We pounded the sidewalk this weekend in a style not quite ours, but visiting the Big Apple always finds us realizing that the world around us is larger than our little speck on the map in western Maine. And yet, we found similarities everywhere we turned.
Birds of various shapes, colors, and sizes like the Common Tern with its bright two-toned bill, offered watery reflections as they stood in front of us and pondered life in the East River.
On a much larger scale was the raven of the sea, the Cormorant, with its eyes so blue and bill so long and hooked.
There were a variety of gulls as well, plus sparrows, and of course, the exotic pigeons, all enjoying life along this place where the Statue of Liberty welcomed us from her distant, yet ever distinguished pose upon Liberty Island.
We spent some time in the morning and again in the afternoon beside the river and it dawned upon me as we gazed at the surrounding architecture, here positioned behind the Brooklyn Bridge, that the form of each structure was rather organic in style. Just as all ferns might be viewed as “just ferns,” so might buildings be viewed as “just buildings.” But then one day, you wake up and begin to notice the idiosyncrasies and suddenly you recognize the sensitive fern in its once-cut form with its separate fertile frond and the lady fern with her hairy legs and comma-like “eyebrow” sporangia on the back of her pinnules and voilà, you realize that each one has its own characteristics worth noting. Somehow, the buildings began to feel the same to me–their different forms and colors and sizes took on new meaning and though I don’t yet understand them all, I can at least appreciate their artistry.
The other thing I began to realize is that from our stance in Brooklyn, as we looked across the Manhattan Bridge, the community on the other side had suddenly changed or so it seemed based on the size and style of the buildings, much like natural communities change based on location–whether its a riverbank, forest, pond, cliff, or bog, etc. Fortunately, we were accompanied by our youngest son who lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan, and he could point out that the view below the Brooklyn Bridge was of the Financial District of Manhattan, while the view on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge was toward Chinatown.
Even the bridges themselves were meant to be celebrated for their lines, whether straight, curved, or angular–all working together to create monuments out of stone and steel.
Against the sky, their geometric shapes drew our eyes up and down and up and down again as we glanced upon the individual spans.
A few steps beyond the bridge, in DUMBO, we spied more geometry enhanced by color and while some might see crystals in rocks, I kept thinking of insects and their “mechanical” structures of antennae and legs and thoraxes and abdomens and wings.
Our walking tour included The Fence, the largest public photo exhibition in North America that moves from one city to another and will be on display in the Brooklyn Bridge Park through September.
The photographs are displayed in categories. In the Farm-to-Camera category, it tickled me to see that photographer Adrien Bloom had included Garlic Scapes from a farm in Maine.
Beside each set of photographs within a category, an explanation was provided. In this case, we read the following: “Farm-to-Camera honors the pure and simple beauty of the bounty that comes from our farms. Billions of years in the evolutionary making, each item we pick up at the farmers market, or directly from the farm, is a perfect piece of art and deserves to be treated as such.”
One last gaze across the East River provided a sight that looked more poster-like than real. And yet it was . . . real. And in its realness, it appeared that some buildings in the canopy had crowded out the saplings and shrubs and definitely those in the herb layer.
According to our son, the reality of the unfinished building in the center is that the structure is off by two inches between the top and bottom and it has been left as is for months now. Perhaps it will be the tree that can’t survive in this forest because of the crowded conditions.
Before we left the DUMBO area, he showed us a different view of the river, actually this one a representation as it blocked off a location where “Gotham” is set. He was able to point out changes they make during the filming season as he knows it from a work perspective in his job at a film editing house.
Our first day ended with the three of us enjoying a delicious dinner at French Louie under a break in the sky–a heart meant for us.
The next morning called for a trip to Manhattan and a walk in Central Park where the ornate architecture was framed by a break in the trees.
It was near there that we paid our respects to Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, aka Alexander von Humboldt, the famous geographer, explorer and naturalist. His publications, which were prolific, had a mission to encourage scientific inquiry as well as a wonderment of nature. And to him we gave thanks.
Within the park we stood by The Lake for a bit, watching lovers in boats . . .
approaching each other in the water,
and basking in the sun. Interestingly enough, if you scroll up to the first shot of The Lake, you may notice that the rock upon which the Red-eared Slider Turtles sunned themselves actually looked like a turtle.
