Nature photographer finds much beauty during a short hike on the Oregon Trail.
By Gerry Lemmo
My wife Lynne and I pulled into the small parking area on a mild morning in June. We had been here before to hike to Cod Pond in the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest, but today we had a different destination: the little-visited Oregon Trail.
Before we had donned our day packs, gathered our photo gear, and doused ourselves with a liberal application of bug repellent, the parking lot came to life: not one, but perhaps a dozen white admirals, beautifully decorated butterflies, flitted around us. One fearless individual made a brief landing on my shoulder, boldly flaunting his flashy, outstretched wings just within my peripheral vision. I couldn’t resist snapping a shot of him once he settled back on the ground.
With the sun barely poking out of the clouds, we headed up the trail to a junction just two-tenths of a mile from the road. The trail to Cod Pond bears right here, but after stopping to sign the register, we continued straight on the Oregon Trail.
We started up an easy hill. I should say normally it would be easy. Three weeks earlier, I had developed a most peculiar condition known as diplopia, or double vision, which would not go away until late August. After finding a solid walking stick, I gingerly followed Lynne up the narrow, rocky path. It soon became wet as well.
“Oh, boy, I hope I don’t take a spill,” I thought as I lugged my hefty camera gear up the hill. I am an avid, almost crazed, nature photographer, and I was not going to allow diplopia or the difficulties of a novice trail keep me from pursuing my passion. Since I still had fairly clear sight, I could continue to take photos as long as I wore a patch over one eye.
Of course, having a patch over one eye fools with your depth vision, which makes it hard to navigate over uneven terrain. Lynne helped me by pointing out obstacles such as large rocks or roots (along with good photo subjects).
As we meandered through a mixed forest of hardwoods and evergreens, we came upon several attractive species of spring wildflowers. After we stopped by a flowering patch of bunchberry, Lynne discovered a plant neither of us had seen before (which we later realized was a twinflower). I gingerly lay on my belly to compose several images of the pretty, delicately scented flower and pressed my nose up against the tiny blooms, inhaling their sweet aroma. As I lay there, bracing for a macro shot, I was startled by an undulating ribbon of black and yellow that appeared just inches away from my face: a garter snake, illuminated in a sunbeam. I popped off three quick frames before it zipped into the shadows. I must have been quite frightening to him, with my giant, cycloptic gaze.
Resuming our journey, we admired scattered blossoms of common wood sorrel with their pink-striped petals peering up from the lush green forest undergrowth of grasses, ferns, and mosses.
Blossoms were not the only heralds of spring. Cupping my hand behind one ear, I located several familiar birds that were joyously singing to advertise their breeding territories. Among them were a melodious wood thrush, a yellow-bellied sapsucker (tapping away on a poplar), and two of my favorite Adirondack warblers—the black-throated green and the black-throated blue. Given my condition, I didn’t dare venture off the trail to get within photo range of the warblers, but I did manage to photograph another favorite avian species, while somehow avoiding tripping over myself: a rose-breasted grosbeak. He was singing in dense cover but emerged for a curtain call. How very nice of him! And what a pretty bird!
Much of the Oregon Trail follows Stewart Creek, which flows north-northwest to empty into the East Branch of the Sacandaga
River. Hiking upstream, we came to a place where the creek widened into a swampy area. Along the edge, ebony jewelwings— gorgeous, metallic-green damselflies—danced like tightrope performers on the tips of overhanging grasses and chased one another through the balmy air. Fumbling to maneuver along the swamp edge, I found a small open place to have lunch, and at the base of a spruce tree, Lynne discovered an aluminum Coleman canoe and a telescoping hiking staff, complete with leather strap. It was calling to me, the visually impaired! We stood there, mouths agape, as if we had just witnessed a sign from above. We had seen no one all day. Where this hiking aid had come from remains a mystery.
Continuing our hike, we saw another garter snake slither across the trail. Occasionally, an American toad bounded clumsily
underfoot. At one point we were approached by a cantankerous Canada goose coming out of a shady hemlock grove. It wasn’t until we saw three goslings plop into the creek that we realized what all the commotion was about. Mother goose was up in arms (or wings) about our presence. When we stopped by a sturdy snowmobile bridge overlooking an expansive marsh, we saw a wood duck noisily take flight. On the other side of the bridge, the stream rushed through a rock flume.
The bridge is just 1.2 miles from the road. Beyond it, the trail continued around the marsh for a few hundred feet. When it became only vaguely recognizable in places, we decided that we had seen enough for one day. It was not a long hike, but it left me feeling lucky that I have my sight and my other senses to enjoy the wonders of nature.
DIRECTIONS: From the hamlet of Wells, drive north on NY 30 for roughly 3.5 miles after crossing Lake Algonquin. Turn right onto NY 8 and go about 8.4 miles to a parking area on the right, just before the bridge over Stewart Creek.