Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Heat

July 6, 2010 midday
Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Concord MA

Write while the heat is in you.
HDT Journal, 1852

The weather forecast was for bright sun and high temperatures over the next few days. Now, where I live, 80 degrees counts as “high temperatures.” It’s a relative rarity in upstate New York -- maybe 10 days out of the year are that sultry.

My Thoreauvian pal Corky, who lives in Florida, arrived in Concord yesterday. I figured she would be more used to such weather. She begged to differ, saying that in Florida’s summer heat, one hops from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned building.

Well, none of that where we were staying. Or in most places in town. It seemed just as hot (and stuffier) indoors.

So I followed my original plan to go walking at Great Meadows today. It was supposed to be a short walk – and there would be shady places, here and there along the trail, to get out of the noonday sun.

I didn’t even take the bottle of water in my daypack, but instead left it in the car.

My idea was to stroll around, botanizing and watching birds. Great Meadows is famous among birders for the variety of species that pass this way (usually in spring and fall.)

The American Lotus was in bloom as far as you could see. The dinner-plate sized pads would flip up in the breeze, huge sections of them doing The Wave across the Meadows.
Desmodium, vervain, pickerelweed and [boo hiss] the invasive purple loosestrife provided pink, blue and magenta patches of color.
You could walk right up to the vervain.

Acres of cattails bent to the will of the hot breeze.

Despite the heat, rabbit’s foot clover was wearing its mohair sweater. Whew.

 Bees and beetles were enjoying sips of nectar in sun and shade.

Thoreau noted that bumblebees often cut into the base of a flower while it is still in bud, so tempting is the nectar. Perhaps that's what happened to this swamp rose blossom.

There didn’t seem to be many birds about. They were too wise to be out sunning themselves at high noon, just so that I could observe them.

Well, the heat WAS pretty fierce, especially out in the open, where the trail crosses the wide marshlands. I began to see things flitting past my eyes. Sunstroke already?

No, it was dragonflies.

LOTS of dragonflies. They came in all shapes and colors, some on the ground, some perching on twigs, others never seeming to land at all.

Don’t ask me for their names. There’s a dragonfly field guide sitting close at hand, but I’m too tired and overheated to open it.

But do enjoy their various forms:

Even when I did find shade, along the cool banks of the placid Concord River,

there were dragonflies hanging out there, too.

(And a muskrat who didn't hang around very long. But oh that river looked deliciously cool !)

It was truly wonderful to be able to stay as long as I wanted, to observe and to try to capture on film some of these winged delights.

Back in the springtime, at home, it had been easy to watch newly-hatched dragonflies. They would bask in the sun, warming themselves up, with wings spread flat as solar panels.
Today, I saw one doing something I hadn’t seen before. He was perching with his body angled straight up. Hmm, some sort of blatant courting posture, I assumed. Show-off !

Later on I learned that this posture is called obelisking, and is a way for the dragonfly to reduce its exposure to the sun.

So even they were smarter than I, today.

After some happy hours spent stalking dragonflies, the broiling sun got to me.

It was a long way back to the car.
Visions of my little bottle of water, which was at the moment sitting on the front seat of my car, danced before me as I trudged along.

The heat was truly energy-sapping.
The bandanna around my neck, dipped into the river ten minutes ago, was now completely dry.

I thought of how good it would feel to jump into Walden Pond, when I got back there.
I wondered how long it would take me to walk back to the car.
I wondered if it was shorter to go back to the river.
I wondered if it was possible for a human being to obelisk.

I was feeling sort of old and foolish.
Then something happens to make you feel even older:
Out of nowhere, a slim and shirtless young man passed by, jogging. He stopped to chat. “Oh, this isn’t so bad,” he smiled. “After this, I have to go to my lifeguard job !”
Back at the car, I glugged down the now-warm bottle of water. It was sweet indeed.

Slightly refreshed, I walked up into the little observation platform for a higher view of the Meadows. Cloud-shadows and light created moving patterns of green.

Using binoculars, a closer look revealed some of the many creatures who depend upon this wonderful refuge.

When I got back to the crossing at bustling Route 2, the Walden Pond parking area was closed to car traffic. Oh Henry, thank the gods you did not live to see this:

With the reduced capacity this summer, these closings happened several times a day during my stay.
For now, I would take a siesta, try to cool off somehow, and visit the Pond later.


  1. Great photos. I'm surprised you could get so much work done in a day.

  2. Great action shot on the bee! And how did you get those dragonflies to sit still long enough to photo!?!?

  3. Incredible photos, as always. Thanks for enduring that terrible heat to show us the wonders of Henry's old stomping grounds. And yes, he would have a hard time finding any solitude at his little cabin these days.

  4. Thanks for the comments, Alan - did we run into each other that week in July? I also went on Peter Alden's morning hike there a few days later.

    Ellen - as usual, that bee photo was a happy accident while I was looking at the flowers. Your bee in the gentian photos ROCK

    Jackie - it was no suffering to be there, and despite modern intrusions, one can still tune in to the spirit of the place - more on that in a later blog!

  5. My favorite book about nature is thoreaus walden pond, he captures the magnificent, the miniscule and the ordinary, loved your pics. I am a big fan of nature!!!