailwork – the ACLT trails impress me more on every visit – and wished him luck in his hunting, eager to move on now that our chat had stopped my inner monologue and successfully removed my head from my rump.  (I kept that last part to myself.)

That’s maybe the best part of the woods; once you wake up and tune in, the sights and sounds overtake the tempest-in-a-teapot of human thought and push it aside.  The questions the woods ask are so much more interesting that anything I already know.

Still, as long as I was moving, the forest remained silent.  Strange.  Or not.  If I were a critter in the winter woods and a nosy human was clomping through, I’d save my warm breath and enjoy my hiding space until the clumsy clomper had passed.

It is counter-intuitive to pause in the wilderness when the weather is cold.  There’s some mammalian drive that wants your feet to keep moving until you reach warm cabin or safe car.  Today I fought that urge, and nature rewarded me.

Just as I rounded a corner, I saw on the bridge over the valley stream a cat-sized bit of furry, rusty-red motion.  As the creature in question trotted away I caught sight of four black paws and snow-white tipped tail.  A red fox (Vulpes vulpes)!  My first trail-sighting!

I’ve seen many furry friends from the driver’s seat of car as they dashed away from the road (and a few that didn’t make it across), plenty of orange-red eyes glowing in the night at the edge of the field, but I’d never seen one on a trail until today.  Though the normally nocturnal fox was likely out hunting early to avoid the coldest hours of night, its appearance was full-on magical to me.  Worth the whole trip.  But the walk wasn’t even half over yet, and the pictures below reveal some of the questions and answers the woods gave me.

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I paused to admire and photograph the two trees at center before I came upon the fox.  It was probably the fact that I had quit making so much noise that encouraged the fox to stay long enough for me to catch a glimpse when I rounded the corner.

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I really am developing a thing for beech trees.  Look at this giant!  Too wide to wrap my arms around, but still showing off that “muscles under skin” appearance.  To me, this looks like the inside of a bent elbow.  I wonder what caused the bend.

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This is the standing snag of a dead giant.  Though I didn’t examine the bark at the base closely enough to know what kind of tree this was, I love how easy it is to see the tree’s natural twisting-as-it-grows pattern.  Why do trees twist as they grow?

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The fox’s view.  A frozen streamlet taken with a hand still slightly shaky from the excitement of seeing a fox.  If the streams are frozen, where will the fox find water to drink?

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Who will this shelter tonight?  How do the feathered ones and furry ones survive these arctic blasts?  

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How gorgeous is this split cherry trunk?!  What makes it so red?

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Is this American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) offering its bright red fruit to the birds, or is it its invasive cousin Oriental Bittersweet (C. orbiculatus) getting a toehold in these woods?  Is there enough water in these shriveled berries to help keep the animals hydrated while the stream is frozen?

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Why do the birds wait all winter to eat the holly berries?  Do they taste so bad that they’re the kale of bird cuisine (only eaten as a last resort) or do repeated freezes somehow make them more palatable or nutritious come March?

Tomorrow I’ll snuggle in under the blanket of snow and research more answers. . .and more questions to ask on my next walk.

 

 

 

Foggy Morning on the Laurel Loop Trail

Sunshine lifted the fog from my house early Monday morning and its clear rays combined with energy from a really good night’s sleep to get me in the car and headed to the trail before 9:00 a.m..

It seemed the sun had only worked on my rooftop and nearby hilltops, though, and as I drove north to the American Chestnut Land Trust’s Parker’s Creek Preserve, I found myself deep in the misty gray.

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The meadow at the Southside Trailhead as I began my hike.  You can just make out the white birdhouse though the fog at center right.

Hiking in the fog is a near-miraculous experience.  It is, quite literally, walking in a cloud.  Sounds are at once hushed and also heightened – the noise of the human world seems unable to penetrate the cloud, but reduced vision makes hearing all the more acute.  Also, because the mist obscures the larger vistas, the eye is drawn to all the tiny marvels of nature that are so often overlooked.

