Tuesday, January 4, 2011


January 1, 2011
Moreau Lake State Park

A Happy New Year to All !
Yes, it’s been a while since you’ve seen any activity here. ..
Back in the middle of November, things happened -- one after the other -- things that made it difficult to keep up the blog. Things have settled down since then, and it’s time to revive this blog.
In the next few entries,  I will cover the days between then and now in an attempt to catch up. And perhaps even tackle a retrospective of the past glorious year, as my blogging friends have already done.

For now, let me leap across time to the present moment,
or rather, to the day before yesterday,
when I took a wonderful afternoon walk withJackie at Moreau.
It was the day of New Year’s Eve, and for once,  I had the entire day off.
After the previous two weeks – a blur of extra hours and odd work shifts -- I was certainly looking forward to going to Moreau and being able to take my time.

It’s been cloudy and blustery for a while, too, and today dawned sunny and warm.
(By "warm," I mean well above the usual 15 degrees. It got all the way up to 38 today!)
I celebrated by not wearing the ever-present windbreaker. (But I DID stash it in my pack, having learned THAT lesson a long time ago.) It’s amazing how leaving off one layer of winter clothing can make you feel so much lighter.  No need for snowshoes yet, either.

Jackie and I headed for an area we call The Valley of the Porcupines. It’s an area of small rocky pits where these critters prefer to make their odiferous dens.
If you pass near one of these dens, you are more likely to smell it before you see it ! Of course, the troughs in the snow, created by waddling porcupines,  are a sort of giveaway, as well.

A  few days ago, after our version of the Great East Coast Blizzard of 2010 (during which we received an underwhelming FOUR  inches of nice fluffy snow), I went walking on this same trail, admiring beautiful crisp fresh tracks of all sorts of animals.
There were deer beds, in which one could see the imprint of the animal’s winter coat.

Up at the dens, I was fortunate to see very fresh prints of a porcupine.
Instead of the usual trodden-down hedgehog highway –
You could see the texture of the skin on the soles of his feet – as if he was wearing little sneakers.

And where there are porcupines, there are likely to be fishers, bounding through the snow.

Jackie is so right when she confessed, “every year, I have to relearn any tracking skills I thought I knew” -  I feel the same way. Adding  to my confusion  is the fact that many walkers here bring along their pets – who oftentimes end up off the leash .  In some parts of the park, you’d have a tough time puzzling out whether it was Reynard or Rover who crossed  your path.
That’s when you have to consider other factors like location, stride, even motivation.

Today Jackie and I spent some happy hours just wandering about, following all sorts of trails in the snow,
trying to puzzle out some of their mysteries.
Another mystery was the fact that we saw insects. Alive.
First there was a small swarm of “gnats” – dancing up and down like puppets on a string, similar to the spring flights of the ephemerae. A few landed on the snow and I got a photo
of one of them.

Then another photo, this time there were two of them – hey wait, what ARE they doing? In winter?

Jackie came over to take her own photo of the gnats, and instead captured a glimpse of a stonefly !
(follow this link to her blog to realize the good fortune of seeing  this creature.)
Later I saw a translucent spider, scurrying along, to hide behind a twig,
And something that I thought was a tiny twiglet – the resemblance was perfect –except for the fact that it was moving along like an inchworm  –

When we saw some ancient logs encrusted with lichens, another creature showed up when I reviewed the photos at home – springtails. Well, those we have seen in winter before, but the others were a surprise.
Perhaps these delicate creatures were, like myself,
revived by the relative warmth of the day.

We stopped back at the newly-renovated Warming Hut for a late lunch, sitting in Papa-Bear-sized chairs by the fireplace.  Then for the first time this season, we took our first shortcut ACROSS the lake.
The sun was sinking down past the western ridge, and everything had a hazy glow about it.

Today the ice was thick enough (6 to 8 inches)  to walk on safely. The ice-fishers have been out on the ice for over a week, despite some mighty  dubious conditions.
Another dubious thing – we found two fish left out on the ice, by fishermen who had since gone home.
The first, a small sucker – perhaps used as bait? Not knowing anything about fishing, I had to stop and take a close look.

This may be the offspring of the suckers we saw spawning in the shallows last spring, as we had watched on a delightful April day from the far shore of the lake.
Jackie said, “wait a minute, he’s still alive.”  His gills were moving, as he lay staring (as fish are wont to do) at the edge of the ice-hole, just inches away. So near and yet so far!
After posing this unfortunate for the obligatory photos, I sang “Born Free,” while Jackie got her new gloves all fishy by picking him up and plopping him back into the watery hole.
I don’t know if he survived, but we thought he deserved another chance at life.

We walked on across the frozen lake, and I saw another dark shape atop the ice, near another hole.
This time it was a pickerel !
We returned this one to the deep, as well. I had never seen one close-up.
What a combination of fierce reputation, and sheer beauty !

You can read a marvelous passage about them in Walden.
Standing on the ice of my own Walden, I saw the words of Thoreau literally come to life, right at my feet.

From the chapter “The Pond in Winter:

Ah, the pickerel of Walden!
 when I see them lying on the ice,
or in the well which the fisherman cuts in the ice, making a little hole to admit the water,
 I am always surprised by their rare beauty,
as if they were fabulous fishes,
 they are so foreign to the streets, even to the woods,
 foreign as Arabia to our Concord life.
They possess a quite dazzling and transcendent beauty
which separates them by a wide interval from the cadaverous cod and haddock
 whose fame is trumpeted in our streets.

They are not green like the pines,
nor gray like the stones,
nor blue like the sky;
but they have, to my eyes, if possible, yet rarer colors,
like flowers and precious stones,

as if they were the pearls, the animalized nuclei or crystals of the Walden water. 
They, of course, are Walden all over and all through;
are themselves small Waldens in the animal kingdom --Waldenses.
 It is surprising that they are caught here — that in this deep and capacious spring,
far beneath the rattling teams and chaises and tinkling sleighs
that travel the Walden road,
this great gold and emerald fish swims.

I never chanced to see its kind in any market;
it would be the cynosure of all eyes there.
Easily, with a few convulsive quirks, they give up
their watery ghosts,
like a mortal translated before his time
to the thin air of heaven.


  1. Oh such amazing and beautiful photos! Such clear mammal tracks and surprising insects! You should enter your photo of the golden curvaceous leaf in a contest, it is so stunning. And that pickerel sure brings Thoreau's words to life. As always, it's really great to revisit our adventures together through your wonderful blog. Keep 'em coming!

  2. I was awed by the beauty of the humble pickerel! You captured it magnificently!

  3. Hi Sue! Glad to see your new entry. As an admirer of the ferocious nature of the pickerel, it was wonderful to the appreciation of it's beauty that you share with HDT. I agree -- the light is heavenly in your shot of the snowy leaf. Excellent find and capture.

  4. Thank you for enjoying my blog -
    wish you had been with us, Wayne and Jackie C !
    I love the hickory leaves, they remind me of tobacco leaves, so golden.
    And thank you Jackie D, for never once saying "For Pete's sake Sue, what are you stopping to look at NOW?"