The wonders of the Larch Hill Trail never get old

Just walked the Larch Hill Trail at Frances Slocum again. Always find new and fascinating things on the superb trail.larch use


By Bob Quarteroni

If you look at an Eastern Larch tree in the dead of winter you will say that’s exactly right: it is dead, totally, completely dead.

How could anything live spring from those withered, desiccated branches?  It’s so far gone looking one tree web site starts: “Don’t cut down that tree; it’s not dead, it’s a larch!”

But looks are deceiving and this intriguing, fascinating tree is very much alive.

Eastern larch – also known as tamarack and hackmatack — is a relative rarity, a deciduous conifer. In fact, the larch is our one and only deciduous (leaf shedding) coniferous tree.

(Interestingly, a fine example one of the other two deciduous conifers — dawn redwood – can be seen in Kirby Park. The third deciduous conifer is the bald-cypress.)

When the larch does shed its needles in fall, it puts on a show: They turn to a beautiful golden yellow before falling and transforming the tree into its death-in-life phase.

Whatever the advantages of dropping its needles – and that is still hotly debated – the larch is a perfect tree, as long as the environment is cold enough. It’s a strictly northern tree, and it’s built to handle the cold. It can survive temperatures as low as minus 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and it grows as far north as the edge of the tundra.

And it fares well here.

In the spring, the larch’s new needles grow out in a wonderful soft green whorled pattern. Larch is also one of the first trees to leaf out in spring, and its bright green stands out starkly against the barren woods.

One of the best places to enjoy this unique tree is on the aptly named Larch Tree Trail in Frances Slocum State Park.

On this hilly two-mile trail in the northeast of the part stands a vast stand of larch, with perfectly straight trunks. Column upon column of them standi in precise rows, as if at attention. The result is a natural cathedral of stunning beauty, peace and an ideal spot for contemplation.

While the larches are the crown jewels, the trail has much more to offer. From its lovely stands of striped maples with their improbable green trunks, to endless stands of Indian pipes, fungi like hoof fungus and turkey tail, wild flowers of all types and shrubs like wild raisin and nannyberry, there’s lots of see.

There’s also abundant wildlife, including turkey and deer — lots of deer,

It’s also a birders delight, and the woods are full of avian sights and sounds, from downy and hairy woodpeckers to the black-capped chickadees I fed by hand in winter to northern flickers, nuthatches, brown creepers and many, many more.

A favorite chum of mine is a pileated woodpecker who makes enough noise for a rhinoceros while, at the same time, being difficult to spot. He haunts the lower reaches of the trail and is a treat if you can catch a glimpse.

Above all, it’s a very good place to listen to the quiet.

“This is a gently winding trail, fairly easy to traverse with short inclines,” said avid hiker Roberta Blau Brentano of Scranton. “There is a great variety of flora to excite the senses for all types of nature lovers. This is a great place to enjoy the peace and renewal that is given by forests.”

To reach the trailhead, take the first left on the main park road after the park office, a steep downhill.

As soon as you reach the bottom, there is parking to the left. Park there and walk the few hundred yards to the trailhead (go left as you exit the parking area so that the spillover pond is on your left). Do not park near the trailhead gate or you may be ticketed.

The first third of the trail is uphill, the next flat and the last third downhill. It’s marked with orange blazes and easy to follow.

The one spot where you need to keep your eyes peeled is when you are descending and the trail forks with the Larch trail to the right and the Campground trail to the left. It’s easy to miss this so if you start seeing cliffs on your left, you’re on the Campground trail.

More information is available by calling 570-696-3525, emailing or going to



Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. – Anatole France

No, we didn’t kill him. He killed himself yesterday on a long run. He was so full of life he couldn’t contain it and would run full speed from one size of a huge field, turn on a dime and then run back, and kept it up all day, even swimming and racing up and down forest paths. To see him so totally happy and just bursting with the joy of life is to indeed behold a small miracle.

Here’s a piece on Opie I wrote for Bark magazine a few years ago. He continues to be the brightest little light in my life.


By Bob Quarteroni

I bought Opie, our little 17-pound rescue mutt that I love beyond all reason, a new squeaky ducky to play with.

