Significant Fairies

We’d made promises in the recent past that fell flat. With that in mind, when the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Nature Explorers, a homeschool group led by Docent Juli, gathered this morning, she was smart and stuck to the life cycles of potential sightings like frogs rather than possibilities.

The group that gathered was large–24 in all with a mix of moms and their children.

Of course, being kids, they were immediately attracted to the water below the mill site at Heald Pond. But after letting them explore for a few minutes, a light whistle pulled them all together again.

At the nearby vernal pool, everyone quickly learned what larval mosquitoes looked like as they watched them somersault through the water column. A few complaints were expressed about future bites, but that was redirected to the fact that mosquitoes feed birds and dragonflies, and in their larval form, other aquatic insects.

Pond dipping became the morning habit and at first, it was only the mosquito larvae that made it into the containers.

But, that led to a quick lesson on the biting insects’ life cycle–one of many teachable moments that snuck into the morning fun.

Oh yes, those larval mosquitoes also feed amphibians and thanks to Juli’s son Aidan for finding a large Green Frog. Notice the ear disc, aka tympanum, that is located behind its eye. Given its size as being bigger than the eye, this was a male. And notice the dorsal lateral ridge or fold that extends from behind the eye down the side of its back (there’s one on either side)–that’s a clue that this is a Green Frog and not a Bull Frog, for the latter’s ridge circles around the tympanum.

As the morning went on, it turned out that today was Aidan’s day to shine for he was also the first to find a Fairy Shrimp.

A what? Yes, a Fairy Shrimp. Do you see that delicate orangish body in the middle of the tray? It’s a mini crustacean that lives only in vernal pools.

The kids all got caught up in the thrill of such a find and within minutes became pros at recognizing them.

And so the dipping continued.

Moms also got caught up in the dipping experience.

And they also found cool stuff, like Kim’s Fishfly. We kept expecting it to eat the mosquito larvae, but it seemed that they preferred to nudge it in a way we didn’t understand.

While Kim focused on her new friend, the kids were also making new friends, testing their balance, getting rather wet and muddy, and having a blast as they sought more Fairy Shrimp.

Their pan began to fill up with one, two, three, four, five and even a few more.

And then other species were discovered, including aquatic beetles and a Phantom Midge.

We’d come in hopes of at least finding Wood Frog and Spotted Salamander egg masses, which the kids quickly recognized. By the time we were ready to leave a few hours later, some of the boys had discovered the best way to spot the masses was from the crow’s nest.

But in the end, our most significant find was the Fairy Shrimp. You see, on a public walk a couple of weeks ago, when we’d promised folks such a sighting, we came up short. But today . . . they made their presence known. And with the find of just one Fairy Shrimp, the vernal pool became a significant one as recognized by the State of Maine.

A hearty thanks to Juli for leading and the moms and their kids for attending. It was such a joy to watch everyone interacting and engaging. I only wish I could have been a Fishfly on the wall at suppertime as they shared their finds of the day with other family members.

LOVE ME, love me: Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park

It had been four years since we last visited Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park and that venture took place at the end of November. We must have been Christmas shopping. Today, we were in search of a bug-repellant shirt for me (Spring shopping) and so our journey took us to Freeport. Not being a shopper, it was a quick in and out of the store and then onto Wolfe’s Neck Road.

There’s a 4.4 mile network of trails in this 200-acre park gifted to the State in 1969 by Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence M.C. Smith of Freeport. One of the stand-out features is Googins Island where Osprey have been entertaining visitors for years as they raise their young on a huge platform nest they’ve built high up in a pine. Can you see it?

Here’s a closer view–and I assume (never assume) that Momma was the one sitting on eggs. The nest has been added to each year and though I have no idea of its actual size, Osprey nests can reach 10–13 feet in depth and 3–6 feet in diameter. The depth of this one appeared to be a few feet, but the diameter was substantial.

We followed the trails and enjoyed journeys to the water where we could take in the views of Casco Bay and its islands.

