Cached In My Heart

I knew it was going to be a great day when snowflakes began to fall. And when asked the day before how I intended to spend yesterday, I said I’d probably read, bake, and knit. But . . . those plans were postponed for a few hours because that white stuff was falling and I heard it calling my name.

Thankfully, it was only my name that it called and for the first time since March, I stepped back into Pondicherry Park, a place that I love, but have intentionally avoided because so many others have discovered it as a tonic to the worries of the pandemic and I wanted to give them space, knowing I could find plenty of other places to explore with the same quest in mind. But . . . it was snowing, and I suspected that others might be home reading and baking and, well, maybe even knitting, and I would have the place to myself.

Soon, however, I discovered that I wasn’t really alone for even though the snow wasn’t piling up, tiny tracks on boardwalks indicated others were scampering about.

A few minutes into the hike, bright green moss invited me off trail to examine the base of pine where a hole beneath the tree . . .

and a cone still intact made me wonder: If this was the home of a little scamperer, what might it be eating other than this cone?

And then I twisted right–in more ways than one. And spread out along a downed pine and all around the base of another–a huge cache/midden: the cache being a collection of cones gathered and stored; and the midden being the refuse pile of scales and cobs left behind after the seeds were consumed.

I’ve been looking for one of these for a few weeks as the air temperature has dropped and wondered when the little guys would get their acts together and gather a supply to see them through winter.

One among them had, indeed, been busy, not only gathering, but dining, and with today being Thanksgiving, you might think this critter had the longest dining room table because it intended to invite everyone over for a meal.

But, its a feisty diner, and each meal is consumed quickly, with some chits and chats warning others to stay away–social distancing naturally.

Peeking under the dinner table, I discovered some cones tucked away in the pantry . . .

others in the fridge, with the door left open, thus exposing them to the elements . . .

and a few in cold storage.

On the other side of the pine table, holes in the midden showed the downstairs and upstairs doorways: all leading to Rome–or rather, the cache that must have been huge based on the size of the midden left behind. I did feel concern that so much had been consumed and there might not be enough for winter survival.

No need to worry. On the backside of the tree, three were tucked into furrows–making me think of a $20 bill stored away in a wallet, just in case.

My journey through the park eventually continued and meant a few pauses at favorite haunts, including one where the reflection nourishes my little friends . . . and me.

Occasionally more boardwalks curve through the landscape offering their own reflection–of this past year, which has taught us all that when there are curves in the road, we should follow and embrace them.

And if a hemlock grows beside a pine, it’s okay to cache your pinecone supply atop the former’s roots. You don’t always have do what the rest of us expect you to do.

Especially if you are the creator of the caches–a feisty Red Squirrel, ever ready to give chase to your siblings and chitter at any intruders such as me.

Of course, if you are a Gray Squirrel, you’ll take a different approach to winter preparations and store one acorn at a time and hope you remember where you left each one.

Three hours later, I finally found my way home, grateful that the stars had aligned, it had snowed, and I had the trails to myself. And then I began to bake, but never got around to reading or knitting or even writing this post for the phone kept ringing and there were envelopes and gifts to open, messages and emails galore to read, and cake to consume, and though we can’t be with our family or friends today, I gave thanks that on my birthday the squirrels let me share their world for a wee bit and I was showered with so much love–that I’ve cached in my heart.

Summer Falls

Today dawned the chilliest in a while with 29˚ registering on the thermometer at 6am. But as these September days do, it warmed up a bit and I didn’t need my gauntlet mittens, aka hand-made wrist warmers, for long.

As I ventured forth, I noticed, however, that the fairies had worked like crazy and prepared for the temperature and their beds were well covered.

Further along, Cinnamon fern fronds curled into themselves as is their manner at this time of year, but really, it looked like they had donned caterpillar coats in an attempt to stay cozy. So named cinnamon for the color of their separate fertile frond in the spring, the late season hue also sings their common name.

Upon another stalk that also appeared cinnamon in color, paused a Swamp Spreadwing Damselfly, its days diminishing as its a summer flyer.

For a while, I stood in an area where Bog Rosemary and Cotton Grass grow among a variety of others. One of those others blooms late in the season and added a tad bit of color to the display.

As I wandered, I wondered. Where are the pollinators? For the early hours I suspected they were tucked under the flowers, but eventually the day warmed enough and the action began and no one was busier than this Bumblebee.

Maybe that’s not entirely true, for Hover Flies did what they do: hovered. And occasionally landed.

Notice the hairy fringe? Hover or Drone Flies as they are also known, mimic bees in an attempt to keep predators at bay. Perhaps the hair also keeps the cold temp from tamping down their efforts?

Crossing streams more than several times, Water Striders skated while the tension between feet and water created reflections of the still green canopy and blue sky. And do you notice the tiny red water mites that had hitched a ride on the strider?