Opie, who at first was afraid of it and thought it was alive, took it out in the grass and killed it by chewing its squeaky to death after a sustained 15-minute effort.

He flopped onto his back and started squirming back and forth furiously — a behavior that we have somewhat mysteriously termed the worm — and started using his front paws to throw Ducky in the air and catch it in his mouth and shake it, shake it, shake it.

This went on for maybe 90 seconds and I was transfixed.

This, I thought, is perfect happiness, absolute joy in simply being alive and full of so much Opieness that it just couldn’t be contained.

He was totally in the moment, not worrying about the past or thinking about the future but completely, innocently, joyously, happy.

And I thought: I’ll never feel that way, it’s not possible for me to be that innocent and blissful and overflowing with life, with no intrusive thoughts or random mental junk sullying the experience.

Reflecting on it — now that he’s back to his normal Opie: Barking at kitty, trying to get at another pair of panties to eat, sniffing other dog butts — I’ve come to this realization:

I’m 68 and Opie’s three, but there’s so much he can teach me, so much I can learn if I just follow the Opie Path.

For Opie’s always alive to the moment, always taking the world as it comes: unfiltered, simple, immediate, as it is, whatever it is.

For Opie, every walk is the best walk, and every run in the woods is the best run in the woods and every new squeaky toy is the best squeaky toy.

And his love is total, immediate, unquestioning, fierce in its loyalty and beauty.

When I return from somewhere, even if I’ve only been gone for five minutes, Opie greets me with an intensity and excitement that is miraculous to behold.

Since he’s so tiny, the only way he can do this properly is to jump on the back of the couch and then launch a kissing — you might call it licking but I don’t — assault on my face, centered on my nose (which we won’t comment on) and kissing with such passionate intensity while pressing his little body against my face that he inevitably pushes me down to the seat of the coach. / P

There, he immediately flips over and I put my hand under his back — which he loves — and he does the now-elevated worm, snarling and pawing the air and making me improbably happy to be part of it.

I know, I know, this is nothing unusual, just normal dog stuff. But I’ve never stopped to really consider this essence of dogginess before. Perhaps because they are so ever present in our lives we don’t stop to marvel at this two-species minuet of love.

And it made me realize that I don’t need to turn to any church or guru or god or belief system to try and find my way through the murkiness that is my life, made more difficult by the crazy monkey that is my brain, by the relentless and often crippling thoughts that came in the hand I was dealt at birth.

All I have to do is try to be more like Opie, to live in the now, to savor every moment left to me, to make every one of my walks the best walk ever, to dump all the trash and baggage and just be like a tiny little dog with a skin condition and a heart and soul big enough to swallow the earth.

We seek wisdom everywhere and it is at our feet, teaching without even knowing it, if only we will listen, closely and carefully.

I don’t believe in an afterlife but if I did i would pray to go wherever dogs went, because that would be the true paradise, awash with love and saliva, acceptance and as many squeaky duckies as anyone could ever want.

It’s often been said that dog is god spelled backwards, but if you look at the sentence in a mirror it’s reversed, and very, very believable.



Bur-Marigold: Like the houseguest you can’t get rid of!

Bur-Marigolds are harder to get rid of than robocallers.  One walk through a patch of burthem and you’re doomed. They’ve ruined at least three pairs of socks this year, attaching SO many burrs to them that it would have taken me until Trump grew a soul to get them all out. Still, pretty and just trying to spread themselves out…

Bur Marigold in full flower; one of the few NOT sticking to me.