It was there that we also spotted dragonflies new to my knowledge–the Eastern Amberwing. I think I may have called it the Topaz Wing had I been the first to ID it, but perhaps that’s because I’m partial to the stone that represents my birth date.
Inside the Museum of Natural History we wandered and wondered for hours and hours. I’m not a city girl, but I sure did wish from time to time that I lived closer for I would purchase a pass each year and spend time in various sections–visiting repeatedly to gain a better understanding.
Oh yeah, these are the two variations of a snowshoe, aka varying hare.
And did I mention that we spotted Sandhill Cranes and their nest. It looks like three little ones should hatch any day now. That is . . . if it’s possible to emerge from their plastic forms enclosed behind the glass wall.
Though I enjoyed the river and park and museum, and especially breaking bread together, the best part of the weekend was spending time with my guy and our youngest son, both of whom actually posed for me beside skeletons of extinct mammals.
We were there to wish this young man a happy 25th birthday. We are so proud of him and the work he is doing and person he has become.
He loves New York for all its city ways and quirky offerings. We love that we can visit from time to time and get to know his place a wee bit better–right down to the artwork on the walls of the subway. The more often we go, the more we begin to realize that in the midst of all its city-ness, moments of wonder can be found.
Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
And so it was that upon arrival home from a short hike with my guy this morning, we discovered a package addressed to me in the mailbox. When I saw the town in Florida I knew exactly from whence it had come, but still didn’t know what was inside.
Well, much to my delightful surprise it was a children’s book.
I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor with illustrations by Peter Parnall.
Upon opening to the inside cover, several pieces of paper fell out. The first was a letter from Ben and Faith Hall; though actually it was written by Ben. Here’s an excerpt: “One of my favorite children’s books is Everybody Needs a Rock. It was written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall. When Byrd Baylor’s name appeared on the cover of the book I saw, I purchased it for fifty cents.“
Ben and Faith, you see, are part of a group of twelve retired residents in their Florida town who tutor second graders struggling with reading comprehension. Given that, they are always on the lookout for appropriate books to share with their students.
Ben continued in his note to me, “After reading the book, I left it by Faith’s chair without saying anything. Obviously, I wanted to see if her reaction was similar to mine. It was. The story reminds us of your blog with its information and imagination. Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Keep going!
My ulterior motive in sending you the book is that hopefully you will write a children’s book. In no way should you take time away from your blog, but with your depth of spirit it would be worthwhile.
The illustrations in the book are fascinating and remind me of your skill with photography.”
Well, Ben and Faith, thank you so much for this gift. And for your love and support for what I enjoy doing. As for the children’s book, ideas fly through my brain all the time, but . . . I’d have to self-publish and it isn’t going to happen.
As for I’m in Charge of Celebrations, I totally get it. My guy wasn’t in the house when I sat down to read it and it’s a book that needs to be read aloud. And so I did. When he walked around the corner into the living room, he thought I was talking to someone on the phone.
For those of you not familiar with the title, Baylor begins the story with an explanation of how she’s never lonely as she explores the desert.
I feel the same way and on January 11, 2019, I actually wrote, “People often ask me this question: Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone. My response is that I’m more afraid to walk down Main Street than through the woods, the reason being that it’s a rare occasion I encounter a mammal. Oh, I do move cautiously when I’m alone, but there’s something uniquely special about a solo experience.”
As Baylor goes on to say, part of the reason she’s not lonely is this: “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” Indeed. Each celebration marks the day she made an incredible discovery.
And so, I took a look back at some of my blog posts, and it’s all your fault Ben and Faith that this is a long one. But you inspired me to review some exciting discoveries I made just in the past year. With that, I attempted to follow Baylor’s style.
Friends, while reveling in the colors of dragons and damsels, their canoodling resulting in even more predators of my favorite kind, I met Prince Charming, a Gray Tree Frog who offered not one rare glimpse, but two. And so it is that May 30th is Gray Tree Frog Day.
For over thirty years I've stalked this land and July 14th marked the first time I noticed the carnivorous plant growing beside the lake. Droplets glistened at the tips of the hair-like tendrils of each leaf filled to the brink as they were with insect parts. On this day I celebrated Round-leaved Sundews.