And before our feet, the mix of granite pegmatite and metamorphic rock. As much as my mom always loved to walk along a beach, she was equally enchanted by the rocky coast of Maine and whenever I encounter it, I feel her presence.

I know mom would have appreciated the artistic rendition of waves created by the water and mimicked by the rock.

Again and then again, the trail was interrupted by a set of wooden steps that led us back to the water’s edge.

It was there that we spied the Common Eiders as they floated and fished.

And . . . the first Dandelion blossom of the season–for us, at least. In my modest opinion, Dandelions are under-appreciated and that fact was driven home when my guy asked, “You’re photographing a dandelion?” Yep. Check out each golden ray of sunshine with its five “teeth” representing a petal that forms a single floret. Yes, each petal is a floret. Therefore, the bloom is a composite of numerous florets. And notice how each stigma splits in two and curls. What’s not to love. Oh yeah, and though we didn’t witness it today, the pollinators love them. (SO don’t pull up the dandelions in your yard!)

The thing about Dandelions is that they leaf out first and then flower, while their cousins, Coltsfoot, which we also found along the trail, flower first and leaf out later. The wonder of it all.

Our journey took us across stepping stones,

along park-like paths (because we were in a park, after all), over roots and rocks, with ups and downs, and even a couple of bog bridges.

The sights along the way included patches of Equisetum, a living fossil. These vascular plants reproduce by spores rather than seeds and dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests. Just imagine.

While that was a treat, one of my favorite surprises was the patch of Trout Lilies that decorated the forest floor. It’s one I don’t encounter often, but because of its maroon-mottled leaves that remind some of brown or brook trout, I’ve remembered it each time we’ve met.

The nodding flower that could have been a lantern in the forest with its petals and sepals bent backward, exposed six brown stamens hanging low.

And then, and then, one of my all-time favorites in any season, a Hobblebush, showed off its May glory in new leaves and flowers. Those in our western Maine woods aren’t as advanced yet, but trust that I am watching.

Our journey was quick for we had another commitment, but still . . . we made some wonderful discoveries and especially loved the opportunity to see the Osprey on its nest.

The second in our LOVE ME, love me series had come to an end. Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park. ✓ Two down, 32 to go!

Cinco de Mayo Maine-style

When Pam asked at the end of our slow tour today what my favorite finds were, I named at least five.

First, there was the Painted Turtle that I spotted on Kezar Lake Road as I drove toward the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Long Meadow Brook Reserve. After I pulled over and approached him, he did what turtles do and retreated into his shell. Though he wasn’t feeling it, I was in celebration mode, for he represented my first turtle of the season. And I helped him cross the road.

I felt safe calling him a he for males have long fingernails. Can you see him peeking out at me in a not too pleased manner? Can’t say I blame him, but our time together was brief and soon he wandered his way while I wandered mine.

And then, another reason for celebration–Coltsfoot in bloom. I know it’s invasive, but its sunny face and scaly purplish stem that predate its leaves offer a first hint of the season’s promises of colors to come.

Coltsfoot is known by some as Filius ante patrem (the son before the father), because the bright yellow star-like flowers appear and wither before its broad, green leaves are produced.

The next sight to be considered: a small spider that, like the painted turtle, continuously eluded our focus by quickly moving to the opposite side of the beech twig. Can you spy it?

And then there were those tree buds bursting forth with life ready to unfold from within. We were offered a few early glimpses of the future and rejoiced at each sample.

At last we reached Long Meadow Brook, for which the reserve is named. And stood and looked and listened and waited and absorbed. Oh, Pam absorbed some water in her boots thanks to a leak. But she didn’t let that stop her and we each enjoyed the opportunity to let this place soak through our pores for moments that turned into a string of minutes and suddenly an hour had passed.

At long last, we pulled away and began a bushwhack through the woods beside the brook.

In so doing, we found more to celebrate, like a red squirrel refectory upon a rock and we suspected a large hole below the tree trunk and boulder had served as the larder.

