Cascading Mondate

Yeah, so on Sunday my guy and I hiked about four miles all told and found three geocaches in the mix cuze he’s now hooked, which is fun on my end since it slows him down a wee bit.

And on Monday–almost eight miles covered. But it wasn’t the mileage that mattered. Really.

Our morning began beside still waters. Well, the water was hardly still, but considering how crowded the area can be on a summer day, it was a delight to be the only two human beings in that space for those moments.

It’s a cool spot on many levels. No, we didn’t slide into the pool below; nor did we jump off the 20-foot cliff. Rather, we stood in awe and appreciated. That is, after finding another geocache located nearby.

Eventually, we pulled ourselves away because there was more water to meet, though we were surprised to arrive at a closed gate. No signs forbid our trespass and so we walked around the gate, and up the dirt road to the parking area and kiosk. On the way, we could hear a machine being operated and wondered if we’d stumbled upon a logging operation. A few minutes further along, a young man with an easy grin pulled up in a pick-up truck and knowing that the gate behind us was closed, we figured he must have something to do with the property. Sure enough, he told us they were working on the roadway and bike path ahead. The gate is closed for hunting season, but will reopen in the winter. Still, we were welcomed to hike on.

Half a mile later, we slipped into the woods and left the machinery sounds behind.

Occasionally, we walked across bog bridges and into the future.

Looking down at our feet was a constant, given that there were lots of slippery beech leaves to contend with, but . . . beech leaves mean one thing: American Beech Trees. And much to our delight, smack dab beside the trail stood a well-used beech tree. Some of the claw scratches weren’t all that old, given the width of the scars, and though this year proved to be yet another mast year for Northern Red Oaks (is it just me, or have red oaks been producing acorns on a yearly basis for at least the past five years?) it wasn’t so for the beeches. But perhaps last year or the year before or maybe a few years ago, this tree was a magnet for Ursus americanus.

We could have turned around then for our hearts were delighted, but, of course, we didn’t and soon found ourselves beside a single-wide stone wall.

Barbed wire that a tree had grown around told us the wall was intended to keep animals in . . . or out, depending on your point of view.

Certainly the tree knew, and had we spent a few more minutes with it, I suspect it would have quietly shared more knowledge with us, but we were on a quest and knew we only had so much daylight left.

And so, we hiked on. Until we reached one rather large blow-down and wondered: if a tree falls in a forest . . . Our answer: it land on the ground. Presumably with a thump. And this one must have created a ground-shaking thump.

Not far above the tree, a fanciful picnic table graces a knoll, and invites all questers, including this guy, to pause.

He didn’t pause for long. Back on the trail, as we climbed higher, the naturally community did what it does, and changed. For a bit, the delightful aroma of Balsam Fir spurred us forward, both by our feet and by our thoughts of the holiday season to come.

At last we reached water, and I thought our quest might be over. Could this be what we sought? As much as I loved watching bubbles form and pop, I was rather disappointed.

But after crossing rocks to get to the other side, the fall coloration of Tiarella (Heartleaf Foamflower) in all its hairiness called for attention.

And then, as we entered an opening where pine saplings grew in the sun, one showed off its crosier-shaped leader–bent over as commanded by a pine weevil. The tree will grow, but the live whorl of branches below will take over as leaders and change its stature.

Did I mention that the natural community kept changing? My guy and I soon realized that that was one of the things we really enjoyed about the trail, for there was so much diversity. And just steps beyond the weeviled pine, we entered a beech stand, where you know who had lumbered before us.

As much as we knew we needed to keep moving, we couldn’t help but search and didn’t have to stare far off trail to see evidence of so many bear claw trees. We figured we spied at least 25, though ask me tomorrow and I may say 30. They were everywhere and we wondered how many more we had missed.

But . . . there was more to see and so down a portion of trail that the young man we’d met had created all on his own and opened only last week, did we tramp. It was so new that the ground practically sprang under our feet. Can ground sprang?

We’d reached our quest at last and had to hurry three plus miles back as quickly as possible, promising each other not to stop and recount the bear trees, and we emerged at the parking lot as the sun was setting, with only the half mile walk down the road to our truck left to complete.

