Despite all the clues from fading otter prints . . .
and not so deep moose tracks . . .
to reverse tracks raised above the snow cover as a result of a frozen crust followed by wind and warmer temperatures.
But still, somehow I was fooled into thinking winter would hold its grasp for a wee bit longer because I don’t like to let it go. The faces hiding in the ice knew otherwise.
As did the constitution of pond ice that despite recent brisk days and nights began to react to the sun’s rays and display the tea-stained color of organic matter decomposing in the water below.
Even Winter Dark Fireflies, who don’t carry lanterns like their summer cousins, and aren’t even flies as their name suggests (they are beetles), knew what was happening before I did for in their adult form they’d been tucked under bark in recent months, but in a flash are now visible on many a tree trunk as they prepare to mate in a few weeks.
The same is true of the Winter Stoneflies who only recently started crawling out of the water. and drumming as an announcement that they too are ready to let the mating season begin.
The birch trees also knew before I did and made sure to let last year’s catkins release their scaled fleur de lis, thus scattering the seeds that look like tiny winged insects upon the snow where they’ll join the melt down and eventually find a moist spot upon which to germinate.
And so it is that spring snuck in a few days after St. Patrick’s Day as it always does, but still surprising me and now I join others and anticipate the changes to come.
But . . . there’s something different about this spring. Oh, I’ll still stalk vernal pools until they dry up.
I’ll marvel at each and every tiny bud preparing to bloom like those of Trailing Arbutus.
I’ll spy on spiders and insects for hours on end.
I’ll continue to look for fine specimens of scat, including otter filled with shiny, mica-like fish scales . . .
and coyote that at first glance I might think is bobcat, but the tapered ends offer one hint of its owner . . .
and the sight of bones and toenails tucked within remind me that bobcats are true carnivores who grind the contents of a meal so no bones are typically visible in their deposits, while such do show due to the omnivore appetite of a candid. I will be sure to question the meal based on the color of the fur as well as the contents.
But . . . this spring will be different. Yes, such was the same a year ago when we all moved into our bubbles. Now, though, there’s a glimpse of hope on the horizon and with that comes an assimilation to being with others and I can’t help but wonder, how will I react? I’ve become so accustomed to this forced insulation, and I have to admit that there are parts of it that haven’t bothered me, perhaps because I don’t mind being in my own space.
The question has been on my mind a lot lately and the answer flew in this morning as I listened in on a ZOOM church service. Just as it was to begin a small flock of Common Redpolls arrived to check out our birdfeeders.
“Invite in” were the words I heard another utter on the computer screen.
Indeed. Each day this past week, the variety of birds at the feeders grows, some species arriving at their breeding grounds, while others like the Redpolls pause before passing through. For the most part, our feathered friends accept the presence of others. An over-the-shoulder look being what it is, they remind me that I must behave like them and be open to opportunities.
As the snow melts, I realize that I must share space with all who wander here . . .
including the deer who tried to walk the labyrinth path.
The Invitation Stands. Spring is indeed here and I invite you to join me for a wander when you are able so we can wonder about nature’s communities together. I look forward to welcoming you back with a smile . . . though please don’t expect a hug.
It’s hard to believe that six years ago I gave birth to wondermyway as a means to record the natural world and all I met along the way.
There’s no need in reminding everyone that since last February it has been quite a year, but I have to say that I’m especially grateful to live where I do, in a place where I CAN wander and wonder on a regular basis.
As I look back through posts of these expeditions, I realize how often nature presents itself in such a way that moments of awe make everything else going on in the world seem so foreign. If only everyone could whisper to a dragonfly upon his or her hand; watch a cicada emerge from its larval form; and even appreciate a snake or two or three.
Join me for a look back at some of my favorite natural encounters of the past year. If you want to remember a particular adventure, click the titled link below each photo.
Wander outdoors if you can and let the anomalies pull you into their realm. I promise, your eyes and your mind will be opened to so many wonders that you’ll resist the urge to move along for so enamored will you be by your finds. Slow down and look and be wowed.
In the end, may it not be an end. May it be a beginning. May you live under the bubbles and give thanks that your bubble is attached to so many others as you share a brain.
We had no intention of eating lunch in this spot today, but while looking for a mountain to climb, we kept encountering full parking lots and so our backroad meander put us beside a bog at lunch time and voilà, we managed to walk all of less than two tenths of a mile. Total.
But in that short distance, our eyes feasted. First it was all the Painted Turtles basking in the sun. And birds. And dragonflies.
I just had to find out. Would he or wouldn’t he? He would and did. Yes, I quietly placed my finger on the leaf and he climbed aboard, then struck a rather relaxed pose. The Dragonfly Whisperer whispers once more.
“My lupine meadow is in full glory!” a friend wrote in an e-mail. And she encouraged visitations. So . . . I went. Actually, we went, for I invited another friend to join me.
Fortunately, I guess, though unfortunately on some levels, we pulled ourselves away by mid-afternoon. But our bug eyes were wide open. In the end, we offered up thanks to our hosts, Linda and Heinrich, for inviting us to enjoy the full glory of their lupines and all the marvels of the meadow.
Beings who once walked the Earth
support new life as summer's serenade
begins to take shape
upon stones that memorialize the past...
On this summer day, hollow cast(ket)s left behind
provide a memory of vulnerable forms.
From soft pastel bodies to wide-faced creatures with bulging eyes,
I get to celebrate cemetery cicadas.
I’m pretty sure I said to the friend whom I met on the dirt road that I never see frogs there except for the painted boulder that has faded with age and I no longer even think to honor with a photograph.
But still, she reminded me, “I’m sure we’ll see something interesting.”
After walking one stretch of the road and only pausing a few times in the hot sun, we hopped back into our vehicles and made our way to a much more shaded location. As we stepped toward the river, in flew a Kingfisher. And we knew we were in for a treat or two or three.
The theme of the week didn’t dawn on me immediately, but a few days into it and I knew how blessed I am.
It was a week for me to realize how important all the young people in my life are from our sons whom I can chat with on the phone to those who have chosen to make this area of western Maine their home and to get to know their place in it. And then to go beyond and share it in a way that benefits the wider community.
Thank you, Hadley, for the opportunity to celebrate your birthday. And thank you Rhyan, Parker, Dan, Jon, Mary, Brent, and Alanna: it’s my utmost pleasure to share the trail with you whenever we can. And to know that the future is in your capable hands.
We are all blessed. Today we crowed Hadley, and in so doing, gloried so many others.
Last week, while walking along a trail I later intended to share with some local kids, a subtle movement caught my attention.
About two thirds of the way along the trail, exactly where I’d spied it two hours prior, the Garter Snake still posed. And the kids got to examine it. And wonder. And exclaim. They went in for a close-up look, thus the snake stuck out its tongue repeatedly in an attempt to get a better sense of who or what might be in its midst.
Snakes have poor eyesight and their hearing ability is limited. Thus they use their nostrils and tongues to pick up scents of prey or predator. By flicking the tongue, they collect odors that the forked prongs relay to two holes in the roof of their mouths, aka Jacobson’s organ. With information transferred from the organ to the brain, they can interpret scents.
For the kids and me, it was this sense: Best. Moment. Of. The. Afternoon.
For the snake: it decided we weren’t worth getting excited about as it made sense of our scents.
My mission was two-fold. Hike up a small mountain and capture a one minute video to post on a work website next week, and retrieve a game camera so we can download the photos and then place in a different location.
First there was the porcupine den, then a beaver tree, and along the way a fungi.
My final sighting of the day, that still has me smiling, occurred in the middle of the adventure, but I wanted to save it for last. Do you see what I saw?
Who cooks for me? I wish this Barred Owl would, for I must now prepare dinner. But that’s okay because I’ll take him with into the kitchen in spirit and give thanks that I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him . . . all in a day’s work.
Fourteen months ago I wrote Ode to Pinus Strobus, showing my respect for the mighty pines that inhabit our woods. Curiously, it was a rainy day then. And today dawned the same, though even more curiously, today we turned the calendar to December 1, yet the temperature rose to 57˚, like a summer day as we approach winter in western Maine. Because of the temp, the day offered some incredible wonders.
For those who love to wander and wonder, I hope you’ll be still and have an experience similar to what this tree offered me today.
I was early–a rare occasion as usually I’m the one who arrives at least ten minutes after the agreed upon time. It wasn’t always that way, but has become a bad habit. That said, it was a creature of habit that I went in search of because I had some time to spare.
He was up there enjoying the cambium layer of the bark as witnessed by the goldeny color of the branch by his feet. All those downed twigs–apparently they were in his way so he nipped them off and dropped them to the ground in order to get to the nutrients he sought for his winter diet.
Check out his eye. We were both sharp observers as we eyed each other from a distance.
For almost thirty years I’ve roamed this particular wood and for the most part you’ve eluded me.
After finding so many signs year after year, today . . . today I spied an uprooted tree at the very spot I thought might be a good place to stop and spend a few hours in silence. As I made plans to do such in the near future, the tree moved.
And transformed into you!
When at last you and your youngster departed, despite your sizes, it was as if you walked through the forest in silence. My every move comes with a sound like a bull in a china shop, but you . . . Alces alces, you weigh over one thousand pounds, stand six feet at your shoulder, and move through the forest like a ghost. For that reason and because you let me spend some time with you today, February 11 will henceforth mark the day that I celebrate the Ghost of the North Woods.
Thank you to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. With each learning or sighting, I get excited and can’t wait to share it with you. I’m not only grateful to be able to wander and wonder, but I’m also thankful for all of you who take the time to read these posts.
