Distracted by Nature

A morning message from my dear friend Carissa set the tone for today. Her Lenten devotional is based on the poetry of Mary Oliver and she thought of me when she read “The Summer Day.”

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~Mary Oliver

A perfect beginning, indeed.

w-Horseshoe Pond

A short time later I joined a couple of other friends and we traveled together to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve. Our snowshoe journey began beside Horseshoe Pond where we paused to enjoy its beauty and recall trips up Lord Hill, whose face was obscured to the left.

w-hemlock cones and seed below

Once we got onto the trail, it was the little things that we noticed, like the hemlock cones with partially opened scales, their seeds all released. One tiny seed sits atop my name in this photo, but we wondered together why we’ve always seen the cones only in their closed up formation, whether fresh or old. Had they always looked like this one in late winter and we just never realized it previously?

w-frullania liverwort with new growth

And then we paused beside yellow birches where the liverwort Frullania eboracensis grew in abundance. Again, a new realization for us. We knew it to have brown stems, but today spied the green. As it turns out, in his book, Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, author Ralph Pope begins his description with this: “Plant dark green to brown . . .” Our eyes were opened.

w-crowded parchment laterally fused

Next there was the Crowded Parchment fungus that threw us off momentarily. We recognized the cap, but were unsure about the part of the fungus that was spread out flat like a crust. It turns out, the flat parts or fertile surfaces of this mushroom laterally fuse or join together at the dark ridges. This behavior certainly spoke to its name of crowded. In Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman refers to it as “One of the most common fungi as well as one of the most crowded in New England . . . It’s not unusual to see several hundred gregarious fruiting bodies laterally fused or in dense clusters on a single branch.” Common or not, we were wowed.

w-script lichen

And because we stopped to gain a better understanding of the Crowded Parchment, another gift was offered in the form of script lichen writing its own story on an adjoining branch.

w-nectria fruiting bodies?

Nearby, there was a similar cinnamonish color on beech bark. This particular beech was dotted with the waxy exterior winter coating of the beech scale insect. As I’ve noted before, the scale insect or more technically, Cryptococcus fagisuga, is a tiny insect that sucks sugar and other nutrients from beech trees only.

Soon, the beech scale insect will molt into its second, legless nymph stage and emerge. Immediately, it will start sucking sap through its tubular mouthpart or stylet. That instar stage doesn’t last long, and quickly it will become a mature female. For the rest of its life it will remain sedentary, but repeatedly remove and reinsert its piercing stylet, wounding the tree and providing entry points for fungi to enter. An interesting fact about beech scale insects–its a world of females who reproduce by parthenogenesis; there are no known males.

w-closer look

But what about that cinnamon color? Was it a fungus? Or was it related to the insects? Yes and yes. As some further research revealed, two species of nectria fungi are associated with beech bark disease, Nectria coccinea var. faginata and Nectria gallengiaIt is now my understanding that what we examined was a large area of the former’s fruiting bodies. Oh my.

w-lichen garden1

We also paused frequently beside gardens dominated by lichens. Crustose, foliose and fruticose varieties completely enveloped the bark of this toppled tree, their individual colors and textures adding to the visual display.

w-mink 1

And then . . . and then . .  . as we looked, a motion captured the attention of one in our group. I only wish my focus had been better, but still, it was enough.

w-mink 2

We were blessed with the opportunity to spend a few moments with a mink as it bounded down the hill before realizing it had an audience.

w-mink measurements

Of course, after it disappeared down a hole into a stream and we’d waited a bit, we checked out the tracks it left behind. The size of the prints and length of the straddle or measurement from the outside of one print to the outside of the other confirmed our ID.

w-mink prints

From that point on, we continued to find evidence that the mink had traveled to and fro over the course of several days. Our hearts were grateful to have shared such a moment.

w-hairy, bony find

And as we took measurements, we spotted something else on the snow. Something hairy and bony found about three or four inches from the fresh mink tracks.

w-hairy, bony--scapula

A scapula from a little brown thing, possibly a vole. Dropped from the mink or from above by a bird? We’ll never know. But we do know that someone consumed someone else–as it is in the natural world.

w-Sucker Brook

Seeing the mink made perfect sense because we traveled on and off trail beside Sucker Brook.

w-hobblebush flower and leaf buds

It was there that the naked but hairy hobblebush leaves and flower buds reminded us that spring isn’t far off. The three of us don’t necessarily want winter to end for we love how it forces us to notice other things such as the nectria’s fruiting bodies. And we love to track. But . . . we also love the other seasons, so we’re happy exploring at any time of the year.

w-suds

Beside the water, the icy formations kept calling my name and I honored many by snapping a photograph. But, then we met the suds. Water foam is caused by the decay of twigs and plants and occurs naturally in streams and brooks. As they release compounds, the interaction breaks the surface tension, allowing air to mix in and create bubbles. And just as we found the Crowded Parchment living in a large community, we also found this congregation of bubbles–creating a design all its own.

w-Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog

Despite the short trail, it took us forever to reach the point where the brook becomes Moose Pond Bog, but we did.

w-stream with rattlesnake liverwort

And then we beelined (sort of, for still we kept stopping) to the final stream crossing on the trail for we wanted a glimpse of the rattlesnake liverwort we’d discovered growing there last year. Alas, it was buried under snow. And that means we’ll have to return again. Darn.

w-sucker brook reflections

In the end, it was a morning well spent as we dillied and dallied over the littlest of things. And watched a mink. We got to see a mink!

No, it wasn’t a summer day. But . . . we were distracted by nature. As Mary Oliver asked, “What else should we have done?”

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Distracted by Nature

  1. I love the Mary Oliver poem you start with today. Your outing as always was wonderful and interesting. How lucky to see the mink. Thank you for sharing, Ursula

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