Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The art of spending a day

May 7, 2010
Otter's Point, Moreau Lake State Park

The art of spending a day!
If it is possible that we may be addressed,
it behooves us to be attentive.
If by watching all day and all night,
I may detect some trace of the Ineffable,
then will it not be worth the while to watch?

My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature —to know his lurking places.
      HDT Journal, September 1851

It was the last weekday of my vacation, and a sunny one.
How best to take advantage of it?

I went someplace I had not been for some time - Otter's Point.

Going by foot (instead of paddling in from the river) can be a dicey proposition at this time of year, due to all the swampy areas along the river's edge. In the winter the walking is easy here, and one can walk directly from cove to cove.

I took the liberty of mentally renaming this area, from “Potter's Point” to “Otter's Point,” since we've all found plenty of sign of otters in this area. And a month ago, I was lucky enough to SEE one here.

It was a walk through a dark sloping woods. The faint path led past a glacial pothole (watch last last step!)

and ferns of all types. In this cool shady woods, you could still find plenty of polygala, starflower and violets everywhere.

Out at the point of land we call Rippled Rocks, there was a different assortment of plants in bloom - checkerberry, strawberry, a few pink lady-slippers - and a plant new to me – chokeberry - which was blossoming freely along the rocky shore.

The very rocks seemed to be alive and growing, with lichens surrounding sparkly flecks on the surfaces.

In the smallest of puddles, exposed on the rocky shelf, a yin-yang of frog.

I sat awhile out at the far end of the point, enjoying the sun on my face and the riverwind.

Despite being surrounded by beauty, I confess that I was feeling a little grumpy and disappointed - not seeing any otters, or other spectacular sights. I was taking the small things for granted.

Fortunately, when I do that, Nature often conspires to bonk me over the head and teach me a lesson.

It was time to head home. On the sunny roadway back to my car, I walked past masses of yellow honeysuckle bushes, in full bloom. 
Quite forgetting my childhood joy of gathering nectar from the tiny flowers -  instead, I pouted. "Big deal, not native"... I brushed by them peevishly.

Then wait ! something dark flitted from one bush to another.

 It was a black swallowtail butterfly.

And she was so intent on her nectar-gathering that she did not flee, and posed for a portrait.

Lesson learned, and thank-fullness returned.

(from HDT's The Natural History of Massachusetts:)
Surely joy is the condition of life.
Think of the young fry that leap in ponds,
the myriads of insects ushered into being on a summer evening,
the incessant note of the hyla
with which the woods ring in the spring,

the nonchalance of the butterfly
carrying accident and change painted in a thousand hues upon its wings …

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

As Strange a Country

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Spring Overlook, Moreau Lake State Park

Two or three hours’ walking will carry me
to as strange a country as I expect ever to see.
HDT, Walking

Today is the midpoint of a weeklong vacation, and I am enjoying it so far. Getting some things done around the house, and also getting outside almost every day too. No deadlines, no need to turnaround on the trail, just when things are getting interesting.
As for Mr. Thoreau - he tried to do this almost EVERY day:

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all wordly engagements.
You may safely say a penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds.
When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shop-keepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon,

but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs,
so many of them — as if the legs were made to sit upon,
and not to stand or walk upon —
I think that they deserve some credit

for not having all committed suicide long ago.
HDT, Walking

Today was one of those carefree days for me. Jackie and I have planned an all-day walk up to Lake Ann, taking our sweet time along the trail. Friend and fellow blogfan Paul was joining us (even after getting warned about how slowly we tend to cover ground.)
Well let me tell you, that at the end of this day, Jackie laughed and said, "We've covered about 2 miles each way, and it took us SEVEN hours!"
I guess we had better not try doing the Appalachian Trail, since by my calculations, if we walked 7 hours every day at that pace (with no rest days whatsoever) it would take us ... 10.42 years !