Continuing on, we saw mats of black upon moss by another tree and almost wrote it off as perhaps a fungi we hadn’t met before.

But. It. Moved. As we watched, we realized the constant motion was created by springtails writhing en masse. To say it wasn’t creepy would be lying. Likewise we were fascinated and leaned in closer to watch the swarm upon the moss.

Resting nearby, perhaps having just gorged on some of those tiny little morsels, was another reason for celebration–a spring peeper. We spotted two, but heard a hundred million more, each adding its song to the symphony that arose from the wetland. And suddenly, an interval of silence would interrupt the music, and then one male would peep, and the rest would join in again until they arrived at the next rest symbol upon their sheet music.

Others added their own notes to the orchestra, including a couple of White-throated Sparrows that trilled in our midst.

Near the end of our journey, we reached a point where we could see that there was still some snow on the the Bald Face Mountains in Evans Notch, but we spotted a dragonfly and honored Trailing Arbutus flowers and rejoiced. Though our celebration didn’t have a Mexican theme, we still had at least cinco reasons to give thanks from the Painted Turtle to Coltsfoot to Bud Bursts to Squirrel Larders to Creepy Collembola to Spring Peepers to White-throated Sparrows. Really, it was more a Siete de Mayo on this Cinco de Mayo–Maine-style.

Peeking with my Peeps

As has been our custom for the past six years, on a quarterly basis an email is sent out with a date and location and at the agreed upon time any number of grads, teachers, and mentors from the Maine Master Naturalist Lewiston 2013 class gather. Today was one of those days.

The plan was to explore a vernal pool or two at the Cornwall Nature Preserve on historic Paris Hill, but . . . it didn’t take us (Pam, Beth, Alan, Dorcas, and yours truly hiding behind the lens) long to get distracted when we saw green poking through the many shades of brown on the forest floor.

Together, we scrambled through our brains searching for the name. With the season finally feeling like it’s transitioning, we realized we have to dust off the floral flashcards in our minds and start reviewing them. And then it came to us. One year ago, on May 5, we had seen the same at Smithfield Plantation as we celebrated Cinco de Mayo, Naturally. Then, however, we had keyed it out minus the flower. Today, the memory of last year’s ID slowly sifted to the forefront and by its leaves and colonial habit, we felt safe to call it Clintonia borealis or Bluebead Lily.

A few more steps and we started dipping containers into a potential vernal pool that was really too shallow and offered no apparent key characteristics. But . . . there was an owl pellet filled to the brim with hair and bones, the one sticking out by central vein of the leaf a hip bone. (Yeah, so I may sound like a smarty pants, but Dorcas pulled it out and quickly identified the bone by its structure.) Some little mammal, or two, or three, had provided a bird with a meal.

Stair-step Moss (Hylocomium splendens) was the next great find. I would have dismissed it as Big Red Stem or Pleurozium schreberi, and in so doing missed its finer points. Do you see how each year’s new growth rises from the previous, rather like ascending stair steps?

And then there was another new learning, for I’m always referring to this species of fungi as jelly ear or wood ear. But, with Alan the fungi fun guy in our midst, we learned that it’s really Brown Witch’s Butter or Exidia recisa. (Drats–it’s so much more fun to say Auricularia auricula.)

As we admired the Exidia recisa, we realized others were doing the same for we’d interrupted a slug fest. If you bump into Alan Seamans sometime, do ask him about the numbing qualities of slugs. 😉

A few more steps and we began to notice trilliums, especially the reds with their leaves of three so big and blossoms hiding. All of a sudden we know the flowers are going to burst open and we can’t wait to witness such glory.

At last we reached the pool of choice, located maybe a half mile from the parking area. Two years ago, MMNP students from the South Paris class discovered Fairy Shrimp in this pool.

Our best finds today were log cabin caddisflies! At this point in time, the caddisflies are in their larval stage and as such, they construct their temporary shelters from available materials. Think of them as the original recyclers.

