SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

Summer has matured elegantly along the lower Susquehanna River in Maryland. We are greeted with the rich, sweet, aromatic fermentation of the Paw-Paw fruit that has dropped to the ground, along with the pleasant sight of the Paw-Paw trees laden with their large bountiful fruits.

Great Blue herons taking their afternoon rest along the colorful shores, bright with blooming  yellow sunflowers and Red Lobelia.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

This is the place and time to watch birds and the flowering plants that ultimately sustain them interact with the mature season.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

We discovered  Sensitive Fern and Phlox, growing wild and blooming amidst the shade of Silver Maple and Sycamore.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

 

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

Joe- Pye weed was at the very end of its flowering cycle, and many specimens were already in seed.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

We found Carolina Elephant’s Foot blooming.( Elephantopus carolinianus).  

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

This plant, Elephantopus carolinianus, pictured above is endangered in Pennsylvania but is growing in abundance along the shore of this part of the Susquehanna River.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

The setting.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

New York Ironweed.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

Spicebush swallowtail.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

Reaching for the light below the Silver maples and the Sycamores.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

The summer is coming to its end. In these parts, last year, it was a very wet August, and this year a much drier one. The lobelia last year was of a robust size, and pictured growing out of the swelling Susquehanna.  This year the plant was reduced in size, with the river about ten feet away.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

The trail went along an old abandoned rail line for about a mile, and then it spun off by itself into a rich floodplain. We could smell the fruity aroma of the fermenting Paw-Paw, rotting into the forest floor. the 3/4 inch long dark brown seeds, about ten to fifteen per 4 inch fruit are considered hydrophyllic, which means they need to stay moist in order to remain viable and have a chance of sprouting.  If they dry out for a few days, they will most likely not sprout.  The juicy fruits slowly decay on the forest floor, keeping the seeds moist until the next rain, or until the leaves from the dense silver maples or the tall white oaks and Sycamores lose their leaves, covering the decayed fruits and helping them retain their moisture. The cover of leaves will bring them through the winter where the seeds undergo another necessary condition for sprouting, which is a prolonged period of cold temperature called cold stratification.

Many of the plants growing before our eyes require winter to survive as a species.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

The Red Lobelia requires hummingbirds to visit them and deliver pollen from another Lobelia plant in order to produce fertile seeds.  The Paw-Paw tree also requires pollen from a distinctly different population of trees in order to produce fruit and viable seed.  Many groupings of Paw-Paw trees found in the woods are actually one plant that has spread from rhizomes, and the trees are self-sterile, which means an individual specimen of this species cannot pollinate itself.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

The hummingbirds are dependant upon the Lobelia for its life-sustaining nectar, as the lobelia depends on the bird for its ability to produce viable seed and reproduce. With many of the species of plants we have studied, genetic diversity is a consistent theme, as well as genetic provenance.

When we see these plants and their associated birds, watching them interact from our widow into the garden, or from the riparian wild of the Lower Susquehanna, the face of these two species become interconnected; one cannot be without the other, so to see the Lobelia is to see the Hummingbird, and to understand these two species as a recognizable component of this ecosystem is an achievement.

 

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

 

This awareness is a satisfying part of our afternoon walk.  In this field of learning and education, every species has something to tell us.  Not every seed of the Paw-Paw tree survives. Many dry up and return to the soil as organic matter, ready for the next iteration of life.

The Lobelia seed will require the wind and the flow of water to travel to the next suitable destination to be possibly sprouted.  The thousands of tiny seeds are of no interest to birds. The seeds must travel for the species to survive, because the plants require that genetic diversity.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

In this above photograph, which appears as a pool of life, there is a flow from one place to another, as the pool is indeed an ancient river, and  what is also depicted is a timeless quality: The species and rocks are older than we can comprehend displayed in a morphology that spans a scope of millions of years.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