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The fog condenses on every surface.  Here, water molecules have drawn together and rolled to the curled tips of dried grass leaves.

From the parking lot, the hike commences via a mown track through grassland to the edge of the woods where the Stream Loop, Ridge Loop, and Laurel Loop diverge.

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One of my favorite aspects of fog is how it gathers like pearls along spider thread.  This panicle was hung so profusely with pearly strands that it reminded me of the rigging of sails on a tall ship.

I enjoyed the Stream Loop last week in buttery sunshine, but was excited to experience the Laurel Loop under a layer of cool silver gray.

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Into the mist at the beginning of the Laurel Loop.  The lacy brown trees in the middle distance are young beeches (Fagus grandifolia), which keep their leaves all winter.

The leaf litter was thick, but the moisture of the fog made it soft rather than loud and crackling.  Just beyond the view of the picture above, it becomes obvious how the trail was named – it winds through hillsides full of mountain laurel that arch over hiker’s heads.

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In this laurel I found a small, delicate orb web coated with dew.  This was one of only two webs I found (the other was a bowl and doily web), and I’m glad I took the time to make my phone’s camera focus correctly – what a beautiful job this spider has done, and what a survivor she must be, still alive and weaving after several frosts.

Scampering beneath the laurels and over the leaf litter off the sides of the trail, gray squirrels went about their autumn nut gathering, but didn’t seem frightened by my heavy footfalls or the bright turquoise of my sweatshirt.  They kept a wary eye but didn’t skitter up the nearest tree.  Of course, none held still long enough or close enough for me to get a picture, either.

No matter; I hiked along in a state of peaceful joy, and the woods rewarded my positive attitude with two excellent fungi as still-life subjects:

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A beautifully colored turkey tail fungus growing on a downed hardwood trunk.

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Pear shaped puffballs!  I learned these on an earlier hike at Flag Ponds this season, and knew them immediately this time from their pea green innards.

Just after this shot I looked up to see a serious uphill climb.  Not large compared to the inclines I used to hike in the Appalachians (the Gateway Trail comes to mind), but I haven’t been mountain hiking in over a year now, and my leg muscles have gotten lazy.  I would have taken a picture of the hill, but I didn’t think of it until half way up, when I stopped to huff and puff and my heaving lungs prevented me from holding the camera still.  Had I been able to get a shot, I would surely have captured the man-made miracle at the top of the climb:  some wonderful worker or volunteer had built a bench there, hallelujah!

Though the temperature was in the low 40s, the uphill section had warmed me up enough to ditch my sweatshirt and sit on the bench with my notebook for ten minutes without feeling the chill.  This is what I wrote:

“A chickadee calls “fee-bee, fee-bay” in the beginning of December?

The woods in fog seem even more magical – cloistered, protected – all the sounds amplified because the visual details are muted.

Drops of condensation fall from leaves.  The rat-a-tat-tat of a persistent woodpecker at work.  The squeaks and bell calls of innumerate little brown birds.  Squirrels bounding through leaf litter as deep as they are tall.

I want time to stop so that I can sit on this quiet bench for hours – till the birds and squirrels trust me, till they hop on and over me as if I were a statue.”

I even took the time to get videos of two woodpeckers, a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) and a red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus).  Not great videos, mind you, but you can catch the motion of the little trunk hoppers:

Quick Nuthatch Clip

Quick Red-bellied Woodpecker Clip

And by the time I was done writing and birdwatching (starting to feel fairly competent with my binoculars), the sweat had evaporated out of my shirt, so my upper half was refrigerator chilled, and my butt was numb with cold.  Totally worth it, but time to get moving again.

I hiked the one mile loop in an hour and twenty minutes total, moving at a pace easy enough to touch the trailside trees with gentle gratitude, marvel at a flock of migrating robins in the canopy, and take a few more pictures.  It was sublime.

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My favorite part of the trail:  a hill steep enough to run down (though I’d probably trip if I did), a gully to explore, and at the top of the opposite rise, you have to duck under an immense fallen tulip poplar (Liquidambar styraciflua) trunk.