Should a predator be about, like a hermit crab, the caddisfly can retreat into the house of needles or leaves or stones or whatever its preferred building material might be. Apparently, it didn’t mind us and we were honored to watch as the elongated body extended forth while it searched for food. In its larval form, these aquatic insects have a hardened head and first thoracic segment, while the abdomen remains pale and soft. Can you see the three pairs of legs?

The cool thing about caddisflies is that though they may use similar construction materials, no two are alike. Beth called them works of art.

I referred to this one as a she for the case included a Red Maple bouquet.

If you look closely, you might also note some filmy gills on the abdomen. And the grayish thing the Mrs. approached and a second later ignored. It seemed rather leech-like in its behavior, but I think it may have been a Planaria, which is a tiny unsegmented flat worm.

As we dipped for insects, we also noted plenty of Spotted Salamander spermatophores sticking up from leaves and twigs. But we could find none of their milky egg masses and wondered why.

We did, however, spy plenty of Wood Frog masses, some with their tapioca structures bubbling upon the surface, but most attached to the stems below.

And then a chiseled tree section across the pool called to us and so we made our way over to check the wood chips below. Of course, we searched for Pileated Woodpecker scat, but found none. Instead, we spotted a dead frog in the water. And just beyond it, a dead salamander.

It wasn’t pretty, but did make us question what had happened. Were the two amphibian deaths related? We don’t know, but we did note puncture marks on the Spotted Salamander’s underside, and even a nip of the end of its tail. Plus it had one slightly deformed front foot. And we learned that salamanders have poison glands in their skin, mostly on their backs and tails. Did the frog go after the salamander and both died from the experience? Or had another predator entered the pool? And then realized it had made the wrong decision?

We never did figure it out, but had fun asking questions. And as we stood there, our eyes keyed in on a bit of color at the end of a downed branch. Again, more questions and the use of our loupes as we tried to take a closer look. We debated: slime mold or insect eggs?

After looking closely and continuing to ask question, a quick poke with a twig provided the actual answer as we watched the spores puff out in a tiny cloud. Slime mold it was. Should we have poked it first? No, for that would have been too easy and we wouldn’t have taken the time to consider the possibilities.

On our way out, there was still one more discovery to make. I could have dismissed this one as a moss.

But, again Alan knew and he explained to us that it was a liverwort known as Porella platyphylloidea. And upon closer examination we could all see its three-dimensional structure as it curled out from the tree trunk.

Almost three hours later, our brains were full as we’d also examined trees, lichens, and other fungi, but our hearts were happy for the time spent in each others company sharing a collective brain.

I’m always grateful for an opportunity to peek with these peeps, even at something as common as a caddisfly because really . . . there’s nothing common about it.

Book of April: I’m in Charge of Celebrations

Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

And so it was that upon arrival home from a short hike with my guy this morning, we discovered a package addressed to me in the mailbox. When I saw the town in Florida I knew exactly from whence it had come, but still didn’t know what was inside.

Well, much to my delightful surprise it was a children’s book.

I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor with illustrations by Peter Parnall.

Upon opening to the inside cover, several pieces of paper fell out. The first was a letter from Ben and Faith Hall; though actually it was written by Ben. Here’s an excerpt: “One of my favorite children’s books is Everybody Needs a Rock. It was written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall. When Byrd Baylor’s name appeared on the cover of the book I saw, I purchased it for fifty cents.

Ben and Faith, you see, are part of a group of twelve retired residents in their Florida town who tutor second graders struggling with reading comprehension. Given that, they are always on the lookout for appropriate books to share with their students.

Ben continued in his note to me, “After reading the book, I left it by Faith’s chair without saying anything. Obviously, I wanted to see if her reaction was similar to mine. It was. The story reminds us of your blog with its information and imagination. Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Keep going!

My ulterior motive in sending you the book is that hopefully you will write a children’s book. In no way should you take time away from your blog, but with your depth of spirit it would be worthwhile.