A celebratory parade took place on September 22. The route followed the old course of a local river. Along the way, trees stood in formation, showing off colorful new coats. Upon some floats, seeds rustled as they prepared to rain down like candy tossed to the gathered crowd. My favorite musicians sported their traditional parade attire and awed those watching from the bandstand. With an "ooEEK, ooEEK," and a "jeweep" they flew down the route. Before it was over a lone lily danced on the water and offered one last reflection. And then summer marched into autumn.
With wonder in my eyes and on my mind I spent November in the presence of a Ruffed Grouse. The curious thing: the bird followed me, staying a few feet away as I tramped on. I stopped. Frequently. So did the bird. And we began to chat. I spoke quietly to him (I'm making a gender assumption) and he murmured back sweet nothings. Together we shared the space, mindful of each other. As he warmed up below a hemlock, I stood nearby, and watched, occasionally offering a quiet comment, which he considered with apparent nonchalance. Sometimes the critters with whom we share this natural world do things that make no sense, but then again, sometimes we do the same. Henceforth, November will always be Ruffed Grouse month for me.
At 6am a flock of crows outside the bedroom window encouraged me to crawl out of bed. Three black birds in the Quaking Aspen squawked from their perch as they stared at the ground. I peeked but saw nothing below. That is, until I looked out the kitchen door and tracks drew my attention. It took a moment for my sleepy brain to click into gear, but when it did I began to wonder why the critter had come to the back door and sashayed about on the deck. Typically, her journey takes her from under the barn to the hemlock stand. Today, as the flakes fell, and the birds scolded, she sat on the snowpile, occasionally retreated to her den, grunted, re-emerged, and then disappeared for the day. I went out again at dusk in hopes of seeing the prickly lady dig her way out but our time schedules were not synchronized. I don't know why she behaved strangely this morning, but I do know this: when the crows caw--listen. And look. And wonder.
April 8th will be the day I celebrate the Barred Owl for he finally flew in and landed. As I watched he looked about at the offering of treats. Cupcakes and cookies were for sale to the left in the form of Juncos and Chickadees. And then he turned his focus right, where drinks were on tap as the snowflakes fell. He even checked out the items below his feet, hoping upon hope to find a morsel of a vole to his liking. Eventually, he changed his orientation to take a better look at the entire spread of food. But still, he couldn't make up his mind and so he looked some more, swiveling his neck. In the end, he never did choose. Instead, off he flew without munching any of the specialty items. But I finally got to see my owl.
Ah, Ben and Faith, there are moments when one miraculously arrives in the right place at the right time, such as when a dragonfly emerges from its exuvia and slowly pumps blood into its body and you get to be a witness.
It strikes me as serendipity that this book should arrive today. You see, all month I’ve been debating what book to feature and time was of the essence as May approached. And then today, your lovely note, a copy of I’m in Charge of Celebrations, and the Christmas homily you wrote, Ben.
You are both the salt of the earth and I am honored to be your friend. Thank you for your kindness. (I’m only now realizing that we’ve shared a few celebrations that we’ll never forget including the fawn at Holt Pond and your smiling Bob the Bass.
Once again, the April Book of the Month: I’m in Charge of Celebrations.
I’m in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986.
Our interest was piqued a couple of weeks ago and we promised each other we’d return to learn more–thus today was the day that Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I ventured to the Muddy River at Holt Pond Preserve.
Crossing the Emerald Field at the corner of Grist Mill and Chaplins Mill Roads, we found our way to the trail, passed into the woods and immediately noticed some fresh works created by Castor canadensis.
Please take note of the small portion of a sapling trunk in the bottom of this photo, for I promise that you’ll see it again. And again. And . . .
But in the meantime, we slipped, slid, and postholed our way to the brook, and noted where water flowed over an old dam so it was obvious this wasn’t the spot to which the beavers had dragged their sawn logs.
Also notice the “Posted” signs on the trees. Can beavers read? It did seem that they stayed away from the far shore. Maybe they can read 😉
We looked upstream, but decided to turn around and follow the river down, ever curious about what we might find.
First, however, we did pause to admire the ice sculptures where the water rushed and gurgled and bubbled over the old dam. Soon, these will be a thing of the past and we’ll miss their varied forms frozen in time only momentarily.
And then, as we started to walk south, the foamy water drew our attention.
Where Alanna saw frozen froth of rootbeer floats . . .
I saw mini ice discs in their final form.
And one that created a tree skirt with a lacy slip below.
