I’ve recently felt like the wonder disappeared from my wanders. And so I hoped a tramp late this afternoon around Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve held the tonic.
We parked at the corner of Perley and Chaplin’s Mill Road, and hauled our snowshoes to the trailhead about a half mile down Chaplin. A few steps in and we decided to stash the shoes and proceed, sure that the snow depth would be on our side and we wouldn’t posthole too much. Until we did. And abruptly turned around to fetch the snowshoes, proving time and again how wise we are.
I was following my guy, so of course it didn’t take us long to get down to the pond, where love was written across the sky in the form of a squished heart and I knew my sense of wonder was about to kick back into gear.
Back on the trail, it was a pileated hole that stopped me in my tracks. Okay, so that happens on a regular basis, but take a closer look with me.
First there was the inner bark, call it cinnamon or mauve, or some crayola color between, with a delightfully bumpy texture, and I knew I had a winner. But there was more. Take a closer look. Do you see the horizontal lines where the woodpecker must have scraped its beak against the bark? And the fibers of the wood? And the depth of the hole? Certainly, this woodpecker must have found something worth drilling for in the depths of this hemlock.
Anyone who knows me well, knows that once I spy a pileated woodpecker’s excavation hole, the debris below becomes a focus of my attention.
I was not disappointed. What some may see as a silver caterpillar, I knew to be the cylindrical scat of the Woody Woodpecker of the woods. The compact package was coated with the bird’s uric acid, but it was the contents that really mattered. While I looked, so did a few others–do you see a couple of springtails, aka snow fleas–at least one on the wood chips and another on the snow?
With my continued perusal, a second scat appeared. Look closely at the darker sections and you may see some body parts of the carpenter ants and tree beetles that the pileated woodpecker sought from the inner confines of the hemlock tree.
My guy was patient as I looked and then we continued our journey. At the first stream crossing, where a bog bridge seemed to have disappeared, he practiced his inner ballerina (don’t tell him I said that) and leaped to the other side, landing a jeté: a leap taking off from one foot and landing on the other.
Since the pileated’s scat leant itself to my insect quest, I continued to look and smiled each time I spied a funnel spider’s holey web no longer in use. Check out all the points of attachment that strengthened the structure when it was in use.
In what seem like no time we reached a former log landing where he was astonished by the fact that pine saplings had grown into teens. And then he looked at one and asked, “Is that a red pine?”
“Yes,” I replied as I took a closer look and spied the tiniest of tiny homes among its needles. Do you see the circular cut in the center? It was the former home of a pupating pine “circular” sawfly. Their cocoons are everywhere and once you see one, you’ll see a million. If cut like this one, the insect departed when conditions were right, but if completely intact then life grows within.
At places along the trail, it was other compositions that bore witness to the nature of the community, such as this icy ornament that dangled like a stocking from one hemlock twig to another.
Another hemlock offered the vision of a forest wizard, his face, albeit, rather long and gnarly. His lips, pursed. His eyes, narrow. Certainly he had a lot to contemplate.
Throughout much of the preserve, which made sense given that it was a wetland habitat, fisher prints prevailed, its five tear-drop shaped toes adding a clue to its identification.
Check out that diagonal orientation that trackers look for because it tells them that the mammal who bounded across the landscape was a member of the weasel family.
Reading tracks isn’t easy, but learning the idiosyncrasies of family patterns, preferred community, and finer details such as number of toes and measurement of prints adds to the knowledge bank and enhances the trek for suddenly, even though you may not see the mammals that have left behind their calling cards, you can still get a sense of those with whom you share a presence in the woods.
The more we tramped today, the more I realized that there were sweet things to notice, like a snow-plop spotted hemlock twig that offered a suggestion of winter’s Swiss cheese.
An enlarged yellow birch catkin, formed by the tree to protect its seeds held tightly within, mimicked a wreath on the snow, and reminded me of the circle of life it represented.
And then I spotted one who perhaps best represented life. Foremost in consideration was the fact that it was alive. And second, that an antifreeze we can hardly comprehend allows it to remain active throughout the winter. Spiders on snow? Worth a wonder.
Our journey progressed as the lighting changed given the late hour of the day and our position on the globe. At times it seemed night would descend any minute.
And into the night tramped my guy, crossing a bog bridge he built several years ago. But . . . slow yourself down rather than try to keep up with him. What do you notice? Clue: to the left of his bridge?
Do you see the muddy line extending upward from the water? And the finger-like prints left on the snow. Yup. The signature of a local raccoon left behind like a done deal on a piece of property.
At last we reached my nemesis, the very spot where almost two years ago my feet flew out from under me, my wrist hit the edge of the boardwalk with a wallop, and suddenly I was a southpaw. It’s become my place of pause and contemplation. To go or not to go. Today, my guy did the same.
And then he went, assuring me from the other side that all was well. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard those words before.
I followed as I often do and gave thanks that I safely made it to the other side, where the snowy mounds and reflections offered a taste of mid-winter reflection.
Our journey across the snow-covered boardwalks through the wetland showed off the fruiting structures of many wetland shrubs, but surprisingly, winterberry offered the most brilliant form.
Eventually, we found our way out to the pond again via the quaking bog, following a fox track that we’d encountered during much of our journey.
Given that there were no dragonflies to spy at the pond’s edge, after a few moments we headed back into the woods.
At the next spur choice, we took it, and headed out to Muddy River, where the beaver resort included its big house, little house structure, bespeaking the New England tradition of home construction.
A bit of open water prevented us from taking a personal look.
But, freshly carved logs at the peak of the lodge bespoke recent activity. Similar activity below was questionable, but my whimsical mind wondered if they’d tried to set up a fire pit.
Our journey was coming to a close as we continued across the boardwalks through the wetlands, where within blueberry stems a baker’s dozen of wasp larvae pupate. The gall’s kidney-shaped form is easy to spy.
Following the Muddy River out, we couldn’t resist its late afternoon relections.
Beside the river another weasel showed its form in the prints of a mink.
Diagonal, diagonal, diagonal, so is a weasel pattern.
At last, before climbing up to the Emerald Field that would lead us back to our starting point, we paused beside the brook and let it work it’s magic in the sound of flowing water, but also the forms and reflection and colors and wonder. Moments of wonder. I gave great thanks for yet again Holt Pond had worked its magic.