I’m a winter gal and snow and tracks and scat and bark and buds all pull me out the door on a daily basis as I try to understand who has traveled where and why, and through what natural community the journey has been made.
But now . . . I have another reason to slip outside: Bugs. And how they overwinter. And where.
On one tramp through the woods this past week, with eyes peeled for the tiniest movement on the snow or twigs or tree trunks, I spotted the fresh work of a Pileated Woodpecker. Though I would have loved to see the bird, I was equally thrilled to see the pile of debris below the hemlock tree. (And that gorgeous magenta-colored inner bark, of course.)
The fresh wood chips on the snow invited a closer examination. And you thought this post would be about bugs. But indeed it is for it’s Carpenter Ants that the bird sought. By the two clumps of bird scat that I found, it was obvious the woodpecker had been successful.
For you see, within the cylindrical casing coated with uric acid were body parts.
Ant body parts. Now, here’s the thing that I need to learn more about. I’ve watched Pileated Woodpeckers land on trees and pause, sometimes deciding to excavate, but other times moving on. And I’ve been told that they test the tree out and listen for the ants. I’ve never been able to prove that. But here’s the thing: what I learned today is that Carpenter Ants not insulated by snow or the warmth of your home enter diapause, a low-energy state that allows them to survive the cold and go for long periods without eating. So the question remains, how does the woodpecker know which tree to pick on, or is it a lucky strike?
Further along that same trail, I came upon the prints of a horse that had stymied me a few weeks ago when I tried to mentally turn its track pattern into either a bear or a moose, knowing full well that what I was seeing didn’t quite fit what I knew to be true of those species. Horse manure would have helped, but there was none to be seen . . . until the other day when a fresh plop in the middle of the trail offered an invite to look for insects seeking minerals upon it. I saw one small fly that I couldn’t identify, but beside the manure was this Winter Cranefly. It was a brisk day and today I learned that this species is only active when the temperature is below freezing. My kind of bug, indeed.
On another day and another trail, it was a Winter Firefly that drew attention. First, fireflies are not flies; they are beetles.
Second, unlike many beetles, Winter Fireflies overwinter as adults.
Third, Winter Fireflies are diurnal and don’t have lanterns to light up the night sky.
And fourth, though I find most tucked into the bark of maple trees, the first one this week was on a hemlock. After that, it seemed to be maples upon which I found others.
As the temperatures rise bit in the next month, they’ll become more active and will be visible crawling up the tree trunks and eventually flying. By summer, you’ll see not a one but their nocturnal cousins will light up the night.
One day, it was Snow Fleas, aka Spring Tails upon lichenized bark that garned a look.
And another day, upon another crustose lichen on a maple tree, shed larval skins of possibly Twice-Stabbed Lady Beetles were visible. Kinda creepy, especially when you are looking up-close and personal with a hand lens, but oh, so cool.
And then there were the spiders, thus the reason this isn’t just an Insect Safari. This minute eight-legged creature that practically ran across the bark must have had antifreeze in its blood.
Behind another piece of bark was this slightly active crab spider . . .
and its more dormant relatives hunkered down who had probably supercooled through the process of accumulating glycols in their blood (antifreeze again). Apparently, despite the below freezing temps, their tissues remained unfrozen and they won’t become spidercicles. How in the world did spiders and other critters physiologically adapt via the antifreeze compounds so that they won’t turn to ice?
It’s all a wonder to me.
Before I finish, let me leave you with one last image. It’s some sort of beetle, I know not what. And I don’t know what is on its wings–perhaps some sort of mite or parasite? When class reconvenes again, I will ask the instructor.
I am so excited to be taking Bugs In Winter, taught by Charley Eiseman, author of Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: a Guide to North American Species. Thank you to Maine Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood for suggesting it to me (perhaps so I’d stop sending him photos of mystery bugs and asking his advice).
The course has only just begun and a few naturalist friends are taking it with me. We have tons to learn and so I invite you to tag along cuze for the next two months I’m going to be on a Winter Bug Safari, which will then turn into Spring Bug Safari, and after that . . . you get the picture.
As many of you know, I’ve never been a party girl, much preferring to hide in the wings and be the wallflower at the edge of the crowd, but when the invite arrived today, how could I resist?
It didn’t give an actual location, but by the photo I suspected I knew where in the yard would I meet my friends.
Immediately upon entering, I wished I’d waited a bit for the Ambush Bugs had already discovered each other and chose the corner I preferred as their hide-away spot in which to mate. Really, shouldn’t they have gotten a room?
At last, however, I discovered others who like me were solo for the party, this being a Mason Wasp. His eye was on the bar and nectar was the drink of choice.
While I inquired about something to sip upon, into the middle of the space danced a pair of Thread-waisted Wasps. She seemed rather oblivious to his advances.
They maneuvered this way . . .
and that. No matter which way they swayed, he clung on.
At times I wondered if she really appreciated his clingy mannersim.
At best, she seemed to tolerate him. But never did she let him get any closer.
For over an hour, we all watched from the edges as they sashayed back and forth across the dance floor. Maybe he clung so close because he hoped to get lucky in the near future, or maybe they’d already finished canoodling and he wanted to make sure that it was eggs he’d fertilized that she laid, much the way male dragonflies hold on until the female of their intentions do the same.
Meanwhile, back in the corner, the Ambush Bugs began to separate as he climbed down off of her. And below them, another insect that might become their choice at the buffet table lingered.
Finding a stem all its own upon which to practice its own dance steps was a Locust Borer decked out in fancy dress clothes.
Also dressed to the nines was a Flesh Fly wearing gray pin stripes.
As the party continued, I soon realized that the Mason Wasp was a tease.
Or so it seemed as its antennae played with a shy Crab Spider waiting under the buffet for a morsel upon which to dine.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the spider–who was certain it was about to score, only to discover it had been outsmarted. But that’s the way it is in these social affairs as a variety of personalities come together to greet each other and yet satisfy their own needs.
At last the hour had chimed and it was time for all of us to depart. As I stepped through the doorway, a final greeting was bestowed . . . by an Assassin Bug Nymph completely camouflaged by the flower’s greenery.
With that, my visit to the two-hour Goldenrod Gala was completed and I gave thanks for the invite to such a pop-up event. A social gathering of my type, indeed.
I have the extreme pleasure of being in touch with my first two playmates, the sisters who lived next door, on a somewhat regular basis. And even when we don’t see each other for a long time (Girls, we still owe ourselves a lunch in Newburyport), like any great friendship, we pick right up as if no time has passed.
While they both love the natural world, for that’s where we spent much of our childhood, one in particular frequently shares photos of her finds with me. And so I took her along, riding on my shoulder this morning when I headed out into the rain because I know that she, too, likes rainy days as much as, if not more than sunny days. So does her garden and she’s got a green thumb to envy.
Since my thumbs aren’t great at turning the soil, I support a local farmers’ market and had time to pass waiting for my turn to pick up the pre-ordered produce, bread, chicken, flowers, and treats. Thus, as we started to hike, a grasshopper known for its two stripes greeted us.
Not far along, at the base of a certain pine tree, I showed her the Pippsissewa now in bloom. Not only do I love to say this plant’s name, but the blossoms . . .
oh my. We both squatted for a closer look at the anthers within. And sniffed its sweet scent.
Our next great find was an oak apple gall and of course I had to tell her that a non-stinging and wingless female wasp injected an egg into the veins of the leaf as it was just beginning to grow. Chemicals released by the tiny larvae that developed within altered the growth and over a few weeks, the little orb formed.
By the circle hole on the underside, I explained that the wasp had pupated and chewed its way out and was probably now feeding on the very roots of the same tree . . . that is if it hadn’t been consumed by birds or small mammals.
We moved on, but a tiny spot of brown on a berry leaf was the next to beg for our attention. Check out those toes. Sticky toe pads on their webbed feet provide support for these plant and tree climbers known as spring peepers.
At last we reached a wetland and that’s when the rain really began to fall. And so my friend and I . . . we stood and looked about and enjoyed the raindrops on the grasses and sedges, the water’s surface, and us.
For a while, we left the path, and slipped into the woods, trying to follow a recently created trail, but mostly meandering about in the land where nurse logs provide a start for so many others as they decompose.
As it turned out, that wasn’t the only nursery in town. Once we returned to the trail, which by the way, she was impressed that I could find my way back . . . and so was I, I took her to a nearby meadow where we spotted a momma tending her young’uns.
I knew my friend would love this sighting because she not only saves salamanders and deer, but also spiders from any demise. This momma wasn’t so sure about us, however.
As large as she was, we were even bigger so she continued to work on her web to make sure her children stayed safe.
When she wasn’t looking, we did peek inside and saw a few of the babies.
We spotted another spider of a much more diminutive size upon one of the meadow flowers. You might see it, though it is a master of camouflage. Two insects also hung out as if they were trying to stay dry. Though the beetle is quite obvious, a discerning eye will spy the legs of the other.
We had actually gone to the meadow to see the Canada lilies that tickled our fancy for they looked like streetlights in the midst of the rain drops.
All of our finds had been great, but the best one of all . . . a Katydid. My friend’s name is Kate or as she was known when we were kids: Katy. And when quizzed by our moms about who was responsible for something, the rest of us always said, “Katy did it.”
While standing in the meadow today with Kate on my shoulders, my cell phone rang and suddenly I was looking at . . . my dear friend via FaceTime.
“Did I call you, or did you call me?” I asked as I looked at her beautiful and familiar grin while she stood aboard her cabin cruiser on Long Island Sound.
“You tried to Face Time me twice and so I called you back,” she said as she looked a me–soaking wet and rather bedraggled but happy (except maybe for the mosquitoes and deer flies).