The illustrations in the book are fascinating and remind me of your skill with photography.”

Well, Ben and Faith, thank you so much for this gift. And for your love and support for what I enjoy doing. As for the children’s book, ideas fly through my brain all the time, but . . . I’d have to self-publish and it isn’t going to happen.

As for I’m in Charge of Celebrations, I totally get it. My guy wasn’t in the house when I sat down to read it and it’s a book that needs to be read aloud. And so I did. When he walked around the corner into the living room, he thought I was talking to someone on the phone.

For those of you not familiar with the title, Baylor begins the story with an explanation of how she’s never lonely as she explores the desert.

I feel the same way and on January 11, 2019, I actually wrote, “People often ask me this question: Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone. My response is that I’m more afraid to walk down Main Street than through the woods, the reason being that it’s a rare occasion I encounter a mammal. Oh, I do move cautiously when I’m alone, but there’s something uniquely special about a solo experience.”

As Baylor goes on to say, part of the reason she’s not lonely is this: “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” Indeed. Each celebration marks the day she made an incredible discovery.

And so, I took a look back at some of my blog posts, and it’s all your fault Ben and Faith that this is a long one. But you inspired me to review some exciting discoveries I made just in the past year. With that, I attempted to follow Baylor’s style.

Friends,
while reveling
in the colors 
of dragons and damsels,
their canoodling
resulting in 
even more predators
of my favorite kind,
I met Prince Charming,
a Gray Tree Frog
who offered
not one rare glimpse, 
but two.
And so it is
that May 30th is
Gray Tree Frog Day.
For over thirty years
I've stalked this land
and July 14th
marked
the first time 

noticed
the carnivorous plant
growing beside
the lake. 
Droplets glistened
at the tips 
of the hair-like tendrils 
of each leaf
filled
to the brink 
as they were
with
insect parts. 
On this day
I celebrated
Round-leaved Sundews. 

A celebratory parade 
took place
on
September 22.
The route
followed the old course
of a local river.
Along the way,
trees stood in formation,
showing off 
 colorful new coats.
Upon some floats, 
seeds rustled 
as they prepared
to rain down
like candy tossed
to the gathered crowd. 
My favorite musicians
sported their 
traditional parade attire
and awed
those watching
from the bandstand.
With an 
"ooEEK, ooEEK,"
and a
"jeweep"
they flew 
down the route.
Before it was over
a lone lily
danced on the water
and offered
one 
last 
reflection. 
And then summer marched into autumn. 
With wonder
in my eyes
and on my mind
I spent November
in the presence 
of a Ruffed Grouse. 
The curious thing: 
the bird followed me, 
staying a few feet away
as 

tramped 
on. 

