One year ago today I invited you to follow me into the woods. More specifically, I invited you to wander and wonder with me. I had no idea where the path would lead, but that didn’t seem to bother you. Occasionally I got fake lost, as was the case today, but still you read on. And other times I gave you the wrong information, but you quietly corrected me and continued to read. Thank you for your time, curiosity, encouragement and endless wonder. This one is for all of you.
Check out this tree that I pass by each time I step into our woodlot. My guy and I were commenting on it just the other day–he tried pushing, but it stood firm. This morning, fresh wood chips indicated that the pileated woodpecker had paid a visit in the last 24 hours.
It’s a well-visited tree. What will the woodpeckers do when it finally does fall? Two things. First, they’ll continue to visit it because apparently it’s worthy of such. And second, they’ll find other trees; there are several others just like this.
I was feeling a bit grumpy when I headed out the door, but finding the recent woodpecker works and emerging from the cowpath onto the power line where I was captured by the whitegreenbluegray of the world as I looked toward Mount Washington put a smile on my face. My intention was to walk along the barely used snowmobile trail as far as I could. I wasn’t sure if open water would keep me from reaching the road, which is a couple of miles away, but decided to give it a try.
Just because that was my plan doesn’t mean that’s what happened. Maybe that’s what I love best about life–learning to live in the moment. This moment revealed the spot where deer sunk into the snow just off the snowmobile trail and a bobcat floated on top.
Soft snow made for distorted prints. And these prints made for a quick change of plans.
I turned 180˚ and found more tracks on the other side of the snowmobile trail. And so began today’s journey into the woods. I was feeling proud of myself for backtracking the animal–following where it had come from rather than where it had gone so I wouldn’t cause unnecessary stress. Yet again, I stress out all the mammals because of my constant movement–and so many I don’t see because they hear me coming. Anyway, I followed the bobcat for quite a while, noticing that it continued to follow the deer and even crossed over a couple of vole tunnels that already have their spring appearance. It’s much too warm much too soon.
What I discovered is that this mammal was checking out stumps and along the way circled around them. And then it seemed that there might be two because suddenly I was following rather than backtracking. So much for that plan. What I do like is how this photo shows the mammal’s hind foot stepping into the same space the front foot had already packed down–direct registration, just a little off center.
Its prints are in the bottom right-hand corner, but then it appeared to walk across the top of this nurse-log. After that, I had to circle around looking for the next set of prints.
Under some of the hemlocks, there was little to no snow. Eventually I lost the bobcat’s trail, which is just as well.
I didn’t realize until I looked up that I was still in familiar territory.
I first spotted this widow maker 20+ years ago. It never ceases to amaze me.
I decided that rather than return to the snowmobile trail, I’d continue deeper into the woods. I had an idea of where I’d eventually end up, but if you’ve traveled these woods with me recently (Marita and Dick can vouch for this), you’ll know that the logging operation has thrown me off and not all of my landmarks are still standing. It’s that or they just got up and moved. Anyway, I was lost for about an hour, but continued moving slowly through sometimes deep snow (relatively speaking this winter) and other times puddly conditions. It was a slog to say the least. My friend, Jinny Mae, had warned me about water hidden beneath the snow and I found it. More than once.
I also found other cool stuff. British lichen bearing bright red caps.
A hemlock wound that indicated the last time this land was logged. I counted to 25. That makes sense.
A hemlock cone and seeds on a high spot of snow–not the usual stump, log or branch, but still a high spot. Apparently the red squirrel that had gone to all the work of taking the cone apart to eat the seeds had been scared away. Perhaps it will return, or another, or I’ll be admiring hemlock saplings in a few years.
Porcupine scat below another hemlock.
And a few snipped off twigs–porcupine style.
A mystery perhaps. I love a mystery. So, scattered on the snow–bits of hemlock bark.
And an apparent path up the tree. But . . . look up. This tree is dead. I don’t think this is porky work.
Could it be that where the bark is missing a woodpecker has been at work?
I found fresh browse on striped maple–that had been previously browsed based on the scars.
And red maple that had received the same treatment.
Witch hazel was not to be overlooked. I think this is the longest deer tag I’ve encountered–to date.
You may not appreciate this, but I couldn’t resist. So . . . to whom does it belong? Either a coyote or bobcat. It’s filled with hair and I’m leaning toward the latter. Of course, I want it to be the latter.
I, um, brought some home in a doggy bag. Not all of it, mind you, because it is a road sign to others. I’m not sure how they do it, but members of the same family can apparently identify gender, health and availability by such works. And members of other families may read this as a territory marker. There was a copious amount, so it could be that the same or two animals used this spot. Just sayin’.
In case you were wondering, I did find my way out–another three+ hour tour. As I slogged along, I recalled a spot I often returned to for quiet contemplation. I can no longer locate it because so much has changed as this area has been logged for the past three years. But . . . I came to the realization today that I don’t need one spot. Any will do. That being said, I pulled out my camp stool, colored pencils and journal back at my sit spot by the edge of the cowpath.
It’s right beside a deer run. In the past two years, the deer visited this spot, but I’ve noticed much more activity this winter. The stone wall is hardly an obstacle. And the junipers–prickly as they are to me, the deer seem to enjoy them.
One thing I did notice that I don’t understand. The sheep laurel that grows here has recently been browsed.
Deer tracks below it and the nature of the work lead me to believe that the ungulates fed on it. Hmmm . . . I thought that sheep laurel was poisonous to wildlife. But then again, deer are browsers, not staying in one spot long enough to consume a large amount so perhaps it doesn’t affect them if they eat a bit here and there. If you know otherwise, please enlighten me.
Another thing–yes, if you look closely at leaves, you’ll find them. These hot chili peppers don’t appear just on the surface of snow. They are snow fleas, aka springtails. With their spring-loaded tails they can catapult themselves an inch or so. We never look for them once the snow melts, but they are still abundant on organic debris. They’re easiest to locate on leaf litter, but also can be seen on soil, lichens, under bark, decaying plant matter, rotting wood and other areas of high moisture as they feed on fungi, pollen, algae or decaying organic matter.
Though it was warm under the sun, my fingers were getting cold as I sketched, so I packed up to head home. Back in our woodlot, I decided to follow a deer trail rather than my own. And to them I give thanks. Beside a hemlock tree, pinesap’s woody capsules called out. I’d found some at the start of winter–along the cowpath. And now a second patch. It really does pay to go off my own beaten path.
While pinesap has several flowers on one stalk, a few feet later and I came upon Indian pipe, which has one flower (now a woody capsule) atop its stalk. Notice how hairy the pinesap is compared to the Indian pipe.
I’m afraid this photo is a bit fuzzy, but I’m still going to use it because it’s too dark to head out and take another. These cup lichens serve as my pixie goblets to all of you who have stuck with me for this journey–both today’s and the past year. Thank you so much. The year flew by and I’m a better person for this experience. Well, I think I am. What has made this past year so special is the paying attention. The slowing. The recognizing. The questioning. I’ve learned a lot and I trust you’ve learned a wee bit as well. Who knows where the path will lead me next, but I sure hope you are along to wander and wonder.
To you, I raise these goblets!