Bur Marigold Quick Facts

Name: Bur Marigold
Scientific Name: Bidens tripartita
Origin Europe, the Indian subcontinent, North America
Shapes Round seed heads, covered in flat, dark brown seeds
Taste Bitter
Health benefits Treat urinary tract infections, kidney, respiratory ailment, prolonged and heavy menstrual bleeding, eczema, ulcers, and minor skin injuries

Bidens tripartita with many common names including Bur Marigold, three-lobe Beggarticks, Three-part Beggarticks, Leafy-bracted Beggarticks, Trifid Bur-marigold, water agrimony, tickseed, Bastard agrimony , bastard hemp , bur marigold , hairy beggar-ticks , 3-lobe beggar ticks , lumb , needle grass , Spanish needles , sticktights and water hemp is a widespread annual plant native to large parts of the Northern hemisphere, including Europe, the Indian subcontinent, North America, temperate east Asia, and slightly into northern Africa. It has naturalized in other areas. It is a flowering plant in the genus Bidens and is a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae). The plant’s genus name bidens is derives from Latin words “bis” meaning two and “dens” meaning teeth, referring to the two reflexed prickles located on the seed coats which allow the seeds to spread by adhering to human clothing or animal fur. Bidens tripartita was once known by the name Hipatorium due to the herb’s alleged invigorating effect on the liver.

Of Subarus, cockleburs and the endless rain


After dropping off my car at Wyo Valley Subaru to see about the battery (I’m still gettng free work from them after complaining to the head of Subaru America about getting stuck with a loaner with no gas; still getting free treatment at U. of Penn after complaining to president there about my treatment…is there a common thread here?) it started raining, of course.

Without my car didn’t have all my gear but still had an umbrella and plastic bag for camera so got four decent pics I think, but not fun juggling umbrella and camera. First, cocklebur or clotbur, an angry looking plant, pictured here. Also saw dittany, burg marigold and climbing false buckwheat. Not bad for 45 minutes and fogged everything.cloth

Cocklebur is herbaceous plant that belongs to the sunflower family. It originates from eastern Asia and North and South America, but it can be found around the world today. Cocklebur grows in the wastelands, along the roads, in the fields, meadows, pastures, near the rivers and streams and in the seasonally flooded areas. It prefers rich soil and areas that provide enough moisture. Cocklebur is classified as weed in most areas outside its native range.
Interesting Cocklebur Facts:

Cocklebur develops erect, hairy stem with numerous branches covered with red spots. Plant can reach 20 to 47 inches in height.
Cocklebur has heart-shaped or broadly ovate leaves. They are toothed or shallowly lobed on the edges and have coarse texture. Leaves are alternately arranged on the branches.
Cocklebur is monoecious plant which means that each plant develops individual male and female flowers. Male flowers are inconspicuous and formed at the tips of terminal branches. Greenish flowers arranged in pairs that grow from the axils of leaves contain female reproductive organs.
Cocklebur blooms from July to October in the northern hemisphere. It requires prolonged night for the successful development of flowers (short-day plant). Cocklebur is designed for the pollination by wind.
Fruit of cocklebur is oval-shaped achene enclosed in bur with hooked spines on the surface. Fruit is divided in two chambers, each filled with one seed.
Hooked spines facilitate dispersal of seed. Animals collect fruit that easily attach to their fur and skin, when they pass near the plant.
Cocklebur propagates only via seed that retains ability to germinate for many years.
Cocklebur is also known as “hitchhiker” because of its ability to travel large distances attached to the body of animals or socks, shoes and cloth of humans. Miniature spines are even able to penetrate through the upper layer of the humans’ skin.
Thickets of cocklebur can be a death trap for small birds (hooks keep them firmly attached to the clusters of spiny fruit).
Consumption of seed and young cockleburs leads to death of pigs, sheep, horses and cattle. Old plants do not contain toxins, but they are not palatable because of the rough texture and bitter taste

Short post after day of #_#”@_@ car problems.

Nothing like the hush of a totally dead battery to get the day off to a rotten start. Especially since the AAA guy who started the car said the battery was fine. What fun!  Trying to find the one wire or whatever that is causing this could take months, as it once did about 30 years ago with a Subaru when the problem turned out to be — yep, a single wire. Oh well. On to sweeter things.

Found this sweet little orchid in the mire at Deep Hollow. Tiny but beautiful.

Nodding Ladies’ Tresses.
Other Common Name: Common Ladies’ Tresses; Ladies’ Tresses Orchid

Family: Orchidaceae (orchids)

Description: Nodding ladies’ tresses, in bloom, is a slender green stalk with small white orchid flowers arranged in a spiral. Flowers are white with a pointed lip, arranged in a spiral around the stem, about 1/4 to 3/8 inch long, and each points slightly downward. Flowers usually have a “lily of the valley” fragrance. Blooms August–November. Stem leaves are few, very narrow, clasping the flowering stem. The basal leaves have usually disappeared before the flowers appear.