Meandering along, the natural community kept changing and so did the plant life. One of my favorites, Hobblebush, spoke of three seasons to come: autumn’s colorful foliage, winter’s naked buds a bit hairy in presentation, and spring’s global promise of a floral display forming between the buds.

One might think this was a serene hike in the woods and through the wetlands. One would be slightly wrong. Ah, there were not man-made sounds interrupting the peace, but the grasshoppers and cicadas did sing, birds did forage and scatter and forage some more, and red squirrels did cackle. A. Lot.

Perhaps their dirty faces indicated the source of their current food source: white pine seeds. It certainly looked like sap dripped from facial hairs.

And I’m pretty sure I heard a request for sunflower seeds and peanuts to be on the menu soon.

I wandered today beside a muddy river,

through a Red Maple swamp,

and into a quaking bog.

In each instance it was obvious: Summer falls . . . into autumn. It’s on the horizon.

Myrtle’s Morning

Meet Myrtle. Yes, she’s a turtle.

A Snapping Turtle to be exact. Chelydra serpentina is her scientific name: Chelydra meaning “tortoise” and serpentina deriving from the Latin word serpentis, which means “snake,” in reference to her long tail.

Myrtle’s neighborhood is one where carnivorous plants grow in abundance and right now show off their parasol-like flowers.

I spend some time with the old girl who certainly deserves a parasol to shield her from the sun. Turtles of her type don’t reach sexual maturity until their carapace, or upper shell, measures about eight inches in length and that doesn’t typically happen until they are at least seven. Myrtle’s is at least eight inches, maybe even longer, but I didn’t dare get too close and risk disturbing her. Nor do I ask her her age, cuze after all, we women stand together on such issues.

Below her Pitcher Plant bouquet grow its leaves shaped like . . . pitchers and filled with water and digestive juices. Downward facing hairs attract insects into the trap, and once within the pitfall, there is no escape. The prey drowns in the nectar and body gradually dissolves, providing the plant with nutrition it can’t possibly get from the acidic soil in the community.

Myrtle doesn’t really care. Her back legs are busy digging in the sand and it isn’t to plant a garden full of Pitcher Plants.

Also at home in Myrtle’s neighborhood are Crimson-ringed Whiteface dragonflies, the male showing off a brilliant red thorax.

While the dragonfly poses, waiting for a moment before taking flight to defend its territory or find a gal, Myrtle begins to press her front toes down while simultaneously lowering the back end of her carapace.

Within minutes, the male Crimson finds a date and the two become one, so engrossed in each other as such that they don’t really notice what Myrtle might be up to today.

In a form all her species’ own, Myrtle stands up on her tippy toes and moves that carapace up like the bed of a dump truck ready to make a deposit.

All the while, songs birds ring forth their joyous sounds accompanied by the strums of Green Frogs.

Sometimes Myrtle winks or perhaps its a grimace and other times she smiles with absolute glee. That or she captures a fly or a breath.

Another neighbor also uses its mouth for more than just its usual chitter. Despite the acorn in its mouth, Red Squirrel speaks around the edges and greets Myrtle without dropping its great find.

Meanwhile, Myrtle’s back end dips lower and lower.

I offer her a word of warning for I notice that there’s evidence of some neighbors she may not appreciate–raccoons to be exact based on their tracks.

In that moment, however, Myrtle doesn’t give a hoot about who might be lurking in the shadows waiting to dig up the contents of her hole during the dark of night that will fall hours and hours later.

She’s spent over an hour digging a hole with her hind feet and depositing eggs as evidenced by the plop, plop that I hear. Even though I cannot see them, I trust that more than 40 have filled the hole as she continues to dig and tamp, dig and tamp. It will be several months before they hatch and then, even another week at least before the wee ones slip into the water, and the fact that she lays so many is important because truly predators such as raccoons and skunks and foxes and coyotes may help themselves to Eggs Myrtle.

But for today, Myrtle’s morning was the most important thing on her mind and I delighted in being able to share it with her and her neighbors.

Fair-feathered Friends

Thankfully, the prediction for 8-12 inches of snow for today didn’t come true. But it did snow, rain and sleet. And the birds were on the move.

b-red-winged 2

The moment I stepped out the door to fill the feeders and spread seed and peanuts on the ground I was greeted by the kon-ka-reeee of the red-winged blackbirds who stopped by for a few hours. Their songs filled the air with the promise of spring.

b-cowbirds

And with them came a few friends. Or were they? It seemed the cowbirds may have been scheming.

b-cowbird female

Mrs. Cow perhaps choosing others who might raise her young one day soon.

b-song sparrow

Another recent visitor also added its song to the chorus and its streaked breast to the landscape–such is the manner of the song sparrow.

b-tree sparrow1

American tree sparrows, on the other hand, have been frequent flyers all winter. This one paused long enough to show off its bicolored bill and white wing bars.

b-robins

And then there were those who chose to visit from a distance–the American robins appeared as ornaments in the oak and maple trees.

b-crow sentry

Meanwhile, a crow stood sentry–allowing all to eat in peace as it was ever ready to announce any intruders.

b-white-breasted nuthatch

And so they came and went–some upside down like the white-breasted nuthatch.

b-chickadee waiting

Others waiting patiently for a turn,

b-chickadee at feeder

confident in the knowledge that the wait was worth the reward.

b-chick and junco

But not all . . .

b-junco in lilac

that waited . . .

b-junco waiting

remained patient.

b-junco--cigar?

