Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sandy Hildreth: Hiking Before The Leaves Emerge

Chapel PondI’ve been gone for 10 days visiting family and so upon returning to the Adirondacks and waking up to blue skies and sun (and 21 degrees in April!), I decided to get out in the woods and check out one of my favorite little trails and see how far along spring actually was. I was especially interested in seeing the heron nest I’d found last spring, just about this same time, to see if the herons were back.

Late April hiking can really be rewarding. Commonly called “Mud Season”, and in places it is, but if you know where to go, muddy trails can be avoided and the landscape experienced in a fresh way. It’s the time when most of winter is gone, yet none of the ground cover, underbrush, and foliage of summer has appeared. As an artist, I love the subtle spring colors: hazy blue mountains, remnants of snow or lake ice that add interesting shapes to the landscape compositions, the soft pinkish, purple buds on the maple and birch trees, and of course the pleasure of blue skies without bitter cold. It’s much easier for me to find interesting locations to paint now than it is in the summer when everything is green, green, green.


Hiking before the leaves come out can really expose you to more terrain elements than normally can be seen. Usually they are covered by leaves or snow – but April is when it’s easier to see the faint game trails, animal tracks, as well as the animals themselves, and things like rock ledges, old stone fences, and glacial erratics. You can see farther into the woods with more light and warmth as the rays of sunlight make it all the way down to the forest floor. I’m not a birder, but birds are definitely easier to spot without the leaves. A flash of movement in my peripheral vision led me to spot a beautiful Grey Jay today. When walking in my yard, I immediately noticed the wood chips at the base of a large hardwood tree and discovered what looks like a Pileated Woodpecker hole – right next to my driveway!

However, my hike today was also quite treacherous – I took a trail in the Paul Smith’s area that was well used by skiers and in places the hard packed base was still there – lumpy, slippery grey ice that made walking difficult. Several trees were down across the trail. In sheltered spots a foot or more of white, granular snow still existed. Winter doesn’t give up easily!

I will be happy to see my yard green up, the trilliums and trout lilies bloom, and the loons back on the ponds – but for now I am enjoying the openness of life before leaves. Don’t miss it! The first pale green blush of spring is sure to follow and hopefully the Great Blue Herons too.

Photos: Chapel Pond and a Grey Jay.

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Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting.

Today, Sandy can often be found outdoors Plein air painting - working directly from nature, and is an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks.

Sandy’s work can be seen on her website

2 Responses

  1. Leslie Bailey says:

    Sandy, I always enjoy your descriptions. You paint a wonderful picture with your words.

  2. Ron Harris says:

    I too like the fields and woods in early spring. Late fall also let’s us see deeper into the woods and the contours of the land. But the compacted vegetation of spring enables us to see a little more detail in those contours. Jane and I have gone through at least five “springs” on our trip so far. We are in southern Utah now and yesterday went over a 9650 or so foot pass where snow lingers and aspens haven’t thought about budding, down past draws with cottonwoods unfurling their early light green leaves to our current location in Cannonville – near Bryce – where the watered grass is green and leaves in various stages so unfurlment.

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