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This moss grows at the base of a trailside tree.  Up close it looks like a field of emerald stars.

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Back at the parking lot meadow, the fog was finally beginning to lift.  The silvery mist of morning rose like a curtain to reveal another golden autumn day.

 

 

If you liked this trail story, check out some other great southern Maryland trails:

 

A Gift of a Day

Yesterday was not going to be ignored.

Morning dawned at a mild 47 degrees with gentle sunshine and no wind, and the Weather.com app promised the day’s temperatures would peak in the mid 60s.

I struggled with my urge to hike, which was tamped down by both irrational fear (I’m reading a book where a woman gets clobbered on a trail) and rational fear (gun hunting season is open), not to mention the burden of a mountain of laundry to do.

But a day like this?  Sunny and 60s at the end of November?  I can weatherproof myself till I’m winter-immune, but to reject the gift of a glorious, warm, free day with no scheduled appointments because of irrational fear or dirty laundry is an insult to Mother Nature herself.  (I called the organization, checked trail conditions, hiked at mid-day, and wore bright colors to make sure I wouldn’t run afoul of hunters.  I’m enthusiastic, not stupid.)  There are going to be plenty of times that commitments and chores keep me inside, but not today.

I made the short drive to the south side of the Parker’s Creek Trail System created and maintained by the American Chestnut Land Trust, and I was rewarded with a brand new trail and all the joy that comes with spending two hours in the woods.

After parking in the gravel lot and signing in, I strode out across a field to begin the Stream Loop in the clockwise direction.  Beginning counter-clockwise on a new trail seemed counter-intuitive.  I’ll have to walk it that direction next time, though, to see what I missed this time.

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The beginning of the Stream Loop in the Parker’s Creek Preserve.  Warm sun on my shoulders and crackling leaves underfoot, I felt I could finally breathe deeply.

 

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Choosing the low road and feeling good about it:  the upper trail, to the right, is the Bloodroot Trail.  I chose to hike the Flint & Swamp Trails, which are collectively known as the Stream Loop.

 

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With the sun in my eyes, it was hard to make out the words scrawled on this log and at first I was frightened it said “Closed”, but the graffiti actually advises hikers to Look Closer – a sentiment I can totally get behind.  

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And this is what I found when I followed instructions and did look closer.  Perfectly round little holes made by some insect or animal.  Now I just have to figure out which insect or animal makes perfectly round little holes.  

If this log had been smaller or more decomposed, I would have rolled it and looked closely underneath.  There are always all sorts of critters -from salamanders to millipedes – living in and underneath decomposing wood.  Rolling logs is one of my all time favorite activities to do with kiddos.

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The Stream Loop’s stream.  I took this picture to show how wide the stream’s floodplain is.  All of the flat land stretching out to either side of the stream has been made flat by floods year after year for generations.  They’re incredibly important for riverine ecosystems.  

One should note, however, when hiking in any floodplain or bottomland, unless the area is in the middle of a major drought, there will be muddy areas on the trail.  This is not a reason to avoid the “low road” hikes, though – you’ve got to remember that hiking boots aren’t ruined by mud, they’re baptized by it.  And, while you might not want to wear your newest, most expensive clothes on a muddy hike, a little mud does a body good.  (And human skin is wonderfully washable, too.)

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One of my favorite aspects of this trail was the number of tree gateways though which it winds.  

Though I have always taught kids to look first before touching something in the wild, I won’t stop them from touching.  The urge to reach out and lay your hands against the bark of the tree gate sentinels is overwhelming, and if you take a moment to close your eyes and breathe deeply while touching these forest elders, you get the greatest feeling of peace and joy.

 

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A place for Pooh sticks.  

Whenever I hike with kids, and especially when I hike with my daughter, we play Pooh Sticks.  Named for Winnie the Pooh, it’s a game of dropping sticks on the upstream side of a bridge and seeing whose stick reaches the downstream side of the bridge first.  I’ve played it a lot with toddlers, but I can now vouch that kids as old as 11 (my girl) still get excited by the competition.