I’d been using my phone to snap most of the photos but kept putting it in my pocket and I think I may have inadvertently contacted a few people.
So maybe this one time I did it and not Katy, but forever when I see a Katydid and many other things in the natural world, she’ll be right there with me as we were so many moons ago–Katy got me then and thankfully she still does.
My day began with an exploration of the edge. The edge of a favorite place I hadn’t explored much lately. And so it was to old pals that I had a chance to say hello.
The first was so old that it almost wasn’t. Okay, so that makes no sense, but it was no longer the Fishing Spider it had once been . . . and since become. Rather, it was the exuviae of the spider–a shed skin dangling by the water’s edge.
Much tinier by comparison was a Jumping Spider, its spotted patterned-body contrasted in size upon the Bracken Fern leaflet upon which it quickly moved.
In the same space Northern Bluet damselflies graced the landscape and I realized I need to give them more notice for they are as important as their dragon cousins I spend much of my summertime focusing upon.
And so . . . I present to you another old friend, a male Eastern Forktail. This is one of my favorites for I love the contrasting coloration with bright greens and blues offset by black.
Among the Brackens another did fly . . . and land. This Flesh Fly is known not only for its red eyes, but also its red “tail” or butt.
Speaking of red, by mid-afternoon, my guy and I headed off in the tandem kayak as the sky darkened.
After making the acquaintance of a daughter and son-in-law of an old friend and recalling the tornado we all survived three years ago and sharing favorite spots on the pond, we paused ever so briefly by an active beaver lodge. Do you see the fresh mud? Don’t let that and the ripples in the water lead you to believe that the beavers came out to greet us.
I was with my guy, remember, and he has a need to be as active as the rodents within. Oh, the mud wasn’t his doing, but the ripples were.
The beavers present activity was, however, noted by the Spadderdock roots floating upon the surface of the pond. That’s a carbon-loading beaver treat.
A treat for my eyes is always a turtle sighting and though this painted one seemed to be surfing, as I explained in my ever-knowledgeable way to my guy, it was basking in the sun as a means to absorb the UV rays of the sun. He was sure it was just preparing to slip back into the water and as we approached it of course did so, thus proving him right. Um, but I was as well.
All the friends I’ve mentioned till now we’ve met before. And actually, I’ve had the privilege of meeting this last one once before, but sometimes it’s the second meeting that drives the characteristics home.
I mean, seriously, how many times have you met someone for the first time and forgotten their name? But upon that second meeting you focus on how their nose sticks out further and they have such a dark shell and a line of yellow dots under their double chin and they hang out in the shade more than the sun and you realize you do remember them: Common Musk Turtle.
I love my pond friends who are my best friends, whether we met for the first time or again and again and again.
Wander outdoors if you can and let the anomalies pull you into their realm. I promise, your eyes and your mind will be opened to so many wonders that you’ll resist the urge to move along for so enamored will you be by your finds. Slow down and look and be wowed.
May it begin with an oval-shaped structure sitting atop a tree stump and filled, curiously, with a red maple samara, the latter’s own shape a decaying, many-veined wing.
Creating an oval by touching your thumb to your pointer finger, may you know the size of this leafy building created to protect a luna moth’s cocoon. Sadly, it seems, the pupal stage that had started life within had been predated. Still, the structure adds a lesson–to notice one that reminded me of an oak apple gall, but wasn’t because of its shape being more oval than round and much tougher than the gall’s papery construction. If you are like me, you’ll need to stick that in the back of your mind the next time you encounter such.
And then may you encounter one whom you know well, but still, each time you greet the Striped Maple twig and bud a sense of awe simply overwhelms you because of its striking beauty demonstrated in the pattern of leaf and bundle scars topped by growth rings over and over again.
As your eyes tune in, may you notice another who is easily overlooked for its diminutive size and may it remind you of work upon the ceilings of cathedrals that is oft under appreciated for so few can view. Each time you come to recognize the tiny, magenta blossoms of Beaked Hazelnut, may you celebrate their existence matched by your noticing.
With your awareness of the hazelnut’s flowers, may you be equally wowed by the occasional presentation of last year’s fruits, beaked as they are.
In the midst of your adventure may you meet a slab that poses a story featuring warriors of the past and may you have fun recreating the saga by letting your imagination flow. What happened here?
And just when you are thinking that there can’t be anything else to spy, may you suddenly spot the barrel-shaped egg cases of Wheel Bugs and wonder who lives within–Ambush Bug or Assassin? What you may know for sure is that the residents are Hemiptera or True Bugs.
Walking five more steps before stopping to wonder again, and then five more and so it goes, may you stumble upon a tussock moth cocoon with life formulating within and consider its possibilities–perhaps a White-marked Tussock Moth?
Next, may a long silky string with a cocoon swaying at the bottom capture your attention.
As you peer within, may you spy a Prometha Moth peering out.
May your viewing opportunities be enhanced by others who also look, including the Six-spotted Fishing Spider, who’s six spots are hidden below its upper abdomen that features twelve.
As you continue to develop an understanding may a forked tongue sniff you out as you sniff the snake out.
In the end, may it not be an end. May it be a beginning. May you live under the bubbles and give thanks that to your bubble are attached so many others as you share a brain.
I speak for myself when I say that I appreciate those who answer my questions as Anthony Underwood did today with my many insect photos (and others have done as well on a variety of topics) and I equally welcome your questions about what you are seeing. We may all live under a bubble, but may our bubbles continue to be connected.
I set off on a mission this afternoon: to spy another Tetragnatha viridis, the green long-jawed orb weaver. I last spied one on December 17th, and was sure the task would be a piece of cake today.
On the plot of land that I roamed, which had been owned by a paper company until about thirty years ago, stood towering pines, but also some that were about 20 years old and others mere saplings. I’d love to say each one captured my attention, and really, they all did, but there are still a million more to examine.
In the process, I began to notice that it wasn’t just the spider that would give me reason to wonder. First there was the ichneumon wasp cocoon. In size it was the same as another that I’ll share later in this post, but the metallic color and spotted pattern made it stand out. Presumably the larva that created it is a parasitoid of some caterpillars that feed on conifers.
Mind you, I was in the woods and there were patches of snow and certainly other patterns to pay attention to so I let my mind wander in the moment. And rejoiced with this find: an opossum track.
An opposable inner toe on each hind foot looks like a human thumb. In a shuffling motion as it waddles along, an opossum places its back feet just behind the front feet.
I followed this guy’s track for a bit until it disappeared into leaf cover and I suspected it might be up a tree.
And so my spider expedition continued. My next find: a tiny clump of bird feathers. But no spider in sight.
Again, I digressed, however, for on an old snag, I found lungwort growing over a burl in a formation I’ve not seen before. I’m used to finding it on the trunk of a tree, but wrapped around the rounded growth was a new presentation.
Back to the task at hand, and I suspected this was a molt of what may have been a tiger moth caterpillar. No spider yet, but I was getting more and more excited with each find.
Practically tripping over a downed tree I came upon another sight new to me. Here’s how I’m reading this story: the green capped mushrooms, violet-tooth polypore, had begun life when the tree was standing. Once it toppled, new fungi grew perpendicular to their parents so that their spores might drop downward. While I’ve seen this with other mushrooms, where new growth emerges from old, I’ve never encountered it with this species before.
Certainly that called for the reward of a spider. A dried up caterpillar molt would have to suffice in the meantime.
And then, in another patch of snow, another waddler had shuffled through. Remember the opossum pattern of the hind foot overlapping the front? Well, a raccoon’s pattern is offered in a series of alternating diagonals. One front foot and hind on the first angle, the other front and hind the opposite. And so it continues.
What made me chuckle about the raccoon was that it chose to walk on a downed tree rather than the more stable ground. Why not?
Refocusing my attention, upon another pine was a pupating ladybug beetle. Its structure strikes me as unique until I realize all insects are idiosyncratic in any stage of life. Still no spider.
Traveling through the woods was a bit difficult at times as there was no path and there were either clumps of trees growing in each others space or downed and rotting trunks. It was upon the later that I spied a bit of color from a thin-maze flat polypore, Daedaleopsis confragosa.
Its underside gave the name meaning. Can you follow the maze?
At last I turned my attention solely to the pines for the hour was getting late and the sun sinking lower and I still had to find my way out and walk home. It was then that I met an old friend in a new form. Remember the ichneumon wasp cocoon at the start of this story? Well, the pine sawfly cocoon is similar in size and shape. This one I refer to as an old friend for I encounter these on any type of tree or shrub all the time, but given that there was no opening, I knew that within the sawfly was pupating. Still no spider.
Then I found examples of those that had been sawed open. Given that the cut is always uniform, a few friends and I have taken to calling it the circular-saw fly. The fly would have emerged in the spring. Still no spider.
Finally, I found another sight new to me: double sawfly cocoons. Surely a two-seater.
I never did find the spiders I sought. But there was certainly plenty to pine over as I tramped the woods. And all of it was worth a wonder.
This morning I chose to channel my inner Jinny Mae in honor of my dear friend who has been in isolation for medical reasons since last January. That meant I had to try to slow down and be sure to notice. And ask questions. Mostly it meant I needed to wonder.
She’s a lover of fungi, so I knew that she’d pause beside the Violet-toothed Polypores that decorated a log. The velvety green algal coating would surely attract her attention. Why does algae grow on this fungus?