Thinking about species and geology out in the field on this late summer day, while the remnants of a hurricane begin to pass over us, the humidity stifling, we find ourselves in a distinct time and place in the history of the earth.  Looking into the color and stature of any plant, there is a story to tell; one that unlocks the mysteries of the universe, each one can tell a story of fabulous chemistry and startling physics, an impressive biological tale that most likely spreads over astounding geographical regions and often within the stories to be told among the vast collection of knowledge classified as the study of botany, there are continental variations on the same species or family originating from Pangea.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

The rocks in the above picture have existed for millenia, however their forms have been changed drastically as they have been eroded down to these stubs from the flow of water past them. However the form that they are in presently will most likely remain for a very long time after the individual specimens of ducks also pictured above will last. A difficult question to ask now, but most pressing is whether the species of ducks will be around the day these rocks have weathered away?

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

Above, we reveal the timeless,bountiful and grand wilderness to you as someplace that is as accessible and familiar as the I-95 corridor between Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C., it’s bridge pictured above. This is the bridge near the Maryland toll booths, just north of Havre de Grace.  This bridge is a link between some of the most densely populated  regions in North America, an infrastructural component of the human ecosphere. We rode over this bridge on the way to this magnificent site and we both looked out the window in anticipation of our arrival:  This is the place, our destination.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

So then, with all of these thoughts of species, time and geology, the spectacular vision of nature outlined before us all as we sit humbled and pensive, our minds in a wonderous state just pondering this magnificent world we have stumbled upon and have realized is before our senses;  this world, like the ripe fruit of the Paw-Paw tree, a sweet and complex tasting world, like the fact that each grouping of Paw-Paw trees has a different tasting fruit, much like that of the well established provenance of wine regions, there is a world before us that is sweet and is fermenting, full of distinctions and subtleties, a world that relies on diversity and survives on a rough regimen of loss where the dead are ultimately the soil we survive on: now on comprehending our own species, we are best to contemplate these thoughts in the comfort of your own favorite natural area and be rest assured that we will end up in a beautiful place.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

American Elms (Ulmus americana) grow out of the rivers edge.

Comprehending our own species, passing over that bridge on the superhighway from city to city, or studying and conserving the natural area known as Susquehanna State Park, Maryland,  appreciating the beauty of the other species and understanding that there is a complexity of interactions that needs lifetimes of study and comprehension to fully realize the whole or something resembling a whole, right beside our daily needs and consumption, our species exists. We can study and comprehend the Lobelia, the Hummingbirds and the Paw-Paw tree, just a few, as a species, and we can destroy the habitats of these other species in a flash. Like the rest of nature, our species is diverse and volatile. However, now that we can comprehend this world with such panoramic sensibilities, our species evolution is imminent and most certainly dependent on the fate of our many and crucial neighboring species.  Which plant and animal do we most depend on?

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

(Arisaema triphyllum) , Jack -In-Pulpit. The bright red fruits of this woodland herbaceous wildflower are a common occurrence on the forest floor.

There is nothing more instructive than to visit a 300 million year old layer of shale in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River watershed that has been exposed to the earth’s surface, find a loose chunk of the rock and whack it with a hammer just enough to loosen it, and then pull it apart to find a fern fossil inside.

Considering that The Susquehanna is in danger from contamination in the current frenzy of natural gas drilling, we must pause as a species to reflect on our evolutionary record: Compared to the species that survive the long haul, how do we quantify and examine the necessary adaptations in a way that can give us an innate understanding of what is required? How does polluting our rivers give us an advantage, especially when so many individual and collections of specimens of our species speak out and organize against this? What do we need to do to really adapt to maintain our survival and not destroy other species? Humans are most certainly no ferns on this matter.

The rocks are packed with facts about species and life and death on earth.  With the drastic changes made to the habitats that support our species, we must pause before the hard evidence below our feet before we consider our fate.

SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND
SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK, MARYLAND

The ripe fruits of the Paw-Paw trees, so heavy they pull the trees closer to the earth, and so richly aromatic in a ripe and full forest.

The end of summer has arrived.

 

 

IN THE SPRINGTIME, DOWN BY THE RIVER

In the springtime, down by the Susquehanna River, there is a place we like to go called Shenks Ferry.  This is a protected ravine where Grubb run cuts deep into the piedmont and spills into the wide and blue river. This is a place where the flowers bloom, covering the hillsides with color.

