Though fawning is most oft used to describe someone who is over the top in the flattery department (think old school brown nose), the term is derived from the Old English fægnian, meaning “rejoice, exult, be glad.”
I just knew it was going to be that kind of day when I drove toward Holt Pond Preserve this morning. First, on Route 302, a deer dashed in front of my truck–and I avoided hitting it by mere inches. (And being hit by the woman who was smack dab on my tail.) Then, as I drove up to the summit of Perley Road, a red fox crossed my path.
To top off my feeling of gladness, in the preserve’s parking lot I met up with the most gracious of hostesses, Lake Environmental Association‘s Education Director Alanna Doughty, and the ever delightful host, Loon Echo Land Trust‘s Stewardship Director Jon Evans. Those two dynamos had joined forces to lead a public walk that looped all the way around Holt Pond. Joining the group was a gentleman named Bob and two others–my dear friends Faith and Ben Hall. The Halls had arrived at their summer camp recently and this was my first opportunity to welcome them home. After intros and a discussion about how the two organizations have collaborated on projects including Holt Pond, along with an explanation of how they differ (LEA is about water science and protecting our precious lakes and ponds, while LELT is about protecting the uplands and lowlands that surround the watershed), we headed off on our adventure.
Within minutes, a small, rubbery green ball, about the size of a ping pong ball, caught our attention. This was the result of an apple oak gall female wasp (yes, there is such a species) that crawled up the tree trunk of a Northern red oak earlier in the spring and injected an egg into the center vein of a newly emerged leaf. As the larva grew, it caused a chemical reaction and mutated the leaf to form a gall around it. The leaf provided the larva sustenance. Had we left it alone, once it matured into a wasp, it would have sawed its way out through a small escape hole.
Because we were curious, however, Alanna split it open so everyone could see the spoke-like structure hidden inside, that provided support for the developing insect.
I shared with the group a little tidbit I learned last fall in Ireland. When working on the manuscript for the Book of Kells, monks used these galls for the color green, soaking them in beer or mead to create a dye.
That set the stage and from there on, we paused periodically to wonder, though I think we said at one point that we wanted to get all the way around before 1pm. But there’s so much to see that we had to stop. And because the pitcher plants grow beside the boardwalk, it was hard to ignore them. Being Alanna, she got down on her knees to talk about how this carnivorous plant functions, enticing insects into its pitcher-like leaves that are filled with water and digestive enzymes. Because of downward-sloping hairs on the leaf, insects can’t climb out and eventually they succumb–allowing the plant to break them down and absorb their nutrients.
Today, the pitcher’s flowers were beginning to bloom.
As our journey continued, we stopped to admire other flowers including the Indian Cucumber Root,
Jack in the Pulpit,
and pink lady’s slipper.
To show off the contorted growth of a tree, Faith graciously took a brief break at the beech.
While Jon shared a lot of information about South Bridgton’s historical past, Alanna enlightened us on the works of nature, including the bladder sedge with its inflated, teardrop-shaped sacs that enclose its fruit. Though common, like the pitcher plant flowers, it’s otherworldly in form.
And then we got stumped by one shrub we should have known. Witherod (wild raisin) or Nannyberry? We decided on the latter for a couple of reasons–the petioles (stems) of the leaves were somewhat winged and the veins beneath the leaves were not scurfy. Scurfy? That was a new term for me–meaning rough to the touch or covered with scales.
As our journey continued, we passed lots of hobblebush in the understory. But not to be missed were the witch hazels. And more galls, this time the witch’s cap that grows on their leaves and forms a cone-shaped structure much like a witch’s cap. How fitting that the Witch Hazel Cone Gall Aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis) chose this particular shrub. Having caused the leaf to form a gall around her, mother aphid stayed inside, where she’s protected as she feeds and reproduces.
During our journey, we shared brains and eyes. I’m thankful for others who thought to look up, and spotted a porcupine looking down.
We also looked down, spying the spot where a bird took a dust bath.
In this case, it was the work of a ruffed grouse that wanted to rid itself of lice and mites. A stray feather was also left behind. Do you see it?
But our best find of all–a young fawn curled up beside the trail. I was leading and talking at the time and didn’t even see it. Faith quietly called me back and I was sure she wanted to show me a snake. We paused quickly to take a few photos and this babe never flinched, obeying its mother’s order to stay put while she went off to feed. (I used to try that at the end of the aisle in a grocery store when my guys were young–but they did their fair share of flinching.)
We’d been blessed–and we all rejoiced while fawning with wonder.