I didn’t have the answer in my mind, but a little research unearthed this: “As is the case for lichens, the algae on top of a polypore arrangement appears to benefit both partners. The algae (usually single-celled ball-shaped green algae), being filled with green photosynthetic pigments, use sunlight to make sugars out of carbon dioxide gas. Some of these leak out and are absorbed and consumed by the fungi as an extra source of energy-rich organic carbon. The fungus, in turn, provides a solid platform upon which the algae can set up shop and grow into dense green communities.” (~rosincerate.com)
The next stop occurred beside the fall forms of asters where the seeds’ parachutes could have easily passed as a flower. What’s a seed’s parachute and why does it have one? The parachutes are made up of hair-like structures. As an immobile parent plant, it needs to disperse its young so that new plants can grow away from those pesky competitive siblings. And maybe even colonize new territories. At this stage of life, the seedy teenager can’t wait to fly away from home and start its own life. Do you remember that time in your life?
And then, it was another fungus that asked to be noticed. Those gills. That curly edging. And crazy growth structure. Jinny Mae would have keyed in on it right away, but it took me a while. I think it’s a bioluminescent species, Night Light aka Bitter Oyster (Panellus stipticus). But as I often say, I don’t know mushrooms well, so don’t look to me as the authority. What would Jinny Mae ask? Hmmm. What makes it glow? That’s even further beyond my understanding than naming this species. But I can say that it has to do with enzymes that produce light by the oxidation of a pigment. And have I ever actually seen such a glow? NO. But one of these nights 😉
As I continued to walk along, I noticed movement and realized I was in the presence of a butterfly. A butterfly I don’t recall ever meeting before. It had the markings of several familiar species, but it wasn’t until I arrived home that I figured out its name. Do you see its curled proboscis?
Jinny Mae would have been as wowed as I was by this species that I can confidently call a Faunus Anglewing or Green Comma. Typically it flies from May to September, so why today? I got to wondering if this week’s Nor’easter caught it in a more southern clime and forced it north on the wind? But I discovered that its a boreal species and was perhaps at the southern end of its range. Maybe the storm did have something to do with its presence today after all.
Eventually the journey became a mix of following a trail and bushwhacking. Both provided examples of the next moment I knew Jinny Mae would love. Dead Man’s Fingers, all five of them, in their fall form, the lighter color spores having dispersed and the mushroom now turning black. Why the common name for Xylaria longipes? According to Lawrence Millman, author of Fascinating Fungi of New England, “Certain African tribes believe that if you’ve committed a crime, and you rub the spore powder from an immature Xylaria on your skin, the police won’t identify you as the culprit.”
It seemed these woods were a mushroom garden and one after another made itself known. I could practically feel Jinny Mae’s glee at so many fine discoveries. Resembling cascading icicles (I was wearing a wool hat and my snowpants actually, which turned out to be overdress after three hours), I wanted to call it Lion’s Mane, but to narrow down an ID decided to leave it at the genus Hericium. I suspected Jinny would agree that that was best and it should just be enjoyed for its structure no matter who it really was.
Nearby, another much tinier, in fact, incredibly teenier fungus could have gone unnoticed had the sun not been shining upon it. I was pretty certain 2019 would be the year that would pass by without my opportunity to spy this one. But, thankfully, I was proven wrong. Forever one of my favorites, I knew Jinny Mae also savored its presence. The fruiting body of Green Stain are minute cup-shaped structures maybe 1/3 inch in diameter. I used to think when I saw the stain on wood that it was an old trail blaze. And then one day I was introduced to the fruiting structure and rejoice each time I’m graced with its presence. There was no reason to question these delightful finds. Noticing them was enough.
In complete contrast, upon a snag nearby, grew a much larger fungus.
Part of its identification is based on its woody, shelf-like structure projecting out from the tree trunk. Someone had obviously been dining upon it and based on its height from the ground and the tooth marks, I suspected deer.
The pore surface, however, is the real reason to celebrate this find for it stains brown and provides a palette upon which to sketch or paint, thus earning it the common name of Artist Conk. But the question: while some mushrooms fruit each year and then if not picked, rot and smell like something died in the woods, what happens with a shelf fungus? The answer as best I know: A shelf fungus adds a new layer of spore tissue every growing season; the old layer covered by the new one, which look like growth rings in a tree.
A lot of the focus on this morning’s walk tended to be upon the fungi that grew in that neck of the woods, but suddenly something else showed its face. Or rather, I think, her face. A Wolf Spider. Upon an egg sac. Super Mom though she may be for making a silk bed and then enveloping her young in a silk blanket, and guarding it until her babies hatch, this spider did not make the slightest movement, aggressive or not, as I got into its personal space. Usually the mother dies either before or after her babies leave the sac. What would Jinny Mae think? Perhaps that for some reason Momma waited too long and maybe the cold weather we’ve experienced upon occasional lately got the better of her?
I don’t know entirely what Jinny Mae would think, but I have a pretty good idea because the reality is that today, she and I traveled the trail together for the first time in forever. For each of these finds, it was like we played trail tag–first one spying something wicked cool and then the other finding something else to capture our attention as we tried to capture it with our cameras.
We caught up. We laughed. We noticed. We questioned. We laughed some more.
Our three-hour journey drew to a close as we revisited the Stair-step Moss that grows in her woods.
I’m still giddy about the fact that I got to wander and wonder the Jinny Mae way today.
P.S. Jinny Mae returned to Super Momma spider a couple of days later and as she paused to take a photo, Momma scooted into a tree hole, carrying her sac. She LIVES.
When I invited friends Pam and Bob to join me at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve for a reconnaissance hike, I had no idea what might await us. But isn’t that true of every day, no matter what path in life we choose to follow? With each step we take, doesn’t a surprise await?
Today’s path found us making a few detours for fun, but it was when we followed the route long ago laid out by LEA that we made the most interesting discoveries.
The boardwalk through the Red Maple Swamp led us to the hummock that leads out to Muddy River, where fall’s colors were ablaze on the far side. Red Maple is an early harbinger of autumn as it turns color well in advance of other eastern deciduous trees, especially when it is located in wet sites.
As we continued, we found ourselves on the new/old boardwalk to the Quaking Bog by Holt Pond. The boardwalk is new in that its old self has recently undergone a renovation with corrugated culverts added below in hopes that come high water in spring or fall, the water will flow and the structure will float above.
We were excited to see such a change, but especially wowed by the Pitcher Plants that grew there.
As wild as the Pitcher’s leaves are, the fall structure of the flower was equally astonishing. I’ve forever found it a wonder that the extremely large style of this flower sits below the rest of the structure in order to capture pollen in its upside-down umbrella shape. With leathery sepals above, the large swollen ovary below may house as many as 300 tiny seeds.
At the end of the boardwalk, we stood beside Holt Pond for a bit and did what we frequently found ourselves doing: listened; looked; lollygagged.
At last we pulled ourselves away; but still there was more to see.
Because we were noticing, Pam spied Charlotte, a yellow garden spider, aka Argiope aurantia.
You might think we weren’t actually in a garden, but indeed, we were. Just prior to meeting Charlotte, we’d munched on tart cranberries, and sniffed and tasted Bog Rosemary leaves.
There was also a Lake Darner Dragonfly to admire. Especially given the tattered nature of its wings. Really, the dragonflies controlled their territory throughout much of our journey and sometimes appeared to brazenly want to gobble us up. I’m here to say that they didn’t succeed and we’ll never tire of being in their presence.
Leaving the quaking bog behind, we walked through a huge hemlock grove and noticed one noticing us. Do you see the Chipmunk? He remained still for moments on end, sure that we wouldn’t spy him. And then when we made a sudden movement, he darted into a safety hole.
At the edge of the hemlock grove, the natural community switched immediately to another wetland and offered new opportunities. This time, you need to locate the Phantom Cranefly. Do you see its black and white legs?
At last we reached Tea Garden Bridge, so named if I remember correctly, because the water in Sawyer Brook resembles the color of tea.
What drew our attention was the Water Strider Convention. The shadow of the Water Striders tells their story. To our eyes, it looked like their actual feet were tiny and insignificant. What we couldn’t see were the fuzzy little hairs that both repel water and trap tiny air bubbles, thus allowing them to float or skate along the water’s surface. But still, why was the foot shadow so big while the body shadow was more relative to the strider’s size? Did the movement of the foot against the water create the larger shadow?
Continuing on into the land of abundant Winterberry, we thought about all the birds who will benefit from its red fruit in the coming months.
And then our eyes cued in again. First on a Katydid, with its beady eyes so green.
And then another Phantom Cranefly. And another. And another. I met my first Phantom Cranefly in the spring, but today they seemed to appear from out of nowhere everywhere.
And finally, a male Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly pausing and flying; pausing and flying; all within a small territory it had claimed.
At last it was time for us to turn around and head out, but I gave great thanks for the opportunity to travel slowly and wonder with Pam and Bob as I prepared for a private hike I’m leading tomorrow. Some folks chose to bid on a walk with me in support of camperships (aka full scholarships camp) for Camp Susan Curtis, a camp for economically disadvantaged Maine youth who attend at no cost to their families. I’m honored to lead them and pleased that local kids will benefit from this offering.
I can only hope that I’m able to weave a story for them as Charlotte did for us today. She even signed it. Do you see her zigzag signature?
With the most recent snowstorm now history, I strapped on my snowshoes this morning with a sense of eager anticipation about the possibilities. And then it hit me like the snow plops that fell from the trees and landed on my head or slid down my neck: I could do this while others could not and it was for them that I needed to focus.
I hadn’t gone far when my first moment of wonder stood before me. Actually, just prior, I’d been looking at some pileated woodpecker works–ever on the search for the bird’s scat, and in the process had noticed other bird scat soiling the snow. But . . . what was all the amber color?