stopped. 
Frequently.
So did the bird. 
And we began 
to chat. 
I spoke quietly
to him
(I'm making a gender assumption)
and he
murmured back
sweet nothings. 
Together 
we shared the space, 
mindful
of 
each other. 
As he warmed up
below a hemlock,
I stood nearby, 
and watched, 
occasionally offering
a quiet comment, 
which he
considered
with
apparent nonchalance. 
Sometimes
the critters 
with whom we share
this natural world
do things
that make no sense,
but then again, 
sometimes we do 
the same. 
Henceforth,
November will always be 
Ruffed Grouse month 
for me. 
At 6am 
a flock of crows
outside the bedroom window
encouraged me 
to
crawl out of bed. 
Three black birds
in the Quaking Aspen
squawked
from their perch
as they stared 
at the ground.
I peeked
but saw nothing 
below.
That is,
until I looked
out the kitchen door
and tracks drew
my attention.
It
took
a
moment 
for my
sleepy brain
to click into gear, 
but when it did
I began to wonder
why the critter
had come
to the back door
and sashayed about
on the deck. 
Typically,
her journey
takes her
from under the barn
to the hemlock stand.
Today,
as the flakes fell, 
and the birds scolded,
she sat on the snowpile,
occasionally retreated 
to her den, 
grunted, 
re-emerged, 
and then
disappeared
for the day. 
I went out again
at dusk
in hopes
of seeing 
the prickly lady
dig her way 
out
but 
our time schedules
were not synchronized. 
I don't know
why she behaved
strangely this morning,
but I do know this:
when the crows caw--listen.
And look. 
And wonder. 
April 8th
will be the day
I celebrate
the Barred Owl
for he finally
flew in
and landed.
As I watched
he looked about
at the 
offering of treats. 
Cupcakes and cookies
were for sale
to the left
in the form
of Juncos and Chickadees. 
And then he turned 
his focus right, 
where drinks
were on tap
as the snowflakes fell.
He even
checked out 
the items 
below his feet, 
hoping upon hope 
to find
a morsel
of a vole
to his liking. 
Eventually, 
he changed
his orientation
to take 
a better look 
at the 
entire spread
of food. 
But still, 
he couldn't
make up his mind
and so
he looked some more, 
swiveling 
his neck. 
In the end,
he never did 
choose. 
Instead,
off he flew 
without munching 
any of 
the specialty items. 
But I finally got to see my owl. 

Ah, Ben and Faith, there are moments when one miraculously arrives in the right place at the right time, such as when a dragonfly emerges from its exuvia and slowly pumps blood into its body and you get to be a witness.

It strikes me as serendipity that this book should arrive today. You see, all month I’ve been debating what book to feature and time was of the essence as May approached. And then today, your lovely note, a copy of I’m in Charge of Celebrations, and the Christmas homily you wrote, Ben.

You are both the salt of the earth and I am honored to be your friend. Thank you for your kindness. (I’m only now realizing that we’ve shared a few celebrations that we’ll never forget including the fawn at Holt Pond and your smiling Bob the Bass.

Once again, the April Book of the Month: I’m in Charge of Celebrations.

I’m in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986.

Doubting Spring?

Finicky weather–rain one day and then another, sunshine the next, and then snow in the forecast as it is for Tuesday morning. But still, all the signs are there.

Take for instance the clumps of deer hair that have been shed and now decorate areas where the ungulates do bed.

And the masses of eggs attached to twigs and vegetation within vernal pools, the Spotted Salamander’s a milky white contrasting the Wood Frogs tapioca presentation.

Then there’s the winter firefly in one of his favorite habitats where the water stands still . . . until a breeze ripples across.

And within the water column, the wriggling Larval Mosquitoes continuously somersault, while the Phantom Midge floats as it waits for a meal to pass by.

Drone flies do just that–fly, their compound eyes announcing alarm as they take in every teensy bit of movement in the surrounds.

The sight of a wooly caterpillar might make one think the season is six months out, but a cryoprotectant in its tissues so it can literally freeze solid, has thawed and the fuzzy little bear crawls.

The Saco River with Mount Tom behind was another sign, for over its banks had it flowed.

And then, where previously I’d spotted only the vixen, not one or two, but five kits frolicked.

Mom was nowhere in sight, but I trusted she had sent them out to get some fresh air while she cleaned the den.

A move to another location, brought more sights and scents and sounds, but one of the most delightful was that of the sweet-fern–its spicy aroma suddenly filling the air.

And at a semipermanent pool, a few wrucks chorused by distant Wood Frogs.

But by my feet, Eastern Red-spotted Newts swam about camouflaged by last year’s foliage.

One climbed another, and then slide off, any mating waiting for another time. Curiously it also mounted a Bull Frog tadpole, but quickly moved on when it wasn’t well received.

The chunky Bull Frog larvae had overwintered as tadpoles, but their metamorphosis into adult form probably won’t be completed by the end of this season or the next.

In fact, it can take several years for them to completely develop. In the meantime, they sat motionless basking in the diluted sunlight offered.

