So Many Unknowns

On this historic election day, a few friends and I took to the woods with the intention of absorbing not only the sun’s heat, but the warmth of each others company. Yes, occasionally our conversation turned to politics and wonder about the future, but for the most part, we just wanted to wander together.


Our first spot for consideration–a vernal pool tucked away in the woods.


In true v.p. behavior, it dried up during the summer drought, though as we moved about we experienced a sinking feeling–muck obscured by grasses and leaves. This particular pool is home to fairy shrimp and their eggs cases are protected under the leaf litter until water returns. The amazing thing about fairy shrimp–those eggs can survive long periods of drying and freezing. We trust we’ll have the opportunity to meet the next generation.


Sometimes our eyes were tricked by what we viewed and we questioned how things could be so.


But upon a closer examination of the facts, we realized that a club moss was merely growing near the wintergreen and the wintergreen hadn’t taken on a strange candelabra form.


Our questions continued, however. Why was the ground completely cleared in the middle of the trail? Mammal behavior? We noted boot prints and wondered about human interaction. Finally, we moved on, unable to understand the reasoning, but knew that there are some things we’ll never fully comprehend.


In another place, we noticed a green red-oak leaf. A holdout perhaps that preferred the way things had been and didn’t want to follow the rest of the group?


Occasionally, we calmly debated the structures before us as we considered shape and hairiness and growth pattern and location before we determined species–in this case, hawkweed.


And other times, no need for questions, no need for answers. Pure admiration for the presentation was enough.


When we were again drawn in for a closer look, in this case at the white fuzzy beech scale insect, we suddenly realized there was so much more to observe, such as the black ladybird beetle.


And then, something we didn’t understand at all. What was this spiny creature? And what was emerging from it? We left with that question floating among us. It wasn’t until doing some research later that I came to what may be the answer. Was it a ladybird beetle emerging from the pupa stage? How I wish we could go back and find it again and look at it with a different mindset.


Drawing close to the finish of our journey together, we spied something we’ve passed many times before, but never noticed.


Again, we’ll need to revisit the mossy boulder, but we determined it was a dog lichen. Why dog? Was it so named for the white “fang” like rhizines on its lower surface?  Or did the lobes remind someone of dog ears? Based on the large, fan-like shape, my leaning is toward Peltigera membranacea or Membrane Dog Lichen. But, I could be easily swayed on its ID.


A short walk and hours later, we finally passed a field of milkweed, their seeds blowing in the slight breeze like flags on a pole.

It was time to say goodbye to friends who will head south this weekend before I headed back to “reality” and colored in those little ovals.

I think we all came away thankful for the questions raised and knowledge shared, but still . . . so many unknowns.

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