Had snow collected on mushrooms that decorated the bark? If so, why hadn’t I seen them yesterday or the day before?
Upon a closer look, I realized it was sap. But why the big clumps? And why so much on a dead snag?
I poked it with my finger and found it to be of snow consistency. And so . . . the mystery remained. But it was certainly worth a wonder and I knew that those I was intentionally walking for would appreciate the sight. And yes, I did see plenty of other examples of dripping sap at the base of trees, but nothing like this. As usual, if you know what was going on, please enlighten me.
My next moment of wonder was one that always gives me pause–and again I knew that my friends would feel the same. A miniature evergreen world momentarily encapsulated in a droplet of melting snow.
Everywhere, the meltdown offered a variety of shapes and designs, each worthy of reverence . . . and a photograph, of course.
One of my favorites was plastered to a tree in such a way that it looked like it was flat against the bark until further study revealed otherwise. As it melted before my eyes, its ever changing formation resembled a series of little flowers scattered here and there. Just maybe you have to see that through my eyes.
And then I stumbled upon another mystery–a web of sorts like Charlotte might have woven? I studied the shrub and found numerous examples of a similar pattern, but no arachnids in sight. Besides, the silky lines seemed too thick. But, what could it be? It took me a while as I studied the area and then I remembered. Before the snowstorm, I’d taken some photographs of the winter structure of a thistle. The storm had knocked down the fruiting form, but I think my gaze was upon the filaments that had served as parachutes for the thistle’s seeds.
My journey into the winter wonderland continued, though not all the trees along the way were fortunate to withstand the weight of the snow that was quickly melting. It sounded like a rain storm as I walked under the arched branches.
At the the other end of the snow tunnel, I emerged into a field with its own offerings. Typically, I pass by, but today I was inspired by those who virtually walked with me to explore. And I don’t think they’ll be disappointed by the findings. First there was the Goldenrod Ball Gall. The round gall occurred in the middle of a stem, the top of which had broken off. In the spring, the Goldenrod gall fly laid her eggs on the stem. Hatched larvae chewed their way into the stem and the gall started to develop. And from the looks of the hole on the side, it appeared the creator had chewed its way out and flown off.
Also in the field, a Rose Bedeguar Gall, aka Robin’s Pincushion Gall on Meadowsweet, which happens to be a member of the rose family. Burrowing in to the leaves and stem of the plant was a two-fold offering for the fly larvae it hosted, for the insect benefited from the nutrients while it was simultaneously protected from predators.
There were also numerous examples of a structure that might baffle the onlooker. Beaded formations of the fertile stalk from a Sensitive Fern poked up through the snow. Typically, the beads or capsules remain intact with their brown dust-like spores waiting inside for the structure to break open during the rains of early spring.
I moved on from the field and eventually reached a wetland that I couldn’t cross. But, I could stand and listen and so I did. All around me the forest orchestra performed its Plop, Plop, Swish, Plop, Splash symphony.
At first, it sounded and looked like I was surrounded by a million wild animals, but really . . . all the sound and sights were a result of snow falling, either gently with a whisper of the wind or harshly with a thud and splash.
As I stood there looking for the million wild mammals, my eyes focused on the works of something much smaller. Insect egg tunnels on a dead snag’s trunk read like a story on paper.
The longer tunnels were bored by a female Bark Beetle. From the sides of her tunnels, larval mines radiated outward. The overall design could have been an abstract drawing.
At last I started for home, thankful that I was retracing my steps for often new sights are revealed when one does that. And so, I believe it was a crust fungus and perhaps it was an oak curtain crust fungus, but let it remain that I discovered a fungus I don’t think I’ve seen before, with a warty, rust-colored underside and dark upperside. Suffice it to say, it was a mushroom of some sort.
Along the way was a script lichen, which looked to me like someone had doodled. Commas and apostrophes decorated that page.
And then, and then, Tetragnatha viridis, a green long-jawed orb weaver. I actually saw two of them. Typically, the translucent green color helps them camouflage amongst pine needles, their usual habitat, but they can frequently be seen on snow, especially if the temperature is in the 25˚-35˚ range as it was this morning.
The orb weaver’s characteristics: eight eyes in two parallel sets of four; long chelicerae (jaws); enlarged pedipalps; long legs with spines; and that color–oh my!
It was for eight parallel eyes that I walked today, the eight representing Jinny Mae, Dick, Kate, and Carol.
Where trees didn’t cover the trail the snow was about fourteen inches deep and as you can see I chose the wrong boots and forgot my gators. But that was okay because I knew that I would eventually wander home and change my sopping wet socks. What mattered more was the fact that I was honored to step out for others when they couldn’t necessarily do the same. Here’s to the four of you–thanks for letting me be your eyes.
It was misty when we met, but neither of us was daunted by the weather. Ever so slowly, we made our way over the wet leaves, roots, and rocks, pausing frequently–especially each time we saw puff balls. How can one resist poking or squeezing them to watch the spores waft out like smoke. The skin of mature puffballs split prior to releasing spores. And we . . . we helped the process a wee bit.
Green stain fungus also drew our attention. Its fruiting bodies were minute, but well worth wet knees for a closer examination.
With Pam in the lead for most of the way, she kept finding cool stuff, like this hexagonal-pored polypore.
It took us a while, but we finally reached the wetland by the Sucker Brook Outlet where blueberry, maleberry and leatherleaf shrubs added color to the otherwise gray day. For a while we stood under the protection of a large hemlock and took in the scene in silence.
From our vantage point, an island in Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay looked like a ghost ship. And in the foreground, cotton grass still touted its tufted heads.
At our feet we could see some aquatic plant roots floating in the water, a beaver treat, and trusted by the mud on the lodges that there had been recent activity. Perhaps they rested indoors before planning to spend time later in the day preparing for the cold months ahead.
After a while and because I knew they were there, I took Pam along the edge of the brook for a short distance to locate several pitcher plants. Someone once photographed them in their young green form and described them as rare. While helping Dr. Rick Van de Poll, principal of Ecosystem Management Consultants (EMC) in Sandwich, New Hampshire, set up study plots at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Reserve in Bridgton during July 2017, we had to watch where we stepped to avoid crushing pitcher plants. It was a perfect time to ask Rick about the green color. Were there green pitcher plants in Maine? And if so, were they rare? He explained that it was just a matter of sunlight and age, all would eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they matured.
This morning, we found some sporting brighter red leaves.
And another plant that was duller in color. Since we were in the locale where the green plant had been discovered, I trusted that it was beginning to show its age. It was the duller one that drew most of our fascination. Carnivorous pitcher plants obtain nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Their oddly-shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: an insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Do you see what we saw? A spider web across the top of the leaf? And within?
Dueling fishing spiders.
And so we watched.
The larger one continuously manipulated the smaller one, which appeared to be dead. Back and forth under its body, it kept moving the smaller kin.
Was it trying to eat the other? One last meal before it too succumbed to the plant? Was it trying to move past the dead spider so it could try to climb out? Should we save it?
In the end, we left the action with questions in our minds and didn’t interfere.
Except, that is, to take photographs and make a film. Again, our knees were wet and we didn’t care.
Back on the trail, we found an area where Earthballs decorated some old lumber slash. Their warty outer skin drew our attraction.
Another common name for Scleroderma citrinum is Pigskin Poison Puffball. Since it’s football season, it’s good to note that footballs used to be made of a pig’s . . . bladder and not its skin, though historically they were called pigskins. Rather than feel leathery, these seemed more rubbery, thus the reference I guess.
And because they were puffballs, they invited a poke.
From a couple of slits, mature blackish spores erupted. I had to chuckle for no matter with whom I share a trail, puffballs always invite the same reaction–pick up a stick and give it a jab. And each time we share the same moment of glee. And our inner child is released one more time. Thankfully.
Of course, we found ourselves on our knees yet again when Pam spied something within an Earthball that had exploded prior to our visit. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an inanimate insect that looked like it was covered in spores. Canary in the coal mine?
Our next great find was of a different sort and I had to pull the Trackards from my pack while Pam got down for another upclose and personal look. Notice her knee?
Black bear scat! Indeed. Cylindral and large. We looked for tracks, but conditions were such that we didn’t find any. The scat was enough for this day.
If you go, we strongly encourage you to follow the green trail all the way to the bird/wildlife viewing point along Sucker Brook. Today, the tamaracks on the shore to our right added a tone of bright beauty to the overcast day.
And another old beaver lodge also looked like it had received a mud treatment. We could see some beaver chew sticks in the water by the edge of the brook and so we knew again that there had been recent activity. It just means we’ll have to return for another visit if we want to catch some action–perhaps earlier in the day.
In the meantime, we let the view point become our turn-around point and quickly (sorta) followed the blue trail back for we both needed to move on to the rest of our day.
But . . . despite the mist and occasional raindrops, we elected to tramp. And were delighted with the results. Here’s hoping the rest of the day goes like that.
Perhaps we should have tiptoed and tried to silently pass through the woods much the way a fox or bear might, but that is not our habit. And so on today’s Tuesday Tramp for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, we chatted and wondered aloud as we hiked along the trails of Bishop Cardinal Reserve on the upper side of Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell. Consequently, our wild mammal sightings were non-existent. Despite that, we saw soooo much.
Our team was small this morning, with only docents Bob and Pam joining me, but still we made plenty of noise as we looked about.
The first sign of mammal and human interaction, of course, was the telephone pole beside the trailhead. If you’ve traveled with me either literally or virtually before, you know how I LOVE a telephone pole. It’s not the fact that such brings electrical power and other modern day amenities to our homes, but instead the realization that bears are attracted to them and like to leave a mark as they claw and bite at the anomaly in the forest surroundings. I always check for hair left behind, but today was disappointed to find none.