We have become enchanted.

It is in a remote area, full of charming farms and vistas containing dramatic river views. On April 8, 2012, we descended the piedmont towards Shenks Ferry and caught a view of the whole place. In just minutes we would descend further into the ravine itself.

The lower Susquehanna River valley overlooking Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve
The lower Susquehanna River valley overlooking Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve

Shenks Ferry has captured our imaginations of Spring and has helped us cultivate our sense of place here in the piedmont of Southeastern Pennsylvania.  We wonder at the amazing diversity of plant species. It is astonishing.

The beauty of this ravine in the Spring is brought forth by the carpet of green with the multitude of colorful inflorescence. The trees are magnificent; they still have their grand superstructures so apparent in the winter, but with a haze of green buds and flowers. The sun still reaches the flowers of the forest floor, providing them with the energy of a vibrant and fantastic Springtime life.

The leaves of these flowers are so elegant yet delicate. Each leaf is a map of the inner world of the plant. We can clearly see how much the herbaceous plants of the forest floor depend on the trees for their habitat, because when the trees leaf out, they will protect them from the harsh sun of late Spring.

The light of early Spring is distinctive. Once past the equinox, there is a true change in the quality of days, the mood of a morning and the height of an afternoon.  Our sense of place is once again made ever apparent celestially- our planet has moved around the sun at its usual tilt, but at this point in its orbiting travel, our section of the earth, the Northern hemisphere is more directly in the path of its light.

We are constantly moving, and there is change and revolution in Shenks Ferry.

The flowering herbaceous plants, the shrubs and the trees are rooted and beyond what we perceive as ancient. Their genetic provenance in this ravine is beyond our comprehension of time, like the rocks they grow out of are geological, these plants are botanical. In the sciences, time is measured and quantified with the greatest degree of accuracy possible. Everything is evidence based, and botany and geology are fused in time, like the fossil of a fern found in the layers of a sedimentary rock. Time has a physical manifestation we can understand and touch.

Looking at these plants and rocks in Shenks Ferry on a balmy April afternoon, we see a world that embodies time itself as our world has recorded it. It is a time-sense that is very difficult to comprehend, especially with the rocks. The beauty of these flowers and the whole place is in lock step with time itself. The blooming flowers reflect the past to us, many years beyond our sense of the ancient and prehistoric. Like the night sky, the light of the stars has finally reached us from a long ago past, the spring flowers before our eyes are also images from the distant past.

 

We stopped for lunch on a log, and wondered at the floral hillside beyond, reaching up to that blue spring sky, a hillside covered with blooming bluebells and trilliums, a hillside of Oaks, Maples and Beeches, with an understory of  Sassafrass, Dogwoods and Redbuds, we wondered about what beauty really is and where it is, and if it is measurable, like in Botany or Geology, or in contrast to the horrors of the world, that of war and environmental degradation, that beauty has been worn down to something as rudimentary as an aesthetic  sensibility subject to the whims of the creative observer, or is it something less complicated, like the passage of time itself, the rotation of the planets around the sun, the flowering of the ages, a Bluebell, what we call the Mertensia virginica, a flower bluer than the sky, a blue that we can hold in our hands, a beyond ancient blue, a seemingly timeless blue that we can plant, cultivate and regenerate in our own gardens, a blue that we can appreciate, photograph and a converse about in our  time, this is the blue of a Spring sky, the blue of time, this is the blue that is beyond our comprehension, yet it is the color of blue that inspires our imaginations.

While there may be aspects of the flower that are genetically complicated and worthy of study and research that will further our understanding and appreciation of the world, the simple beauty of the flower is the blue color. The sky is growing out of the ground! What is Spring without the plants mirroring the sky?

