Sunday, February 9, 2014

If You Go Down To The Woods Today....

It's been a stressful week around here, so when I read about the Japanese idea of spending time in the woods as a sort of anti-stress therapy apparently called 'forest bathing', I knew what I wanted to do. So yesterday, off I went to the Shaw Woods intending to just snowshoe around for a while.

Got there, parked, tucked my snowshoes under my arm, and set off for the start of the Snake River Trail. The trails at the Shaw are all well marked, with large signs and distances noted. There are also maps at the trail heads. Very civilized! The Snake River Trail follows the Snake River for a while and then turns up the escarpment where it soon branches, one branch to circle back, via Johnny's Lookout, and the other carrying on as the new Connaught Trail.

I stopped on top of the Hydro dam for a while and leaned over the railing, admiring the ice patterns below the dam, and puzzling a bit over the tracks on the ice above the dam. I could see tracks going to small holes in the ice..... but I couldn't see how anything got out of the holes. Various rather unpleasant scenarios played across my imagination, but I dismissed them and moved on. I was here to 'forest bathe', not worry about thingss falling through the ice.

The trail was well packed and I went on carrying my snowshoes. I soon met a group of four women coming the other way, also carrying their snowshoes. We admired each others' snowshoeing technique, and they warned me about the trail ahead being too steep to snowshoe up. They said they'd pretty much tumbled down. Snowshoes don't ski well.

Carried on. My forest bathing was going nicely. Heard a soft tap-tap-tap. Pileated Woodpecker. I got a great photo of the back 3 inches of his tail....

The Snake River burbled along beside me. The water was open in places, rimmed with wonderful ice patterns, and the shapes of the snow piled high over the dry bulrushes and such were intriguing.

A patch of some unusual dried stalks with leaves drooping down caught my attention but I didn't go close to them. The leaves hung down the way Goldenrod leaves do, but I knew these weren't Goldenrods.

The ladies were quite right, no way could I snowshoe up the last bit of the rock face.  It was only a short bit, no more than 15 feet, but practically vertical. I tossed my snowshoes up ahead of me, made sure my camera was safely inside my backpack, and stomped my way up, kind of making stairs with my stiff-soled boots. It only occurred to me after I had done it that if I had needed to go around, I would have wanted those  snowshoes...

Once up there I was surprised at how cold it was. The sun was gone and the wind was downright nippy. I walked for a while, inspected mosses on tree trunks, sat on my snowshoes and ate my lunch, walked a bit more.... kind of lost interest. Then I went back. Yes, I slid down too.

On the way back along the Snake I looked at those mysterious stalks more closely. The leaves were dry, of course, but when I unrolled them a bit they were fairly oblong but rounded at the stem end. The plants were undoubtedly Dogbanes, Apocynum, but which Dogbane? Those leaves were A. androsaemifolium in shape although maybe a bit more elongated, but the size of the plants, and their location on the shore of a small river were A. cannabinum or even A. sibiricum....  with no flowers or seed pods to look at, I can't tell which. And just to make things even more confusing, there is one more Dogbane, sometimes called A. medium, which may or may not be the hybrid of A. androsaemifolium and A. cannabinum.

The Apocynums are, in other words, variable, and the species appear to intergrade. That's the scientific way of saying they are totally confusing.

Here are a few pictures of A. androsaemifolium. It tends to grow in dryish places such as old fields and woods edges. It likes sun. The plants tend to be about 2' high but can be taller. The flowers are pink, with darker pink stripes inside, and the petals curve back a bit. It has a faint but sweet fragrance and if you pull off a leaf you will see it has a sticky, milky sap. It can form large colonies, from underground stolons, and will if you let it into your garden.

And this is A. cannabinum, or Indian Hemp. Apparently people used to make strong twine from the fibres in the stems.

The flowers are smaller, white or greenish, and do not open as widely as the others. They also stand up above the leaves instead of hanging down below them.

The leaves are longer and narrower than A. androsaemifolium, and the plant is taller, more upright, and much more likely to grow in damp places.

It too forms large colonies.

Both of these Apocynums are fairly common in our area, and both are butterfly food plants. I have not seen A. sibiricum, but it may not grow this far north.

Just to get back to our original subject, forest bathing, here is a shot of Hemlock Cones. There was one large branch hanging over the trail and I took advantage of that, and last year's good cone crop, to get some pictures of Hemlock cones. Usually they are far too high up to photograph.

And the odd holes in the ice above the dam? Turns out they are otter holes. They dig holes where the ice is thin and dive in and look around for fish or crayfish to eat. They have no trouble getting out again.

Now that's bathing!


  1. I find the subtle colours of the winter landscape very soothing. And there is nothing like a walk in the woods to put things in perspective.

  2. You are so right! And that is just what I needed!