Despite the lack of hair, there were a few newer scratches worth celebrating.
And a small spider tossed into the mix. The temperature was on the chilly side as the wind blew, but not cold enough to begin the process of accumulating glycols in its blood (e.g., antifreeze) that would allow the spider to supercool. By physiologically adapting via special antifreeze compounds, the tissues of some Maine spiders remain unfrozen at temperatures well below freezing, and thus avoid turning into little blocks of ice once winter sets in. Of course, had it been a little bit cooler, this spider probably would have hidden in the leaf litter below rather than trying to send a telegram via the phone pole.
A little further along the trail, however, we did find more bear sign in the form of claw marks on beech trees. And that raised the question: Do bears only climb beech trees? No. But, beech bark is one of the best to show off their signature scratches.
After I showed Pam and Bob a couple of trees with claw marks, they began to look about and Pam spied one I’d not noticed before.
Congratulations on your First To Find (FTF) Award, Pam! Well deserved.
It wasn’t only bear sign that made the walk intriguing. A year and a half ago, this same couple had spied an entire deer carcass along the lower part of the trail. And so when we arrived in the vicinity today, we looked around. And eagle eyes Pam spied half the skull atop the leaves. What had happened to the deer? Human interaction? Old age? It was a rather large skull.
My, what flat teeth it had. Because herbivore teeth are highly specialized for eating plant matter which may be difficult to break down, their molars tend to be wider and flatter, thus allowing the animal to grind its food and aid in digestion.
We looked about for other bones and had to satisfy ourselves with a lower jaw. Had the rest of the skeleton been scattered and we just couldn’t see it below the recent leaf cover or had mice and other rodents dined on the bones from which they sought calcium? Coyotes, bears, and even another deer may also have moved the bones and found their own nourishment. Whatever happened, we knew it had been recycled . . . naturally.
And not far away on the edge of a bridge over a stream . . . coyote scat. It was not fresh, but fresher than the deer skull event, and full of hair. On what did the coyote dine? Snowshoe hare? Gray squirrel? Some other delectable offering? We weren’t sure.
Dinner in the woods came in many forms, however, and on a fallen tree about four feet from the ground we found a mushroom turned upside down. Despite recent wind storms, we didn’t think it had blown up to that spot. Instead, a squirrel had set it there to dry. A squirrel’s food pantry is far bigger than a kitchen cupboard. Would it remember where it had placed the mushroom? Probably. Would another squirrel discover and snag it? Possibly.
But there were others set in different spots to dry, so the original cacher might have some success in retrieving the food it had stored.
As our time drew to a close, we noticed patterns in the mushrooms imitated by icy spots in a stream that spoke to the morning’s chill.
But the sun had come out and we relished its warmth as we headed back to our vehicles and on into the rest of our days.
Before doing so, however, there were two more sights to commemorate–the man-made line up of doors found deep in the woods . . .
and rain-made castles along the road side.
Bishop Cardinal Reserve–where man and nature intersect.
As I drove to Lovell this morning to take a photo for the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s winter newsletter, the crisp outline of a snow-covered Mount Washington made me realize that I had a short, unintended hike in my immediate future.
Yesterday, I’d climbed the Flat Hill Trail at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve to take another photo for the newsletter–that one of the view from the summit of snow falling in the White Mountains. This past summer, staff and volunteers of the land trust had made some trail changes and opened several views, the one from Flat Hill being the most dramatic and the foliage, snow and sky enhanced the opening. But . . . today’s view was different and I knew I needed to capture it again.
So . . . after a staff photo shoot at the Kezar River Reserve of Stewardship Associate Dakota, Associate Director Aidan, and Office Manager Alice, I headed north.
And laughed at myself for yesterday I never noticed the yellow Voss blazes that had been mounted to mark the trail. The hope is that eventually all the trails will be signed with different colored diamonds that will ease navigation.
It’s a trail I know well, even with a new backwards S curve about two thirds of the way up that erased a steep and slippery portion and so instead I focused on those sights at my feet. While many leaves had already begun the long process of decomposition as they slowly break down and give nutrients back to the earth from which their trees grew, a few still sparkled like gems, including this Big-Tooth Aspen, aka poplar.
I was thrilled to discover Sugar Maple, defined by the U shape between its pointed lobes;
its V between lobes and toothier cousin, Red Maple;
and even toothier kin, Striped Maple, known ’round these parts a goosefoot because its shape is similar. Some of us also refer to it as nature’s toilet paper for it’s large, soft, and easy to identify. You wouldn’t think of confusing it with poison ivy.
The curious thing about the Maple family, like all families in our northern New England forests, is that while the shape and color of the leaf helps us specify the family origins, each leaf within the family is different–whether in color or flaws or insect bites or galls. But despite their differences, they are all family.
With the Striped Maple, I thought I’d found the largest species of the day, but a few more steps toward the summit revealed a rather large Northern Red Oak leaf.
And then the biggest of all–Basswood. My hiking boots are size 8. And the leaf–also a size 8, with an asymmetrical base. That must prove a challenge when trying to find the right fit.
Focusing on the leaves took my mind off the climb and within no time I’d reached the summit where Polypody ferns in their evergreen form decorated the northwestern corner of an otherwise bald rock.
From the ferns where I’d planted my feet, I looked skyward and noticed the leaf and flower buds of a Red Maple, all tucked inside their waxy scales. It was the right place to be for as the north wind blew and my cheeks turned rosy red, I looked to the west.
Yesterday’s view had been transformed. No longer was it snowing from the Baldfaces to Carter Dome, with Mount Washington the whitest of all, posing between them. But still, it was chilly.
A slight push on the camera lever and I pulled the scene a wee bit closer.
At last I pulled myself away and hiked down, but so delightful was the morning, that I knew my newsletter work would have to wait a few more minutes at the intersection with Perky’s Path, for I felt the calling.
It’s a wetland I visit frequently and once upon a time about five years ago it was filled to the brim with water because beavers had dammed it for their convenience.
The only water today was found in a small stream that flowed through, its origin at Bradley Pond and terminus at Heald Pond. I stopped at the rock stepping path to admire what the water had to offer, including suds forming their own rachis or mid-vein from which side veins extended, a sideways rendition for the birch leaf caught between twigs.
In the middle of the stepping stones is a large flat rock. It was there that I settled in for a while, enjoying the feel of its sun-absorbed heat and the sound and views offered as the brook flowed slowly forth.
At last I pulled myself away and continued toward the bench that overlooked the wetland. All was quiet on this brisk day, but its a place of life and love and change.
From there I continued to circle the old beaver pond to the point where I knew it had formerly been dammed. Climbing over and around moss-covered rocks, and into former stream beds, I made my way to the edge of what I used to call an infinity pool for the water was once at the dam’s upper level.
Once I reached the dam, making my way one step at a time, for it was rather tricky footing at times, I discovered life on the other side. For all the years I’ve been involved with the land trust, I’d never seen this edge from this view. My surprise included the almost bald rocks.
Stepping from boulder to boulder, I made my way into the wetland a wee bit, but along the way realized someone had visited prior to me. Actually probably almost a year prior given the conditions of the scat left behind. Based on its shape, size, and inclusion of multiple bones plus lots of hair, I suspected a coyote had feed on a hare.
The coyote and I weren’t the only ones who knew of this secret place. A wolf spider darted in and out among the leaves, more afraid of me than I was of it.
And then I discovered something that perhaps they both already knew: the water supported a small colony of Spatterdock, a plant that will need to be added to the list of flora for this property. Do you see the ice on the Micky Mouse ear leaves?
Ice had also formed around a fallen log, its swirls portraying a high-heeled boot that certainly might be appropriate in an ice sculpture but not on ice.
All of what I saw the tree spirit already knew. And yet, it allowed me to make discoveries from my feet to the sky.
And every layer between. I know he’s not there anymore, but can’t you imagine Marty Engstrom on top of Mount Washington?
Past visits to New York City have always included museums and shows, but this weekend we followed a bit of the familiar path and sometimes took the trail less touristy in an attempt to get to know the area better.
Saturday afternoon, following our arrival via a bus from Worcester, Mass., we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan, which was a bit veiled in fog, thus softening ordinarily crisp lines.
Begun in 1869 and completed by 1883, the bridge spans the East River and connects the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Among the throngs of people who walked or rode bicycles across, we all wove strands of thread that fit easily into the web long ago created. Some of us paused suddenly here and there, as the arachnid tried to take hold, while others tried to maneuver along the silken dragline writing messages with their feet much the way Charlotte may have within her web.
And a few got caught up by the constrictors waiting at the center.
At last we emerged on the other side, where our attention was diverted by the architecture and colors.
Often, it was the interaction of today and yesterday that drew our notice, joined together as they were with a global reference.
Eventually, we passed through the doorway of St. Patrick’s Cathedral . . .
where many have gathered for centuries to light candles in memoriam of those who have passed from this layer of life to the next and prayed for the future.
And then we slipped into Central Park, where we were again struck by the architecture, especially as juxtaposed against the artificially landscaped natural world.
As we watched the Mallards and Canada Geese, one of our biggest moments of awe was for a goldfish–the largest we’d ever seen.
Eventually, we boarded a train and found our way back to Brooklyn, where a quiet evening awaited.
Sunday morning found us passing below the Brooklyn Bridge, where we could glimpse the more “modern” Manhattan Bridge in the distance.
Again, the skyline was muffled, but its edges softened.