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And, on the same bridge where Pooh Sticks was a good idea, I also found scat (wild poo) and used a stick to investigate it’s contents.  I’ve spared you from the close up picture, but examining scat and trying to solve the mystery of what animal left it is also great fun on the trail.

In researching the scat I found on the trail, I first leaned toward bobcat as the source.  Bobcats are known to leave scats right in the middle of the trail.  However, my stick investigations revealed that the contents of the scat belonged to an herbivore.  After looking at dozens of scat identification pictures and descriptions, I think this scat was made by a raccoon.

Important note:  I did not, and one should never, pick up or examine scat with bare hands or put the scat close to your face where you might accidentally ingest or inhale even the tiniest bit of scat.  Scat can be rife with parasites and diseases.  (This is a long way of saying please don’t touch, sniff, or taste wild poo.  Obvious to many, but an important thing to watch out for when hiking with the very young!)

 

I found nut shells left by some critter and, further down the trail, a black walnut (I think – see the caption) half eaten by another.  A hiker clomping through the crackling fallen leaves has little chance of interacting with wildlife; they hear us coming and high-tail it to safety or hiding.  However, you can often delight in a close encounter when you find tracks, scat, or seeds.

On this particular hike, I did get to observe wildlife for a little while, because I found a fallen log at the side of the trail on which to sit still and be quiet.  I rarely take the time to pause mid-hike because I’m usually trying to get some exercise but, based on this experience, it’s going to become a part of every hike.

After I’d sat for a few minutes, not really moving and not making any noise, a squirrel skittered down the hill and stopped on the streambank opposite me.  It sat on its haunches and looked straight at me.  As I returned its gaze with a gentle, passive expression (no toothy smile to advertise my status as a predator), the squirrel examined me first with its left eye, then its right.  It scratched its belly absent-mindedly with its arms and then dropped back down onto all fours, beginning to move in a circuitous path at least 10 yards away from me.  Springing from ground to branch, branch to trunk, trunk to nearby log, the squirrel didn’t hurry or panic, but kept me always in sight.

The squirrel escaped my sight, though, within about five minutes.  Another three minutes after that, a second squirrel (or it could have been the same one – they’re not like whales with individualized, identifying tails) followed the exact same path the first took, just a little faster.

Finally, I heard two squirrels chittering in a nearby tree.  I’m fairly sure I interrupted an afternoon of warm, productive foraging.  I put my nature journal away and calmly got up to finish my hike.

My fungus ignorance hasn’t dampened my mushroom love one bit.  Before the squirrel(s) appeared, I found this little purplish brown beauty in the leaf litter at my feet.  I photographed it against the pages of my nature journal so that I could get approximate measurements for cap diameter (30mm) and stalk width (7mm) when I got home to a ruler.  I observed the gills and their attachment to the stalk.  Still, I can only narrow the identification down to group level – either a Milky or a Russula.  I think.

But once your eyes are opened to mushrooms, you see them everywhere!  I found four more great examples – my attempt at identification is in the caption for each.

And, last but certainly not least, two videos from this hike:

Leaf Showers – every time the breeze ruffled the tree branches, I was showered with fall leaves like confetti.  A great autumn game for kids is to try to catch a falling leaf in midair.  It’s best to play this in an open field, though – on the trail it’s a tripping accident waiting to happen!

Flow Under Protozoans – Don’t be grossed out by the oily film on the water, it’s just millions of microscopic organisms called protozoans.  They’re feasting on bacteria blown onto the water’s surface by wind.  As long as there’s no nearby sewage input to the water body (and there certainly wasn’t here) there’s nothing to worry about.  In fact, if you’ve got a kid and a microscope, a sample of this “scum” is an educational treasure trove!  I just love how you can see the stream water swirling and flowing underneath the protozoan film.

Yesterday’s hike was really wonderful and I’m so glad I went.

Now on to the (one day bigger) piles of laundry.