I had only been to Lake Ann once,  two winters ago. Why it is called a lake boggles me, since it is a pleasant but medium-sized sphagnum bog, really. After you get to the Spring Overlook, there's a fairly long stretch of vaguely-marked trail leading through a deep hemlock woods on top of the mountain.  It was great to go with companions, since being unfamiliar with that area, I had hesitated to go alone.

Off we went, getting an early start.
The path up to Spring Overlook is familiar and as always, full of interesting sights.

Today our path is lined with violets.

It becomes a sort of pilgrimmage.

(okay, they are really just looking at a red eft).

Overhead, the warblers have arrived ! We heard many more than we saw, but Paul and I were especially happy to be able to connect a few of the songs with visions of the singers themselves ! A tricky thing, since they are hidden well in the new leafy growth above.

Black-throated blue warbler -

Black and white warbler - (who was kind enough to perch in an open spot)

Just before you get to the junction leading off to the Spring Overlook, there is another opening in the woods off to the left. I call it the Moss Garden. Down on our knees again.

Such a mix of beautiful things!
And the plants begin to look like beings from another world -
Pale Corydalis -

Mixtures of the most primitive plants -

And of course, arriving at the Overlook is its own reward.

It was a warm day, and the fresh breezes felt wonderful.

(obviously Jackie has no fear of heights!)

As if to defend this High Garden, there lurked assassins and serpents  -
well okay, an assassin bug - sneaking up on some inchworms?

And a huge garter snake, digesting her bulging breakfast -

(The hat is for scale only, nothing happened to Jackie!)

After a while, we continued over to the Lake Ann Cutoff.
You are walking along the flat top of the mountain now, deeply wooded with glimpses of other overlooks to east and west. The display of understory plants changes along the way.
Painted trilliums like these cooler hemlock woods.

Until finally we reach the end of the Cutoff, at the edge of Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility property.
The signs are a little depressing and downright daunting. Here be real dragons.

But turning off to the side, we reach the Bog, a rarified plant community way up here on top of the mountain.

One can't really walk around the edge, which is a mat of floating moss.
It jiggles when I try to step out onto it.

But like many holy places, it is not meant to be trod upon by us.

The high point of my day (both literally and figuratively) was in this place.
I was delighted to see cranberry plants.

And behold - a cranberry floated there! It had endured the winter, and was still as red as a jewel.
As tempting as an apple in another Garden.
I had never tasted a wild one, and so partook.

We require just so much acid as the cranberries afford in the spring. No tarts that I ever tasted at any table
possessed such a refreshing, cheering, encouraging acid
that literally put the heart in you
and set you on edge for this world’s experiences,
bracing the spirit,

as the cranberries I have plucked in the meadows in the spring … now you can swallow another year of this world
without other sauce.
HDT, Wild Fruits

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Universal World Turtle

Here's wishing you all a belated Earth Day !
In the days since my last post, I was completely absorbed in an Earth Day project (a slide show presentation of nature photos that Jackie and I did together,  on the day after Earth Day.) It was lots of fun, and perhaps more of those shows are in the future.
But as the saying used to go, Earth Day = Every Day ...
so here's a little something, written not in 1970,
but way back in 1854 by our old friend Henry Thoreau, on a day when he found a turtle nest :

I am affected by the thought that the earth nurses these eggs.

They are planted in the earth, and the earth takes care of them;
she is genial to them and does not kill them.
It suggests a certain vitality and intelligence in the earth,
which I had not realized.

This mother is not merely inanimate and inorganic.

Though the immediate mother turtle abandons her offspring,
the earth and sun are kind to them.
The old turtle on which the earth rests
takes care of them

while the other waddles off.

Earth was not made poisonous and deadly to them.
The earth has some virtue in it;
when seeds are put into it, they germinate;
when turtles' eggs, they hatch in due time.

Though the mother turtle remained and brooded them,
it would still nevertheless be the universal world turtle

which, through her,
cared for them as now.
Thus the earth is the mother of all creatures.