Just beyond we spied the largest of all the sculptures and gave thanks for its existence. In our minds’ eyes we could see the upper part of the sculpture taking shape when the snow was deeper beside the brook. And the lowest part a more recent attempt of the chiseling artist.
The artwork was enhanced by the chips splayed about as if creating a textured pedestal for the display.
Just beyond that spot, we looked further south and scanned the shoreline, not noting any further work of the sculptor. The water didn’t seem particularly backed up so we figured there wasn’t a dam below. What did it all mean? We knew from our previous visit that there was more work north of our location, but had so hoped to find something new to the south.
The only thing visible, a few old beaver stumps such as this one. Given that, we did a 180˚ turn and made our way north.
First, however, we had to walk through the water and gave thanks for our boots, before passing “the” tree one more time.
Alanna, being much younger and far more agile than me, was kind enough to lead and wait, lead and wait. And because she was ahead, she went shopping when I wasn’t looking. I don’t remember what we were talking about when it suddenly occurred to me that she held a piece of the sapling trunk we’d spied earlier. This is a woman who loves to laugh and so she did when I commented on the specimen tucked under her arm.
Notice how snug she held it as she walked with intention across one of the stream bridges.
We walked for another bit before we found more beaver works, including a cache of debarked twigs–beaver chews. They seemed so fresh, and some were actually green, that we got to thinking. Winter food stash? We know that in the fall they gather saplings and branches, anchor them in the mud and when the ice covers the river, they slip out of the underwater tunnel in their lodge and chew off a stick from the stockpile to bring into the feeding compartment for a meal, thus keeping themselves safe from winter predators. But . . . these weren’t near a lodge and seemed like the result of a fresh logging operation and so we wondered, did they have a new lodge in mind? Are they planning to build a new dam?
We also had to wonder about their debarkation–so smooth were the sticks.
As we continued on, our nature distraction disorder kicked in periodically, as it should, and we rejoiced in the sight of buds on Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower.
But still, it was more beaver works that kept calling our names and we tried to pay homage to all of them.
The last fresh one we saw was on a beech and we knew by the height that the cuts had been made when the snow was deeper. So . . . were the beavers still around?
Oh, wait. While we wondered, Alanna also had deer scat to collect.
And just beyond that–weasel scat found its way into her bag.
And then a winter firefly crossed our path as seems to happen frequently of late.
Onward we continued for we wanted to check on a couple of lodges we knew existed. Do you notice that the art work remained tucked safely under her arm?
For a little bit our trail took us away from the Muddy River, but when we returned to it, we focused on old beaver works–a fallen tree and a girdled hemlock. That got us thinking about the fact that they do girdle trees–often, in our experience, it’s hemlocks that they seem to debark in a band that encircles the tree, thus killing it. These they don’t drop to use for building or feeding. So why go to all that effort? We’ve heard different theories, including that once the tree dies, a species more to their liking will grow? True? Maybe.
We continued to look for more recent works, but found none. Until . . . we spotted some brown snow.
Leaves and river muck had been pulled up and distributed over the snowy surface beside the water. We stepped closer and saw footprints that were indecipherable, but knew by the pile of gunk that we’d discovered the makings of a beaver scent mound. Had the two-year-olds left the lodge and set out to claim their own territory? We suspected such.
Atop it all, we noted where a scent mark had been left behind. Of course, we both had to get down on all fours and sniff. I thought it smelled a bit like wintergreen, perhaps an indication of a meal consumed. Most often it smells more vanilla in nature. We found the starts of another scent mound a bit further along that emitted a muskier scent and we thought of the beaver marking its territory with castoreum.
Oh, and then there was some more scat to collect for Alanna spied the round nuggets or malt balls of a snowshoe hare.
At last we reached the board walk that leads back out to the Muddy River, some of it under water and again we gave thanks for our boots–hers Boggs and mine Mucks. Both perfect for our adventure.
From the board walk we could see the twin lodges on the river, but neither had any fresh logs atop and so we still didn’t know from whence the beavers came. It appeared they hadn’t used the old lodges, but we never found any new ones. Or a dam. But the scent mounds were super fresh. And so, we concluded that we’ll have to revisit the area either early in the morning or later in the day in hopes of spying the industrious builders in action.
In the meantime, we left with new findings, new questions, and for Alanna, some new scat and new beaver works–the one tucked under her arm a reminder of our Beaver Caper.