 

Weatherproofing

Ever since I read Marcia Bonta‘s four book series of nature writing about the seasons on her Appalachian mountain in Pennsylvania, I have wanted to be as nature-tough as she is.

She treks out to observe nature on her mountain several times a week, even through snow and rain and the cold of deep winter.  She can sit for hours in the chill and watch the behavior of wildlife with true intelligence and insight.  She is 77 years old, and she is still weather-proof.

I want to be like her when I grow up.  (I also want to be like my mom, Rachel Carson, Michelle Obama, Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Anning, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas.)

I’m forty now, so I figure I’d better get cracking.  It’s not that I haven’t hiked in inclement weather before.  I have; just not enough.  So, this season, that all changes.

I’m gonna get all out in it.

I started in yesterday’s stunningly sunny 36 degree temperatures at Flag Ponds.  I wore jeans with a long sleeve shirt topped with a sweatshirt, plus a knit cap and iPhone-friendly gloves.  There was little wind, so I didn’t need a windbreaker as my top layer, but I’m going to ask for an oversized windbreaker for Christmas so that I’ll have it for the rest of the winter.  I prefer layers to thick, heavy coats.  Clothing that makes it harder to move drives me nuts.

I walked the South Ridge Trail in my usual direction and then did the North Ridge Trail in the opposite direction.  (I highly recommend reversing directions on a trail you hike a lot – you get all new views!)

And here’s my reward for layering up and going out – some of my favorite photos from the hike:

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Two different types of moss, completely undeterred by the season’s first freeze.  Though I can’t identify mosses on sight (yet), I find them a fascinating story in competition and natural selection ever since reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things.

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I’m intrigued by the way lichens have colonized the upper half of this knot hole but mosses have claimed the lower half.  There were several similar knot holes on this fallen trunk and they were all populated the same way.  Cool!

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“Spring” onions defied their designated season and popped up along several parts of the trail.  An anti-oxidant packed snack for the wild herbivores.

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Just sitting there, being beautiful.

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Walking the North Ridge trail beginning at the park entry road (don’t do this if you haven’t already paid your park fee, please) gave me a brand new view.

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Tree roots holding the world together.

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I love giant leaves!  (Particularly fall sycamore and tulip poplar leaves that are as big as your face.)  Unfortunately, this leaf fell from the exotic, invasive Royal Paulownia tree, which is an unwelcome and damaging invader in this ecosystem.  There are a few in the park, and I must remember to ask a ranger about a plan for their removal.

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A pristine white feather amongst the warm riot of fall leaves.  I hope it came from one of the migratory water birds that hang out at Flag Ponds each winter.  They’re my next incentive for braving the cold!

Raindrops and Rain Clouds

It’s been raining here.  A lot.

It’s been pouring-off-the roof, making-streams-and-waterfalls-in-the-front-yard, drowning-the-potted-plants raining here.

The problem is, the underside of rain clouds are neither interesting nor photogenic, so I’ve not had anything to photograph for a while.

But, when I finally got brave enough (i.e. so sick with cabin fever that I couldn’t take it any more) to drive out in the rain to do some mindless errands, I got this picture near the top of the northbound lanes on the Thomas Johnson bridge over the Patuxent River:

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See that rain falling just to the right of the bridge? It’s going to make it to my house just as I pull into my driveway.

Based on the darkness of the cloud and the steady rain it produced for hours (about 120 of them, off and on, not that I counted), I’m checking it off as a nimbostratus cloud in my Cloud Collector’s Handbook.

Cloud Puzzle

They ain’t all gonna be easy.

Here’s my first little puzzle, a set of clouds headed at us from the west about a week ago:

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At least two different cloud types, possibly at two different heights?

 

The lower layer of clouds here – the part nearest the trees in the picture – looks like light gray icing smoothed over an upside down cake.  (Side note:  for the world’s best gray icing, see Steel Magnolias.)  It covers a large portion of the sky like a blanket, and this makes me think it’s some form of stratus cloud(s).

