In the grayness of the day sunlight lit my way.
Oh, it wasn’t as bright as yesterday when I wandered in brilliant light under clear blue skies and saw hints of spring, including skunk prints in the snow,
and some blue-green algae in a vernal pool that is slowly opening up.
But given the temperature and wind, the ice goddess reminded me that winter prevailed.
This morning presented a different picture that didn’t feature Mount Washington in the background because it was obscured by clouds. Rather than don my snowshoes, I decided to stick to the snowmobile trail for the most part. I wasn’t the only one who ventured that way. Because I wasn’t making as much noise as usual, the deer didn’t hear me approach. And so we stood for many minutes contemplating each other. I didn’t want to scare her for I knew she wouldn’t just stick to the trail and the snow depth continues to be such that she sinks with each step. It was in those shared moments that I began to think about energy and how much she put forth all winter and now continues to do the same as spring evolves. Every day I spy more and more young hemlocks trunks that have been scraped. She and her family are feeding on sunlight, which first feed the insects in the soil and then the trees. At each stage or tropic level of the food chain only ten percent of biomass from the previous level is retained. Thus, a thousand pounds of plant biomass is necessary to support a hundred pounds of an herbivore–that’s a lot of little buds for a deer.
Eventually, she made her way across the powerline and joined her family. I decided to turn around so I wouldn’t disturb them further. And it’s then that I recognized some prints I’d missed previously. My micro-spike print is on the left, beside those of a carnivore–a bobcat, or rather, two. Usually bobcats travel in a solitary manner, but their breeding season is upon them. And those thousand pounds of plant biomass that supported a hundred pounds of herbivore, in turn support ten pounds of carnivore. The hunt becomes important.
I did find a few spots where the snow had melted and winter weeds, such as this motherwort, provided hints of future buffet items for the herbivores and omnivores to consume.
And then I came upon junco feathers and knew that a different consumer had benefited from the sunlight offered forth by this little bird. The hemlock needle provides a perspective of size.
Despite its demise, the feathers surrounded by melting snow created an artistic arrangement. That was my attempt at positive thinking, for like us, all things must eat to survive.
And then a few producers caught my attention and I found myself focusing on young trees and shrubs. I’ve walked past this young tree numerous times and never saw it until today.
White ash or green? They both look similar, but the leaf scar is the giveaway. It’s shaped like a C or misshapen horseshoe with a deep notch at the top.
And its terminal bud is domed. In these woods, the ash trees aren’t a preferred food source of the deer–lucky for them.
Nearby, another neighbor caught my attention and it, too, I hadn’t met before.
My assumption was dogwood, given the bright red/purpishish color of its shrubby stems, long-gone fruits and opposite leaf buds. But–red osier or silky? I’ve leaned toward the latter but will have to pay attention as the season moves forward. These did seem to tickle the herbivores fancy from time to time, though not nearly as much as the maples that grow nearby.
As I headed toward home, I stumbled upon another site I’ve seen frequently all winter. Actually for the past few winters. There must be a peanut plantation somewhere in these woods. That, or the blue jays have discovered a good source at someone’s bird feeder.
Before heading indoors, I paused to acknowledge another ice goddess, one who also knows the sun’s power and found relief in today’s shadows . . .
and flakes. It’s snowing again, this fourth day of spring. Liquid sunshine, for the snow also provides nourishment to all who live here.
You see, the sun always shines . . . even when you can’t feel the warmth of its rays.