The juncos gobbled the seeds . . .

b-junco with peanut

and the peanuts.

b-junco fight 1a

And like siblings, they squabbled . . .

b-junco fight 1

with attitude . . .

b-junco fight 2

and insistence.

b-junco fight 3

Of course, there was always a winner.

b-junco up close

I love these plump winter visitors with their head and flanks completely gray, contrasting white  breasts and pale pink bills–making the junco an easy ID.

b-gray squirrel

They weren’t the only gray birds to visit the feeders. Oh, you mean a gray squirrel isn’t a bird?

b-squirrel in its tracks

Nor is the red. Don’t tell them that.

b-deer in yard

The same is true of this dear friend, who first spied some action in the distance . . .

b-deer looking at me

and then turned its eyes on the bird seed and me. But with one periscope ear, it still listened to the action to my right.

b-deer flying away

And then as fast as the birds that feed here all day, but flit in and out when they hear the slightest noise or sense a motion, the deer turned and flew off as a car drove up the road.

I played the role of a fair-weather naturalist today as I watched my feathered friends from indoors.

With friends in mind, I dedicate this post to my mom’s dear friend, Ella, who passed peacefully in her sleep the other day. I trust Mom has put the coffee pot on and she, Aunt Ella and Aunt Ruth are watching the birds out the kitchen window. 

 

 

What’s Next?

I chose to walk intentionally today, pausing every few moments to look and wonder. I didn’t want to rush, always seeking the next best thing.

And so I began with a stop to admire the great lobelia that continues to bloom  despite the frost we’ve had this past week.

Great lobelia

But it was at a former log landing we can see from the kitchen window, that “what’s next” kicked into gear.

log landing 10+ years ago

While the field beyond our stone wall is mowed once a year, this area has been allowed to follow the order of succession for cleared land. Goldenrod, asters, meadowsweet, grasses and raspberries have filled this space. What will follow?

deer print

Further along, the deer and

moose prints

the antelope, I mean, moose play. No fresh bobcat or coyote prints after this morning’s rain, but I saw some scat from both. And I had to remind myself not to have expectations. That’s the thing. It’s so easy to get caught up in looking for the next best thing and forgetting to focus on the moment, the beauty and the complexity that surrounds us.

water droplets on big-tooth aspen

So I did–focus that is. On the big tooth aspen leaf decorated with rain droplets,

asters gone to seed

aster seeds waiting for their moment of dispersal,

barbed wire

a hemlock that long ago knew this forest as farmland,

autumn meadowhawk

 an autumn meadow hawk soaking up the late afternoon sun,

life on a stump

the variety of life growing on a stump,

hemlock saplings on stump

and hemlock saplings taking root.life on a tree 2

life on a tree 3

life on tree 5life on tree 7

My eyes were drawn to all manner of life growing on trees that are past their prime, from woodpeckers and sapsuckers to mosses and fungi, including violet-toothed, birch and tinder polypores, plus Jack O-Lanterns that glow in the night.

old tinder conk

I found an older tinder conk springing forth with life as it gleans sustenance from its host,

chaga

chaga, that hardened mass of hyphae that is proclaimed to be life-giving,

mossy maple

mossy maple polypores growing in a wound, as is their preference,

mossy maple mushroom:field dog lichen

and more mossy maple, this time covered with the brownish-gray lobes of field dog lichen, which typically grows on the ground. Huh?  Creation at work. Soil forming on top of the moss covered fungi–certainly a fertile ground.

quartz

I found quartz where I expected to find only granite,

royal fern

a small royal fern holding court on its own,

sensitive fern

and the bead-like fruiting stalk of the sensitive fern.

 red squirrel

I saw plenty of birds, including a few ruffed grouse that I startled as they startled me. This and other red squirrels chatted insistently whenever I was near.

beech tree captures late afternoon rays

And I saw the sun’s rays reflected by the beech leaves.

trail 1

Sometimes following trails, other times bushwhacking, I wondered what will become of this forest.

tree opening

Open spaces invite pioneers to settle down.

Pleasant Mtn

In other places, those that long ago gained a foothold continue to enjoy the view–of Pleasant Mountain.

4 birches

Making my way homeward, I found myself in the presence of the birch clan–paper, yellow, black and gray–how sweet it is.

fleeting moments of fall foliage

As the foliage enjoys its final fleeting moments, I intentionally move from wondering what’s next to enjoying what’s now.