Every once in a while salt air sends a subtle invite through the breeze and we RSVP with this: We’re on our way. We’ll be there in an hour or so.
It took a bit longer than an hour today, but finally we arrived, parked where we weren’t permitted, and followed the path.
Low tide greeted us with all the beach’s layers revealed.
Streamlets flowed forth from our feet to the ocean beyond.
Rounded driftwood carved impressions in the sand.
Waves broke with gentle crests as the tide rolled out.
Water created trees accented with driftwood leaves.
Colors summoned dune-like illusions with visions of water serving as potential mirages.
And then we found a set of tracks.
They led to and danced around a clean plate.
And a diner who celebrated with a song all his own.
There were others, their feathers all a’flutter.
And a few released that showed the pattern of their minute barbs.
My guy and I, though we weren’t the only people on the beach, for stretches felt as if we had the world to ourselves.
While we walked, he paused occasionally to gather some golf balls. (Note: If he tries to sell you one, sniff it first. If it smells like salt, you may want to reconsider–unless it will help your game, of course.)
My souvenir was a link to my mother, who would have collected the same and this piece of seaglass will find a home with those she and I both gathered.
At last, we reached our turn-around point–at the jetty beside the Saco River’s outlet. We know the northern part of the river intimately, but where the brackish water forms as freshwater joins salt, our understanding is less familiar.
It’s been a while since we’ve actually celebrated a Mondate, so it certainly seemed apropos to find a heart in the sand. And to follow my father’s advice long ago to fill the innermost recesses of our lungs with salt air. We did so.
As we enjoyed a change of pace and a change of scenery.
At last–the day we’d anxiously anticipated for the past month. Actually, for the past year.
I was sure the post-it note we found attached to the door would instruct us to drive to Lincoln, New Hampshire for a visit to the ice castle. My guy thought we’d find ourselves on a dogsled journey.
But no . . . either of those would have been too easy I suppose. Instead, we had to end this race in the same manner we had begun. Aboard a snowmobile. Egads! My least favorite mode of transportation.
To top it off, my guy’s two-seater is headed to the shop for some engine work. But his brother came through and lent us a machine so we were able to stay in the race. Our task was five-fold. 1. Ride through Sweden, Waterford, Lovell, Fryeburg and Bridgton; 2. Identify an interesting natural wonder; 3. Frame a picture; 4. Conquer the moguls; and 5. Pull the entire Amazing Race–our style together in a coherent order.
We started in the frigid morning air and no one else was about so we had Highland Lake and Stearns Pond to ourselves. Our journey took us whizzing across lakes and ponds, along open trails such as ITS 80 and 89, and through some narrow connecting pathways–or so they seemed to this untrained eye. I’d brought along my Trackards and the tracks were many, but all remained a blur.
You have to realize by now that for the two of us riding a snowmobile is like the tortoise meeting the hare–my desire to move slowly through the world met his need for speed. In the end, I did OK, and he went as slow as was safely possible, and even slower than that when he felt my knees nudge his back. But really, my teeth did chatter. Oh, maybe that was because of the temperature.
In Lovell, we got in line to gas up.
Funny things can happen when you’re standing around waiting for your turn at the pump. A nature moment presented itself in the form of a willow gall. Now I can’t wait to return to look at the willow blossoms in the spring.
From there, we made our way across to the Kezar River Reserve for the roadway had been groomed. Alas, at the kiosk, for some unknown reason, the groomer had backed up and headed out to Route 5, so we had to do the same. That wasn’t our only roadblock. We found our way onto a road that had previously served as the trail for a short bit, only to discover where road should have rejoined trail a house had been built. Again, we had to backtrack. Yikes. How would these affect our time?
We also noted historic sites as we cruised along, including the old Evan Homestead in Sweden, the Brick Church in Lovell, and Hemlock Covered Bridge in Fryeburg, which served as our lunch stop at 2pm.
It was there that I found the photo to frame for challenge three–the mixed forest reflected in the Old Course of the Saco as taken through a bridge window.
And then, after the bridge, we meet our fourth challenge: the moguls. For at least two miles, maybe more, between Hemlock Bridge Road and Knights Hill Road, we bounced up and down as if we were riding a bucking Bronco. Truly, I spent more time in the air than on the seat and each time I landed, it was with a thump. I was certain I’d fall off or at least my body would be flying behind the sled while I’d still be attached–via the vice grip I had on the backseat handlebars. Talk about white knuckles. Oh wait, maybe that was from being cold.