For those who aren’t total word nerds like myself, stratus (plural: strata) comes from the Latin for “a spreading” and refers generally to something spread out in a horizontal layer.  This bottom set of clouds definitely seems spread out, though the base isn’t completely uniform.

I’m guessing it’s stratocumulus, because perhaps the texture of the base indicates the “clumpy”-ness that The Cloud Collector’s Handbook talks about.  Also, stratocumulus are among the most common types of clouds, and as a naturalist, I know to guess that something new is the common thing, rather than a rare exotic.

Here I can’t help but quote the wise Dr. Theodore Woodward, of the Maryland (my new state!) University School of Medicine, who taught his students “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.”

I think this horse is stratocumulus.

As for the awesome, diagnoal stripes of clouds in the upper portion of the photo, I’m going to be a little bit brave in identifying them as “undulatus”.  Six of the ten main cloud types have undulatus varieties.  Undulatus means exactly what you think it does – undulating like ripples or waves.

These undulations are often found at the upper edge of a set of clouds where the atmosphere is moving in a different direction.

I love what the Handbook’s author, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, says about undulatus clouds:

“Their presence is a reminder, to any who might forget, that the atmosphere around us is just as much as an ocean as the sea below.”

 

 

 

Beginner’s Luck and a New Favorite Word

After two straight days of clear blue skies (oh, my life is soooo hard) I finally caught a photo of a new cloud to share.

Introducing . . . Cirrocumulus!

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A patch of cirrocumulus high in the sky over my street.

Not only is this bad boy worth 40 points in my Cloud Collector’s Handbook, reading the description introduced me to my new favorite word:  “cloudlet”.

A cirrocumulus cloud is actually composed of many little cloudlets, which gives it what the Handbook calls a “grainy” appearance, but looks to me more like foam left on the beach by a receding wave.

How does one tell a cloudlet from a cloud?  Stand back for the super-complicated scientific method here:  the cloudlet must be smaller than your pinkie finger when your hand is held out at arm’s length.

The cloudlets that make up cirrocumulus are made of tiny ice crystals – it’s too cold for water where these clouds live, usually more than five miles above our heads.

Cirrocumulus are also uncommon and evanescent – these fair weather fellows dissipate quickly, hence the high point value.  Glad I took a moment to look up!

 

 

 

Looking Up

It’s been a hectic summer dealing with two new jobs, a new school, and life in a new town/state/ecosystem . . . but the chaos has (at least temporarily) calmed down now and it’s time to capitalize on that by getting back outside.

But how to transition this Mountain Woman’s blog into a Water Woman’s blog?

By writing about something that covers them both – the big, blue blanket of clouds and sky.

Many years ago I purchased The Cloud Collector’s Handbook by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, promising myself that “one of these days” I’d start using the book to refine my knowledge of the different types of clouds and their implications regarding weather.

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The Cloud Collector’s Handbook by Gavin Pretor-Pinney both teaches you about the different types of clouds (there are dozens) and provides you with journaling space so that you can keep track of what you’ve seen.  It even gives each type of cloud a different number of points, so you can keep score.

Well, folks, “one of these days” is today!  I turned 39 a few days ago and I’ve decided to spend my 40th trip around the sun quite literally looking up.

As if I ever needed an excuse to spend time staring into the sky.

I walked out my front door and took five steps down my sidewalk to capture the following picture of my first cloud collected.

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Cumulus fractus – the first cloud of a million-cloud journey.

It’s a simple cumulus – one of those bright white cottony puffs so familiar studding beautiful blue skies on happy, sunny days.  The Cloud Collector’s Handbook further educates me that this “species” is cumulus fractus – a broken cloud with ragged edges that appear as it evaporates.

It’s worth 15 points.

And, with those points in my pocket, I’m going out to enjoy the fair weather that those cumulus clouds indicate – it’s 75 degrees with 12mph winds (thank you, Hurricane Hermine) and a perfect day for gardening.  That is, if I can manage to keep my eyes on the ground.

