I had hoped to celebrate the first day of 2012 at the 8th Annual New Year's Day Paddle on the Des Moines River, but winds predicted to gust up to 60 MPH discouraged me from driving the 70-mile round trip with my kayak perched on the roof of my car. A similar wind last year ripped a kayak and its "secure" carrying rack from the roof of a friend driving home from an outing. Having once lost a kayak from the roof of my own car as I drove down an expressway, I did not want to risk another such gut-wrenching experience. Suppressing the urge to buck the wind and join my paddling friends anyway, I instead opted to hike along the Summerset Trail, a bicycle path passing through the Banner Flats Wildlife Area and Summerset State Park.
Stepping out of my car, I was greeted by the roaring of the wind. Hiking away from the tree-lined oasis of the trailhead, I entered a landscape of open wetlands and farmfields in the flat floodplain of the Middle River. Even though I had left the trees behind, the roaring of the wild, gusty wind continued unabated like the constant crashing of surf at a seashore. Unsheltered, I felt its buffeting directly. We live at the bottom of an ocean of air, but are rarely aware of its currents until they turn turbulent.
In places, the trail was lined with a thin band of trees, mostly cottonwood, willow, silver maple, boxelder, and honeylocust, the latter bristling with thorns on its boles and branches.
More subtly, silver maples could be recognized by their smooth bark with pale patches of lichen, which in turn could be recognized as Comma Lichen by its tiny, comma-like squiggles of black lirellae against a white, endophloeodal ("within the bark") thallus.
I spotted more lichens appressed against wind-fallen cottonwood limbs...
...and still more coating the iron beam of a bridge at a stream crossing.
I took a closer look at the mosses dotting the gravelly ground along the edge of the trail, finding white-tipped clusters of Silvery Bryum (Bryum argenteum).
On taller vegetation beyond the gravel edge of the trail, I found the milkweed-like pods of Honeyvine (Cynanchum laeve). Its fluffy seeds flew into the blustery wind as I pried open their escape hatch.
Near the end of my hike, I found a pool of water filled with Cursed Crowfoot (Ranunculus sceleratus), improbably green on New Year's Day.
A piece of bark fallen onto the crowfoot mat bore the hieroglyphic galleries of a European elm bark beetle (Scolytus multistriatus), recognized by the vertical orientation of the parental tunnel and its radiating larval lines.
I finished my hike and drove home through the continuing wind. Email and blog postings informed me that that the New Year's Day Paddle was a success for friends who had braved the road trip, a temptation for me to "throw caution to the wind" next year. Nonetheless, I had walked through a wild wind on a new trail beginning a new year. I look forward to the adventures, literal and figurative, that 2012 will surely bring. Happy New Year!