Somehow, we survived . . . and so did our relationship.
As for the other contestants, we weren’t sure where they were because as it turned out there were many riders out there and they all looked the same! Well, maybe they had their idiosyncrasies and I wasn’t paying attention to the little details of jacket and helmet color and design, but I’d much rather look at tree bark, mammal tracks, and winter weeds this time of year than people apparel.
Soon after the moguls, it was time for the last task. We encountered a display of twelve photographs; each represented a moment of wonder we’d encountered during the race and one of us had to place them in order from start to finish.
My guy had done all the driving and maneuvered us successfully through the mogul course (I didn’t fall off, remember) so it was my turn to complete this final challenge.
Episode one: The elephant face we discovered along the Narrow Gauge Trail.
Episode three: The exotic kissing pigeons with heart-shaped white cere on their bills.
Episode four: The gallery of midnight artists at the Battery on Peaks Island.
Episode five: A Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly beside Shingle Pond on the Weeks Brook Trail.
Episode six: A sand collar in Clinton, Connecticut. While it felt like sand paper above and was smooth below, it was actually a mass of snail eggs.
Episode seven: After climbing Table Rock, a couple paid for our pie at this roadside stand and so we did the same for the next vehicle that pulled up.
Episode eight: The 1930 122 ft. steel-hulled yacht Atlantide, that served in WWII and was featured in Dunkirk.
Episode nine: (possibly one of our favorites) The cribbage board in the two seater below Piazza Rock on Saddleback Mountain.
Episode ten: An alpaca at America’s Stonehedge in Salem, New Hampshire.
Episode eleven: Finding an H to represent us while looking for decorated trees in the Maine Christmas Tree Scavenger Hunt.
Episode twelve: The final episode and another framed photo of the Old Course of the Saco from Hemlock Bridge.
Phew. I was pretty certain I had them all correct. And so on to the mat we drove, arriving at 3:36pm. And then as we stepped off the sled we discovered that we’d lost our backpack somewhere on the trail. The only item of any value in it was my cell phone.
We were concerned about that, but also found out that without the pack we couldn’t cross the finish line. So, we made a quick decision because we needed to be done by 5pm. I hopped off the sled and my guy took off in a spray of snow to search. We were sure it had fallen off near the moguls. Apparently, along the way he questioned people and learned that someone (thank you whomever you are) had hung the pack on a tree. Over the moguls he went, but to no avail. He was in a dip on his way back to the covered bridge when he spied it. Wowza.
At 4:41pm he pulled up to the mat.
And we crossed it together–As. The. Winners. YES, we WON!
But, of course, we won. For if you have followed us from the start then you’ll remember that in episode one I wrote: I created a Valentine’s gift for my guy–our very own Amazing Race. My rationale was that we enjoy the show, but know that while there are certain stunts one or both of us could handle with ease, there are others that would certainly cause us to be last to the mat–and lose. So, why not create an Amazing Race that we have a 99.9% chance of winning. If we lose, we’re in big trouble.
I do feel bad that I fibbed to some of you, but you got caught up in the challenge and I didn’t want to let you down. Some of you asked me about it and I have a terrible poker face so I was sure you’d figure it out. In the spirit of it all, I was glad that you didn’t. That added to our fun.
And all of the characters–they were real people we met along the way. Team Budz in episode six was my sister and brother-in-law. Team Purple was a hearing-impaired woman full of moxie we met during episode eight in Camden. She hiked in sandals and had spent the previous month camping solo. The others we named for their attitudes, hometowns or some other attribute. I don’t know if you noticed, but we began the journey as Team Wonder, which I probably only mentioned once, but by episode eleven I’d forgotten that and called us Team Hazy–thus the H to represent us. Ahhhh.
Of course, my mom always washed my mouth out with soap when I fibbed, so if you want to do the same, I can’t say I blame you.
Thank you all for following us on this adventure. We’ve had fun looking forward to and participating in a variety of adventures. Though I’d given my guy a list of locales for each month, I didn’t know what the various additional challenges would be until they presented themselves.