And once more we looked with wonder at the web construction.
Ever so slowly, we moved away even as a paddlewheeler representing the south made its way north.
Despite our thrill at watching water taxis, tour boats, jet skis, sailboats, powerboats, and even a police boat move up and down the river, the local Cormorants and a Herring Gull took it all in stride.
After all, they had feathers to preen.
And the Canada Geese–a grassy park to foul. The irony was that no dogs were allowed, but the geese made themselves quite at home.
Above the Cormorant/Gull condos, Lower Manhattan gave way to the harbor, and we enjoyed the view from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
Our perch included the sight of Lady Liberty as she greeted all.
And another grand lady, the Queen Mary 2. The last time I saw the QM, it was a previous rendition and she’d anchored in New Haven Harbor (Connecticut) in the summer of 1979. My father, sister, and I drove into the city to catch a view and then we followed the route Queen Elizabeth, who had arrived in town for a very brief visit, would take before departing from Tweed New Haven Airport. Crowds lined the route and we practiced our best QE wave. Humoring us, some waved back. We did glimpse the queen as her motorcade eventually drove by and that was enough to fulfill our Anglophile envy.
But, this weekend we were in Brooklyn to admire New Yorkers, (and we knew the queen wasn’t on the boat), so we pulled our point of view back to the area around us, which included a mosaic structure worth noting. Watertower is actually a sculpture created by Brooklyn artist Tom Fruin. He used plexiglass and steel in 2012 to represent one of the icons of our nation–a water tower.
From pier to pier we followed the promenade beside the river, noting natural places and sports fields filled with athletes of many talents as they played games or worked out.
Eventually, we circled back and then climbed up into Brooklyn Heights, enjoying our meander through a beautiful neighborhood.
And my guy, he became a pro at identifying Sycamore trees for so prolific do they grow in that neck of the woods.
And then, and then we encountered a flock of happy pigeons. Yes, we were in New York City and all pigeons are happy there. It has something to do with peanut kiosks perhaps?
There were the typical blue-gray birds with two dark wingbars,
rusty red version,
those spotted or mottled,
and even pale among the gang.
But really, have you ever taken the time to look at those iridescent colors?
Or that sweet face?
At last we left our pigeon admiration behind and continued on, noting another tree not in our familiar category–the Maidenhair or Gingko Tree.
Its fan-shaped leaves showed off the carotenoids that had been hidden all summer by the green pigment. Fall was slowly embracing the city, but it hadn’t arrived in full yet.
As we moved from a more residential to commercial area, we were surprised to find a barber shop open on a Sunday morning. Given that I’d recently written about barber shops for Lake Living, it was fun to peek inside. And note how many men waited. But, in this city where many work late each day, it made sense that they’d make time on a Sunday morning for a hair cut.
Eventually, our wanderings led us to a hardware store. And not just any kind of hardware store . . .
for it was an independently-owned True Value, much like my guy’s.
And since one of our reason’s for visiting the city was to celebrate his 65th birthday, I followed him in.
Lunch found us eating a slice of pizza from a local pizzeria. It was OK; better than what we find in Maine, but not quite what I remember from my childhood in Connecticut. We did eat in the “garden” where figs grew! I wasn’t quite sure how that related to pizza. But . . . we were in New York.
New York . . . a city where graffiti is understood.
Our day ended with dinner at a small neighborhood Italian restaurant, Santa Panza, where we quietly celebrated my guy’s birthday with the most delicious dinner.
As this morning dawned, it was time for us to look out the window of our hotel and say goodbye to the two ladies who’d waved us in and would wave us out. Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn rotated continuously at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Tillary Street.
According to a Brooklyn Public Library’s website: “Miss Manhattan sits haughtily with her right foot atop a chest of money (or jewels?); in her right hand she holds a winged globe reminiscent of a cross-bearing orb, an ancient symbol of authority; a peacock, flashiness and luxury incarnate, is by her side. (The peacock, in the belief system of the Ancient Greeks, also represented immortality/eternity.) The bows of three ships hint at the status of Manhattan as an important port and an international trade hub. She is all dignity, privilege and hubris.
Miss Brooklyn’s demeanor could not be more different. Her expression is gracious, introspective and calm; she is surrounded by a church spire (Brooklyn to this day counts more houses of worship than any other borough); a lyre and a child with a book (a reference to the borough’s patronage of culture and education). The book on the child’s lap is massive. It must be a Bible, another reference to the borough’s spiritual thrust. Her head is adorned with a laurel wreath. In her hands she holds a tablet with the Dutch inscription “Ein Drach Mackt Maght” (“In Union there is strength”), a hint at the Dutch origins of Brooklyn and at the fairly recent New York City consolidation of 1898.”
The granite maidens originated on the Manhattan Bridge, but these sculptures were installed on a pedestal at their current location about a year ago. For us, they were our home monuments much as Pleasant Mountain serves as our home mountain. Not only did they welcome us and send us on our way, but we knew where we’d lay our heads for the night as we approached.
At last, our brief city adventure came to an end, but we trust we’ll return.
Yo, Brooklyn! Yo Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn. Thanks for the welcome. Until we meet again . . .
I was on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon for next week I’m leading some middle school students into a wetland and talking about forest ecology before sharing the joy of foraging with them.
To reach the wetland, it was like walking through a jungle where the ferns grow tall, their fall coloration enhancing the scene. Cinnamon Ferns are a species that easily grow in medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. The moist, rich, acidic soils, I walked through were much to their liking.
It appeared that they were named for their autumn presentation, but really it refers to the cinnamon-colored fibers found near the frond bases.
Because they look so similar to their relatives in the Osmundaceae family, the Interrupted Fern, I looked to the back of the frond for confirmation. Sure enough, where the pinnae (leaflet) met the rachis (center stem), a tuft that we refer to as the hairy underarm was present.
Onward I continued, not sure what the moisture situation might be. So, in the past, I’ve paused by the kettle hole, but never actually entered it. All that changed today and my plan is to take the students into this special place. A kettle hole is a basin created when a large block of glacial ice was left stranded and subsequently melted in place, producing a basin or depression. These basins fill with water up to the depth of their surrounding water table, which currently happens to be rather low.
Because the temperature had risen after a damp, chilly start to the day, the meadowhawk dragonflies flew . . . and landed. This one was a White-faced Meadowhawk, aptly named for that face.
Its abdomen markings of dark black triangles also help in identification.
Flying in the same airspace where the Autumn Meadowhawks, with their light-colored legs. All other meadowhawks have dark legs.
Love was in the air and on the leaf as a pair of Autumns took advantage of the warm weather to canoodle in the sunlight.
They weren’t alone.
What I learned as I explored was that the kettle was actually a double pot for a second one had formed behind the first. Notice the layered structure of the area from trees on the outer edge to shrubs to grasses and flowers to water.
And everywhere–deer and raccoon tracks crisscrossed through mud and water.
Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.
And because I was interested in learning who lived there, I had to pay homage to the six-spotted fishing spider.
The spider flirted with me as he moved quickly among the spatterdock leaves that sat in the wee bit of water left in the center of the kettle.
I finally left the kettle only to discover another and again the formation of layers.
The water was a bit deeper and a family of Green Teal Ducks dabbled.
It took some time and steady foot placement as I climbed over downed trees hidden by winterberry and other shrubs, but at last I reached my intended destination, a cranberry bog.
And then I spent the next hour or so filling my satchel for so abundant were the little gems of tartness. The best where those hidden among the leaves–dark red and firm were they.
As I picked, I realized I wasn’t the only one foraging. It appeared that either chipmunks or squirrels also knew the value of the flavor–though they only nibbled.
Occasionally, or even more often, I looked up to take in the colors and layers that surrounded me–from leatherleaf bronze to blueberry red to Gray Birch and Red and Silver Maples with a few White Pines in the mix.
Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.
At last I decided to find my way out. (Sorta for I did get a wee bit disoriented.)
Among the offerings were ferns of a different kind–though still related to the cinnamons I’d seen earlier. The Royal Fern’s fertile crown had months ago shared its spores with the world and all that was left were salmon-colored structures.
I picked my way carefully and eventually found one of the kettles. And . . . drum roll please . . .
two Sandhill Cranes. Others can tell you better than I how long the Sandhills have returned to this area, but it’s been for a while now and some even saw a nesting pair this past summer. My sightings have been few and so it’s always a pleasure.
I stood still as they moved about and they didn’t seem to notice my presence.
While they foraged for roots, another also watched.
The Great Blue Heron was cautious as they strolled in his direction.
And then . . . and then . . . in flew a Bald Eagle. And out flew the heron.
The cranes waited a couple of minutes and then they flew, bugling on the wing.
And I rejoiced. Oh, I still had to find my way out and did eventually cross through a property about a quarter mile from where I’d started. But, all in all from kettles to cranberries to birds, it was a Fen-tastic afternoon as I explored an outlet fen.
As I sit in my rocking chair on the camp porch, the cicadas still buzz, with chirps of crickets thrown into the mix and somewhere in the background a constant trill from another. Tree frog? Perhaps, but it seems to carry on for longer than usual. Grasshopper? Maybe. And then there is the occasional call of the loon.
What truly attracted my attention earlier today, however, were the other members of the household. Whose home this is, I think I know. Or rather, I thought I did. I thought it belonged to my guy and me. But really, I should have known better for it has never just housed the two of us. There were the boys growing up, and family, and friends, and renters, even. Actually, the latter three knew it before the boys. (Oops, I suppose I should call them young men, mid-twenty-somethings that they now are.) But, through all these years, it has also housed many others. And so today, I got acquainted with some of its other residents. Rather than the mammals that we know also share the space, e.g. mice, squirrels, and bats, it was the insects and arachnids that I checked out.