 

 

SUSQUEHANNA BLOOMIN’: MARYLAND’S WEST BANK

THE RIVERBANK IN MARYLAND’S SUSQUEHANNA STATE PARK IS  A FANTASTIC WATERSCAPE OF LOBELIA CARDINALIS AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE, FRAMED BY A FLUFFY BACKDROP OF JOE-PYE WEED; SANGUINE ROOT STAFF WRITER SEAN SOLOMON REJECTS PREVIOUSLY PLANNED TRAVEL ON INTERSTATE 95 AND INSTEAD SPENDS THE AFTERNOON WITH THESE FLOWERS IN THIS ASTOUNDING DISCOVERY.  

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

Labor day weekend on I-95 between Washington D.C. and  Philadelphia is not a walk in the park. The traffic is very heavy and volatile.  An escape plan was hatched:  Ditch I-95 in favor of an enchanting and peaceful afternoon along the Susquehanna River.

Many years have passed with numerous trips over the Susquehanna River in Maryland.  What a beautiful place, with the grand river opening into the Chesapeake bay.

Pay attention to the road! Gotta pay that toll now.  Mind the aggressive amateur driver with New Jersey plates tailgating!  Don’t want to speed or go to slow either. Thats a big truck!

The Beautiful scenery of the Susquehanna River is lost in a flash in the East Coast rush to get somewhere else now, for whatever reason.

Not this time.  Google earth was looked at.  AAA maps collected over the years were also consulted.  The Susquehanna River is too beautiful to overlook. The Lower Susquehanna is noted for its rich ravines.  One of the most beautiful places in the world, Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve, is about 30 miles north of I-95 right on the Susquehanna River.  The Lower Susquehanna cannot be overlooked.

Traffic or flowers? That is what it boils down to.  Exit 89 will take you to Susquehanna State Park. Exit 89 in Maryland off of interstate 95 will liberate you from the stresses of society and will enlighten you to the beauty of nature. Exit 89 is the happy exit, where happy flowers bloom and where  joy can be found.

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

A river passed over for so many years has been discovered.  Below the bridge is a beautiful world of ecosystems that have the potential to captivate our imaginations, and to lure us into a life of observation and science and give us meaning to our lives.

The Susquehanna River is that enchanting.

The flow and the color of the water. Its width and its sound. The flowers it produces, and the sunlight.  This is the place to be mesmerized by the beauty of nature.  We hear about the great rivers in our education and in the literature, the Nile, The Mississippi, the Yellow River, The Seine, the Amazon, Canisteo, The Liffey, The Hudson.   The Susquehanna is our river.  All of the literature and poetry inspired by all of the other rivers applies to this one as well.  The Susquehanna River belongs to all that makes a great river.

We not only admire the Susquehanna river, it has captured our hearts. It has a beauty we call home.  To live in Pennsylvania is to love the Susquehanna River.  It is the heartland of the  Mid-Atlantic east, flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, The Susquehanna River and its watershed is the life of the Mid-Atlantic region. A river is a river and a river.

Is there a river you love? Please comment about it and make the point clear!  The Columbia, The Rhine, The James, The Chemung, The Potomac, the Delaware, The Ohio, Connecticut, Savannah, St Johns… chime in please about your river!

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

It has been a few years now that we have become interested in native plants, and this is a special occasion, to see Lobelia cardinalis, the red lobelia, just growing in its natural habitat!

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

To be in this spot is special. Right in the water, with the flowers, along the river. This day has finally come, To see Lobelia cardinalis  just growing.

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Vernonia noveboracensis, New York ironweed, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Vernonia noveboracensis, New York ironweed, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

The beauty of a river has no beginning or and end.  The writer that can capture that beauty is…(Comment please)

 Phlox, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Phlox, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

 

Tick trefoil, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Tick trefoil, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

 

Sunflower, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Sunflower, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

 

Sunflower, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Sunflower, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

 

Sunflower, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Sunflower, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

 

Joe-pye weed and Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Joe-pye weed and Red lobelia, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

 

Elephant's foot, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Elephant’s foot, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

Isabelle , I wish you were here to see the beauty of these flowers.

Impatiens pallida, Jewelweed, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland
Impatiens pallida, Jewelweed, Susquehanna State Park, Maryland