Oh, but what was our quest? It wasn’t a geocache this time.

And it wasn’t the bear trees; though they were a bonus.

Rather, it was the water that cascaded forth in three locations on this Mondate and already has us dreaming of return visits–though on a day when we either begin hiking earlier or there’s more daylight so we don’t have to hike down in twilight.

Thank you, Rosemary Wiser, for hiking this trail before us and giving us the inspiration.

May the Wonder Never Cease

I’m pretty sure everything others and I see are ordinary, but we manage to make them extraordinary because we feel like we’ve been honored with gifts when we notice them. And so it has happened that in the last three days I’ve had the opportunity to notice some rather mundane sights.

First, there was the Solitary Sandpiper foraging for insects in a kettle bog. I was with six others and we weren’t exactly silent as we stood by the muddy margin of the water, and yet the bird never acknowledged our presence, but we were certainly in awe of its company.

In that same space a Catbird crying its meow calls also foraged and our eyes flickered from one to the other as we tried to keep track of their movements.

It wasn’t just “our” feathered friends who garnered our attention for we love mud and happened to be standing in some and what’s mud without mammal prints? As in . . . Black Bear prints.

Indeed. We even took time to measure the straddle or distance from the outside of the hind print on the left-hand side of Ursus Americanus’ body to the far side of its front foot print–about 20 centimeters in total. Also in the corridor, prints of raccoons a many, and a fox.

Though bears and raccoons and foxes may all be omnivores, taking advantage of whatever meal might be available in the moment, there were a few carnivores in the mix–including the most beautiful of all: Pitcher Plants with their tree of life decorated pitcher-style leaves.

One more carnivore who had somehow survived being consumed by a bird or another member of the Odonata family also honored us–in its last moments of life: a Sedge Darner Dragonfly.

We studied its markings on both abdomen and face, which helped in identification, and then watched as it cocked its head and let forth one last sigh. We were there for it in the moment and now it rests upon my desk.

If that wasn’t enough, the next day three of us walked another large swath of land in the same vicinity and one among us with a keen eye spotted this little gem upon a Bracken Fern. (Thanks M.Y.) The baby Gray Tree Frog was not larger than a Spring Peeper and it struck us that it was a wee bit cold as the morning had dawned and indeed when we passed by again an hour and a half later, it was still in the same position, though as we approached we did notice it move, so we knew it had more life in it than the Sedge Darner.

In the same woodland, we spied a Hermit Thrush, who made itself know not by its melodic song that we enjoyed for much of the summer, but rather by its behavior as it stood upon the stump and then darted to the ground as it foraged before hopping back on the stump. These swaths of land–how important they are to support all of this wildlife that needs each other to survive. And us to notice so that we don’t go crazy and alter the land so much that they lose their habitat.

Today, the offerings continued. And in the midst of some important information being shared about a conserved property, a wee Painted Turtle was spotted. The acorns offered a certain sense of size.

You know how puppies seem to need to grow into their paws? That’s how I felt about this turtle. Not only did it have to grow into its feet and claws, but also its head. And then there was the attitude as exhibited on its face, though that may have had something to do with the fact that a bunch of us were in its space and we tried once or twice to reroute it, but it had its own idea of a mission and really, who are we to tell it where to go?

One might think that all of that was enough. But . . . was it? Well, in another space that is a private property under conservation easement, a metallic Oil Blister Bug made itself known.

It’s not one known to fly and if you take a closer look, you’ll note that its wings are rather limited given its overall size. But that color. Oh my!

The crème de la crème, however, may not be the clearest photo, but it was the coolest find of all: a black Eastern Chipmunk. One other and I had been listening to a Barred Owl call when we heard the sound of scampering nearby.

I’ve been receiving reports of the black chipmunk’s existence in the area the past few weeks, but was still totally surprised to make its acquaintance at least a half mile or more away from where others had seen one. Is there more than one?

As I understand it, the black color is caused by too much of the pigment melanin, which with elevated amounts results in dark skin, feathers, scales, or in this case, fur.

From the ordinary to the extraordinary, may the wonders never cease.