There are six other Spiranthes species found in Missouri; one, shining ladies’ tresses (S. lucida), flowers in May–Jnoddingune and is restricted to fens and seeps in the Ozark and Ozark Border regions; the other five bloom in late summer and fall.

Size: Height: to 18 inches

Gentian Redux: Even prettier second time around

Fringed gentian, still in the act of opening. Think I might have been a couple or three days early for the grand finale but this was good enough. At least 100 plants in a small area so that was very good to see. I managed to set a personal sticktight record but it was worth it. Deep Hollow holds many, many fascinating plants and is an undiscovered jewel –which I am quite content to keep to myself.gentian

Gentianopsis crinita or Greater Fringed Gentian or Blue Gentian is one of the most beautiful of the gentians, with its delicately fringed petals and striking blue color, it is becoming rare and must not be picked. It is a biennial, and along with the other gentians, is among the last wildflowers to bloom in the late summer and fall.

Fringed Gentian is about 1-3′ tall, native to eastern USA and eastern Canada. It ranges from the southern Appalachian Mountains north into New England and west to Manitoba and Iowa, though it can grow as far south as the mountains of Georgia. It is uncommon in much of its range. It is very rare in the Southeast.

Stalking the elusive fringed gentian

fringedFringed gentian may be the most beautiful of all the wildflowers. After years of looking in vain, super naturalist Stan Galicki told me where to find it at Deep Hollow Dam and that’s where I got this photo last year. But I was a little late and this was the solitary gentian I saw. Heading back today and hoping to get some better pics of this beauty. Harder to do because picking is a no-non since it’s so rare so it’s down into the goo to get the pic.
Gentianopsis crinita or Greater Fringed Gentian or Blue Gentian is one of the most beautiful of the gentians, with its delicately fringed petals and striking blue color, it is becoming rare and must not be picked. It is a biennial, and along with the other gentians, is among the last wildflowers to bloom in the late summer and fall.

Fringed Gentian is about 1-3′ tall, native to eastern USA and eastern Canada. It ranges from the southern Appalachian Mountains north into New England and west to Manitoba and Iowa, though it can grow as far south as the mountains of Georgia. It is uncommon in much of its range. It is very rare in the Southeast.

Gentianopsis crinita

photo by Sherman, Doug

Fringed gentian flowers open on sunny days, but generally remain closed on cloudy days and during the night. So it is best spotted on bright sunny days during the peak of flowering. There is no noticeable floral scent. Individual plants live for only one or two years. They flower only in their second season. This wildflower reproduces by reseeding itself.

The stems are light green, yellowish green, or reddish green; they are terete and glabrous. Pairs of opposite leaves occur along these stems. The leaves have prominent central veins and a slightly succulent texture.

Fringed gentian is found in shallow, near-neutral soils, in damp, sunny meadows associated with magnesium rich rock (amphibolite, serpentine).

Blue Gentian

The Fringed Gentian’s fleeting, exquisite beauty has had the attention of artists and poets for hundreds of years. It has inspired well known 19th century writers such as William Cullen Bryant, Emily Dickinson, and Henry David Thoreau.

To the Fringed Gentian

Thou blossom bright with autumn dew,
And colored with the heaven’s own blue,
That openest when the quiet light
Succeeds the keen and frosty night.

Thou comest not when violets lean
O’er wandering brooks and springs unseen,
Or columbines, in purple dressed,
Nod o’er the ground-bird’s hidden nest.

Thou waitest late and com’st alone,
When woods are bare and birds are flown,
And frosts and shortening days portend
The aged year is near his end.

Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye
Look through its fringes to the sky,
Blue-blue-as if that sky let fall
A flower from its cerulean wall.

I would that thus, when I shall see
The hour of death draw near to me,
Hope, blossoming within my heart,
May look to heaven as I depart.