My First Mountain Flood

The county’s public schools closed early yesterday due to safety concerns over widespread flooding.

After an incredibly dry August and September, nature is repaying her water debt with interest.

My rain gauge measured 3.5 inches of rain over the weekend.  On Monday and Tuesday we got another 4.5.

During a break in the rain my daughter and I walked down to see how high our closest creek’s waters were.

I suppose my preconceptions of the steepness of land and the lack of hurricane conditions (lived on the Gulf Coast for eight years) lead me to believe the flooding had been overstated in classic TV weather prediction (think “Snowmageddon”) fashion.

I was wrong.  Even as a seasoned nature lover and Master Naturalist, it seems I must continually re-learn Mother Nature’s most basic lesson:  do not underestimate her.

It does flood in the mountains, and I’ve never been more grateful to live at the top of a hill.

Here are some photographs from our walk:

This is an extremely high water level for Hethwood Pond. Normally there's several more feet of grass and then a few feet of large rock above the surface of the pond.

This is an extremely high water level for Hethwood Pond. Normally there’s several more feet of grass and then a few feet of large rock above the surface of the pond.

Our neighborhood pond may be small, but the number of creatures to be seen there certainly isn't!

This picture of the same pond (from a different angle) shows what the water level normally looks like.

This is the overflow from our neighborhood pond. It's usually dry as a bone, or maybe just a trickle. The rain made it a rushing waterfall.

This is the overflow from the pond. It’s usually dry as a bone, or maybe just a trickle. The rain made it a rushing waterfall.

Overflow from the Hethwood pond flows down toward Stroubles Creek by means of an overgrown ditch, so small a stream that, as far as I know, it doesn't even have a name. That stream got about 10x bigger today.

Overflow from the Hethwood Pond flows down toward Stroubles Creek by means of an overgrown ditch, so small a stream that, as far as I know, it doesn’t even have a name.

Here you can see that the little no-name drainage stream has risen to cover the walking path.

Here you can see that the little no-name drainage stream has risen to cover the walking path.

The tiny no-name stream has grown to flow over part of the path that is usually at least 4 feet above it.

The tiny no-name stream has grown to flow over part of the path that is usually at least 4 feet above it.  The water was ankle deep, enough for Abbey to pretend to surf.

This is that same path 35 minutes later and the water is still about three times its usual height.

This is that same spot 35 minutes later and the water is still about three times its usual height.

The walking and biking path takes a steep drop (really tough to get back up after a long ride) down to the bridge over Stroubles Creek. This is the view from the midpoint on that hill. Usually you can't even see the creek from here.

The walking and biking path takes a steep drop (really tough to get back up after a long ride) down to the bridge over Stroubles Creek. This is the view from the midpoint on that hill. Usually you can’t even see the creek from here.

This picture was taken earlier this summer, too.  It's from the "secret" spot on Stroubles Creek where my daughter and I go to explore and splash, about 100 yards upstream from the bridge.

This picture was taken earlier this summer, too. It’s from the “secret” spot on Stroubles Creek where my daughter and I go to explore and splash, about 100 yards upstream from the bridge.  For comparison, the floodwaters would be well over her head and into the pasture behind her.

Note the water level next to the high voltage box.

Here’s the water in the pasture.  Note the water level next to the high voltage box.  Compare it to the next picture.

This photo shows the same area earlier this summer.  The high voltage box in the lower left corner.

This photo shows the same area earlier this summer. The high voltage box in the lower left corner.

This bridge usually sits five to six feet above the surface of Stroubles Creek. The creek has risen to meet it.

This bridge usually sits five to six feet above the surface of Stroubles Creek. The creek has risen to meet it.

This field lies between the walking path and the drop off down to the creek. It's a great place where students living just up the hill in the town homes gather to barbecue and play frisbee. More importantly, it's a floodplain.

This field lies between the walking path and the drop off down to the creek. It’s a great place where students living just up the hill in the town homes gather to barbecue and play frisbee. More importantly, it’s a floodplain.