There was so much to see on this day and only so much time, but from the Red Maple flowers falling to the ground to the Tamarack needles growing with new life, I knew that every moment was fleeting.

This is a time to not let life pass you by. Rather–be like the Bull Frog tadpoles and slow down.

Make time to watch. Every. Single. Subtle. Change. For even though the temperature may still feel raw at times and snow is in the forecast, it really is spring in western Maine. Don’t be a doubting Thomas or you’ll miss the transformation.

In the Middle of the Bubble

We were going to go. We weren’t going to go. In the end, we each took a break from work and met at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Research Forest.

Alanna said we could get away with calling it work because we were, after all, conducting research–on where the vernal pools were located. And so we listened and followed our ears as we bushwhacked through the woods. Peeps and wrucks and trills filled the air and we beelined their way. Suddenly we emerged beside the Red Maple Swamp.

Of course, the symphony cut off upon our arrival, and so after sitting and standing still for a few minutes, we decided to step into the water and search for egg masses. Maybe it was the lighting. Maybe we didn’t look hard enough, though Alanna did find at least one Wood Frog mass after she crossed over a log.

While she was still on the other side, I headed back up onto the land, and a few feet from the water I was stopped in my tracks by a large snake.

Its mouth gaped in a fashion that could almost have been a smile. For a few minutes I watched and the mouth never closed. That’s when I realized that it was dead.

As Alanna made her way back to see it, she found a deep hole and one of her boots filled with water. Being the person she is, she got out of the muck, emptied it, and . . .

despite the fact that we were both intrigued and a wee bit freaked out about the snake, she picked it up. If you’ve never seen a Northern Water Snake, they are big. And what if it wasn’t really dead, though we were sure that it was. But what if it wasn’t?

It dangled from her hands as over and over again she said, “I can’t believe I’m holding a snake.” Her grinning grimace echoed those words.

Because she’s a collector of fine things like scat, she had brought along a bag and so into it went the snake. Still, she continued to repeat, “I can believe I’m holding a snake.”

Just a few feet away, we found another kill site. A woodpecker had met its demise.

And only feet from that–a deer vertebrae. It became clear that life happens by the swamp; and nearby was an owl pellet filled with bones. We doubted the owl had anything to do with the deer, but what about the snake and bird? Maybe it wasn’t the owl, but some other bird of prey. Why hadn’t the snake been consumed? Or the bird plucked? As usual, more questions than answers. At last we decide to move on because we heard a wetland chorus calling our names on the other side of the next hill.

I followed Alanna until she stopped abruptly. In her path about twenty or thirty feet from the water, another water snake. This one even bigger. And . . . alive. The sun’s rays weren’t strong, but we suspected it was trying to get warm. For a few minutes we stood and watched and then finally decided we could walk by without a problem. And we did. That being said, every step we took after that included a search just in case more snakes lurked about.

The amphibian calls drew us to the area where a river flows through the swamp.

It was there that we found more signs of life including Canada Geese,

Red-winged Blackbirds,

and rather recent beaver works. At that point, Alanna had to depart, but I stayed for about an hour longer and wandered along the edge of the wetland.

My finds continued for where I looked for frogs by a coppiced tree, instead I found a tussock moth caterpillar frozen in time. It had remained attached firmly to the twig all winter because I suspected it had been parasitized by a mummy wasp.

And then it was uphill toward a rocky ledge that I tromped because the ground was carpeted with hemlock twigs. I knew who had cut and dropped them, and wondered if I might spy a den.

Where I thought there was a den below, I was wrong. But . . . atop the downed tree was another kill site. This time it looked like a Junco had been the source of food.

And on a leaf, the bird’s blood stains.

Not far from the feathers and blood, I did find what I was looking for–a porcupine den and its telltale pile of scat flowing forth.

Murder and mayhem you might think. But death is part of the web of life, which also sustains us.

Today, Alanna and I went seeking egg masses and instead found ourselves surrounded by so many other things. It all made me realize I am only one tiny speck in the middle of the bubble.