My first find along the foundation was an exuvia of one I listen to day and night–that of a cicada. In their larval stage, cicadas live down to eight feet underground. When the time comes to metamorphose into winged adults, they dig to the surface, climb up something, in this case the foundation, and molt. The emerging winged insects leave behind their shed skin, aka abandoned exoskeleton or exuvia. It’s a rather alien looking structure, with the split obvious from which the adult emerged.
The cicadas weren’t the only aliens along our foundation. It seemed like every few feet I discovered a dragonfly exuvia dangling from the porch floor and now encased in spider webs.
One of the cruiser exuviae had dropped to the ground below. But still the structure remained intact. And I now realize that my next task is to head out the door once again in the morning and collect these beauties, the better to understand their nuances.
I found cruisers hiding under the logs . . .
and even one tucked in by a basement window that had a shed spider exoskeleton dangling from it.
There were others as well, but nowhere did I find the exuvia of the one with whom I’ve spent the most time, Sir Lance(t) Clubtail. I suspect his shed skin is attached to some aquatic vegetation for he spends so much of his time by the water, even today, pausing only briefly to rest on the dock ladder.
There were other species to meet, including the most interesting of structures, those of the evergreen bagworm cases. I assumed that the young had already emerged, but their homes consisted of material from the trees on which they fed, e.g. pine needles. They struke me as the terrestrial form of the aquatic caddisflies.
And beside the two bagworms was a small, rounded brown case–the pupal case of a pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.
Oh, but they were and have been for a few weeks. I first realized we had an infestation when what sounded like the drip-drop pattern of a summer rain on a perfectly sunny day turned out to be little bits of green caterpillar frass falling from the trees. Everything was decorated. And then I began to notice the caterpillars–many falling out of trees and landing on the surrounding vegetation, and the house. As would be expected, they climbed toward the sky, hoping, I suppose, to reach the top of the trees. Good luck with that.
Some didn’t make it above the foundation, where they encountered spider webs and soon had the juices sucked out of them. Such is life. And today, a winter flock of birds including chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, hairy woodpeckers, young robins, and even a brown creeper flew in and some fine dining took place. The raindrops have nearly ceased.
That wasn’t the only pine-eating caterpillar to make its home here. On the chimney, I found a northern pine sphinx caterpillar moving full speed ahead.
And around the bend, where the chimney meets the camp, an orbweaver spinning some silk in the hopes of fine dining.
One meal had obviously been consumed–a calico pennant dragonfly. I’d seen a few of those on the vegetation a few weeks ago, but none recently. Apparently, one flew too close to the building. The only way I could ID it was by its wings for the head, thorax and abdomen had been eaten. But the wings have no nutritional value.
A short time later I returned to the chimney in hopes of locating the northern pine sphinx caterpillar again. I did. And he wasn’t. He’d apparently turned the sharp corner on the chimney and met his fate.
Eye to eye. I’m amazed at the size of the insects that find their way to her web. It’s not like they are attracted to it. Instead, they come upon it quite by surprise and she makes fast work of their mistake.
Rounding the corner back toward the porch door, one last insect drew my attention. And again, it was related to the pines, such is the local community: a pine tree spur-throated grasshopper on one of the logs that forms the outer wall of our wee home.
Our home is their home and we’re happy to share the space with them. Provided, of course, that they leave space for us to live as well. So far, all is well.
I knew I was blessed when I spied a Northern Flicker in the backyard early this morning. This is the one woodpecker that doesn’t behave like a typical family member for it forages on the ground rather than a tree trunk.
From the kitchen window, I watched this guy for a while as he looked for food. I knew it was a male because of the so called black mustache on either side of its bill. But . . . it was the bird’s eyes I was most curious about . . .and their placement on the side of its head.
Like mammals, birds with eyes on the side are born to hide . . . from predators. His field of vision, therefore, was wide and the ants on the ground were the ones who needed to scurry and hide.
After dining for a while, the flicker flew off and I stepped out the door–in search of other sets of eyes to behold–like the red ones of a tachinid fly,
and metallic green on a long-legged fly. Like the flicker, flies also have a wide field of vision due to the fact that they have compound eyes. Each eye consists of thousands of individual visual receptors, or ommatidia, (singular ommatidium) (om·ma·tid·i·um, äməˈtidēəm.) Each hexagonal-shaped ommatidium (think honeycomb) is a functioning eye in itself. With thousands of eyes on the world, it’s no wonder flies and other insects see us coming–especially when we have a flyswatter in hand.
I kept looking and among the elderberry shrub leaves I found a strikingly beautiful green and brown stink bug, or shield bug, if you’re looking for a more pleasant name. Like all insects, it featured those compound eyes, but I was struck by how tiny they were. Apparently, it was enough to see movement and kept trying to hide from me.
Despite its efforts, I could zero in on it even after walking away and returning.
Eventually I moved my focus to Pondicherry Park, where a variety of eyes greeted me, including those of a Song Sparrow.
What did he seek? Insects and other invertebrates, such as weevils, leaf beetles, ground beetles, caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, craneflies, spiders, snails, and earthworms.
What about a slug? I suspected the sparrow would enjoy such and today was a decent slug-like kind of day. But, how does a slug see?
A slug has two pairs of retractable tentacles on its head. The upper, optic tentacles, feature light-sensitive eyespots on the ends. And just like a deer can move each ear independent of the other, slugs can do the same with each eye-stalk. Another cool fact: an eye stalk can be re-grown if something attacks it.
Further along, I found a wolf spider hanging out on last year’s fertile frond of a sensitive fern. Did you know that spiders have eight legs AND eight eyes? Two of them are large and prominent–the better to see you with.
As I continued to look for the sparrow’s prey, I discovered an ebony jewelwing that I determined had just emerged for it posed as I took numerous photographs. Usually, they flit about like woodland fairies. Unlike its larger dragonfly cousins who have eyes in front in order to hunt, the damsels’ are on the sides. Though zoom-and-swoop attacks may not be possible for the damselfly, it can see all-round–including above and behind– giving it control of its airspace.
My wander continued and then I heard a sound and saw some action in a tree about thirty feet off trail. And just like that, in what felt like a miracle of miracles, I realized I was in the presence of the wise one.
With his eyes in front, a Barred Owl is born to hunt. For several minutes we starred at each other and I was honored by his presence. Of course, I hoped he might cook for me tonight, but he let me down. Possibly he had others more in need of supper than I was at the time.
In the end my vote was aye in favor of all the peepers I’d met along the way, both in the yard and the forested park, for I knew that the eyes had it.
Three nor’easters in two weeks. Such is March in New England. The latest delivered over twenty inches of snow beginning yesterday morning. And still the flakes fall.
But staying inside all day would be much too confining and so I stretched my legs for a few hours before giving my arms another workout with driveway cleanup duty. It was much more fun to explore and listen to the chickadees sing.
There are a few places in our woods that I find myself stopping to snap a photo each time a snowstorm graces our area. The stand of pines with their trunks snow coated was one such spot yet again. And tomorrow the scene will transform back to bare trunks and so it was one I was happy to behold in the moment.
As was the older pine that grows beside a stonewall along the cowpath and perhaps served as the mother and grandmother of all the pines in my forest–bedecked in piles of flakes, her arms reached out as if to embrace all of her offspring.
With the snow so deep, I felt like a plow as I powered through under the insulated insulators.
Finally, I reached one of the entryways to Pondicherry Park and while I love being the first of the day to leave my mark, I’d secretly hoped someone had trudged before me. But . . . a few steps at a time meant taking frequent breaks to rest and look around.
Again, it was the snow’s manner of hugging tree trunks that drew my awe.
Sometimes it reminded me of giant caterpillars climbing into the canopy.
Even the roots of a downed tree took on an artistic rendition.
And that most invasive of species in these woods, bittersweet, offered curves worth appreciating–ever so briefly, of course.
Snow blanketed fences of stone and wood.
Enhanced the bridge.
And buried a bench.
Beside Stevens Brook, it looked as if winter still had a grasp though we’re about to somersault into spring.
And the reflection in Willet Brook turned maples into birches.
At Kneeland Spring, water rushed forth in life-giving form and the sound was one we’ll soon hear everywhere as streams and brooks overflow.
I went not to see just the snow in its many variations, but also the wildlife. I found that like me, the squirrels and deer had tunneled through leaving behind troughs. And the ducks–they didn’t seem at all daunted by the mounds of white stuff surrounding them.
In fact, one female took time to preen.
I found mourning doves standing watch.
And heard robins singing.
And because I spent a fair amount of time looking down, I began to notice life by my feet, such as the snow spider–an indicator that the thermometer was on the rise. It lives in the leaf litter, but when the temp is about 30˚ or so, it’s not unusual to see one or more. Today, I saw several. And wished I had my macro lens in my pocket, but had decided to travel light.
Winter stoneflies were also on the move. They have an amazing ability to avoid freezing due to the anti-freeze in their systems.
I also found a winter dark firefly. While the species is bioluminescent, I’m not sure if this one was too old or not to still produce light.
At last the time had come for me to head home for not only was the snow still falling, but so was the sky–or so it felt each time a clump hit my head as it fell from the trees.
We’ve got snow! In fact, we’ve got snows! And in reference to a question an acquaintance from Colorado had asked yesterday–“Are you hunkered down?” My answer was, “No, Jan, I’m not. Nor is the world around me. In fact, except for the shoveling, I relish these storms as winter holds on for just a wee bit longer.”