Today’s activity was supposed to be a dogsled ride in January. But, the weather gods and price gods weren’t on our side and when the weather didn’t cooperate on his days off we chose not to spend the money. An alternative was the ice castle, but we’ve done that before and were too late in trying to purchase tickets this year, so . . . why not end as we began. On a snowmobile journey. The third of my lifetime and longest one yet. We spent over five hours on the sled. Well, my guy spent even one more hour. And now we’re snug at home and sipping some Bailey’s Irish Creme before we tune in to British comedies and fall asleep on the couch.
The Amazing Race–Our Style has come to an end. Thanks for tuning in. We had fun and hope you did too.
Instead, it was those who seemed inanimate that came to life repeatedly.
Right from the start the trees pulled me in for I needed to, well, it wasn’t exactly a need, but still, I needed to check on the swelling red buds of a basswood that grows near the edge of the parking area.
And I could hardly pay homage to one and ignore its neighbor, and so I moved a few feet to enjoy the glory of a beaked hazelnut catkin and bud as they began the countdown toward spring.
Climbing the Flat Hill trail, an old tree grinch tried to sneer, but I noticed a tweak of a smile and knew he was glad to have me there.
He must have been for he made sure that I saw . . . such things as a beech leaf layered upon an oak atop the snow–mirroring the skyspace above.
And speaking of beech, I noticed one spiky husk, which actually surprised me with its presence for so few were the beech seeds this past summer.
The same was true of acorns and without a mast production, the squirrel middens were rather sparse in the landscape, but I did find two, both a couple of feet deep. But there’s something else to note–the trickle of yellow pee by the pine needles to the upper left of the hole. By its skunky scent, I knew that while the squirrel sought sustenance in the form of an acorn, a red fox hoped to dine on the rodent. The latter meal didn’t happen anywhere nearby, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.
With lots of meandering on the way up, I finally reached the summit of Flat Hill, where the mountains beyond hinted at today’s snow flurries and this weekend’s impending storm. But it wasn’t to the mountains that I spent much time focusing. Instead, I scanned all the trees around–hoping for the sight of another spiky one–a prickly porcupine.
I suspected that I wasn’t alone in my search for just below the summit ledge, I spotted a bobcat track.
The evidence of the porcupine’s presence was everywhere as it had left its mark on so many trees where it scraped the outer bark to reach the softer inner tissue.
Shallow and narrow tooth marks were all that remained. I love bear trees, but porcupine trees rank right up there.
And the same is true for pileated woodpecker trees, which are easy to sight not only by their oblong holes, but the woody debris below them as well.
Who can resist searching the debris for scat? I know I can’t. What I found today was an exploded version with ant body parts spewed about in such an array that I almost wanted to glue them back together. Almost.
My wander continued as I walked a portion of Perky’s Path where the wetland mounds were so littered with snow drops that it was impossible to decipher any mammal tracks. I did make my way to the old beaver lodge in the center of the photo, the mound standing tallest toward the background, but the sight and sound of water meant caution was necessary.
The same was true at the rock stepping stones to the south of the wetland and though I have an affinity for water, I chose not to cross for a chilly bath wasn’t in my plans.
Instead, I backtracked and then followed the snowmobile trail for a bit until I reached the outlet of the old beaver pond.
It was there that I turned off trail and followed the stream through the woods.
Water gurgled below its frozen form and ice bridges offered crossings for those who dared. I did not.
My purpose was to check on another lodge that had been quite active a year ago. Today, I was surprised to find no one at home in the stick-built inn.
Beyond, the dam stood high, but the water behind it was low–another indicator that the beavers had moved on by their own doing. At least I hoped it was their own doing.
Evidence of their previous works was apparent all along the brook, where many a tree had been logged by the rodents, including this yellow birch.
Though that birch and others had been toppled, upon the snow old catkins, their fleur de lis scales grown large, added texture to the scenery and seeds to the future.
Finally, I made my way out and smiled at the smiles in the ice and water that mimicked my own. Today, my heart rejoiced with the affirmation this morning that my friend, Jinny Mae, had received good news about her health. She is one of my pokey hiking friends and I tried to emulate her as I celebrated. From Jinny Mae I’ve learned to do what Mary Oliver recommended in “Sometimes”:
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
And so it was that as I paid attention just before leaving, I was astonished–by the tree I saw in the ice. I knew Jinny Mae, had she been beside me, would have taken the same photograph, for that’s what we often do when we’re together.
When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.” The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
Today, I stayed awhile, poking about among the trees that shined in honor of these two women who have shared the gift of bowing often.