Thursday, September 29, 2005

Orion in the Morning

“You know Orion always comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,
And rising on his hands, he looks in on me.”
--Robert Frost, Starsplitter

Yesterday as I walked Dog in pre-dawn hours of morning, I looked at the stars overhead and was surprised to see the constellation Orion, its stars only just starting to fade into the light of dawn.

Since I think of Orion as a winter constellation, when it rises in the east shortly after dark, I’d forgotten that Orion was visible now in the pre-dawn hours. At this point in the dark of early morning, Orion is full overhead, the great and mighty hunter of myth, dominating the entire sky. For me, seeing the great hunter again was like the sudden and unexpected reappearance of an old friend who I wasn’t expecting for another month or so.

The other constellations are all dwarfed by Orion’s size, and some of them require a lot of imagination to tease the picture they are supposed to represent from the stars that make them up. Not so with Orion, whose stars create the shape of a man with a belt that even a child can see.

I even like the names of the stars that make up Orion--the belt stars of Mintaka, Anilam and Alnitak, the head star of Meissa, Rigel and Bellatrix, the star Saiph. I don’t know how this last is pronounced, but I always think of it as “safe.” To me, gazing into the dark, starry heavens on a silent winter night, seeing Orion high overhead, somehow always makes me feel that I am safe. Is it even possible to gaze into the night sky, stars crystalline overhead, and feel anything but tranquil?

At this point in the year, the lines from Frost’s poem about Orion are a bit premature, but they are so beautiful I couldn’t resist. When Orion rises in the east in another month, he will do so lying on his side, and Frost’s allusion to the giant throwing a leg over the fence will be more apt. I will be out looking for Orion then, too, welcoming the giant into winter’s pasture.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Signs of the Jinx

Okay, maybe this backpacking trip is jinxed. For this year, so far, it’s still on, but there are “signs” that are not promising—little “jinxes, if you will. And the whole trip seems like such a simple plan: hike Pa.’s West Rim Trail on the Pa. Grand Canyon during the height of the fall color change.

For at least the past 10 years something has happened to keep me from fulfilling this simple plan. I’ve been injured, solid fog and rain during the time I had to hike, couldn’t get off work, Dog was a puppy and was too young to go, one year I went to Alaska and didn’t have more vacation (I guess that doesn’t really count as a jinx), but each year it’s been something.

I’ve been slowly gathering my packing gear and laying it out on the living room floor (so I won’t forget anything). The backpacking food I’ve started to gather on the kitchen table. Last night when I came home from work, I discovered that one of the cats had somehow smelled food through the double-sealed, factory-sealed freeze-dried dinners and chewed his way into all but one of the dinners. I had tiny pieces of free-dried food all over the place. Since freeze-dried food is expensive, this is about a $25 setback. Not to mention that it means yet another trip to the backpacking store this weekend, when my weekend is already booked full. As I said, there are “signs.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bad dog!

Dog was bad this morning when we started to take our morning walk. It was about 6:15 a.m., still completely dark. I was wearing my headlamp. My neighbor from up on the top of the mountain untypically drove down the lane, and Dog went nuts. I mean like an attack dog. I could barely hold on to him as he barked and lunged at their car. They waved. So I turned around and took him back to the house and put him outside behind the house. Alone. Along the West Rim Trail is at least one section of a public dirt road that's about half a mile long. I sure hope a car doesn't come along when we're on that section. I don't even want to think about trying to hold onto him when he's carrying a 20-lb. pack, and I'm carrying a 30 lb. pack. Of course, maybe he'll be so tired that he won't have the energy to attack a passing car.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Prep for backpacking trip

Fall blew in this weekend, both on the calendar and in the feel of the weather. Dog and I took advantage of the cooler temperatures to get ready for our hike, in two weeks, of Pa.’s West Rim Trail, a 30-mile walk. Now that I’m an older backpacker, Dog carries some of the weight that I used to. So he’s carrying his food and the water, which should, I hope, make the trip a little easier for me. So this weekend Dog practiced with his pack—weighted down this time—and I started centralizing my backpacking equipment. This means everything that I’ve centralized so far is sitting in a pile in the middle of the cabin.

In addition to my aging body, I also have an aging brain, and I’m afraid if I don’t have the pile in front of me, I’ll forget something. Even though my hiking poles are by the front door, I’m afraid that if they’re not on the pile, they will be forgotten when it comes time to load the car. So for the next 12 days I’ll be walking around the pile, until I’m satisfied that I have everything. Then the pile will go into the backpack. The only other alternative is to pack now, forget what I’ve already packed, and then dump everything out of the pack multiple times until it’s time to leave. I have done this trick before, and I think the pile is preferable to the time wasted plunging into the depths of the pack. You see? I am trainable!!

Friday, September 23, 2005


Fall is here now, so in honor of that I’m wearing my Hawaiian shirt for one last time this year. A front is to move through later today, bringing cooler and more fall-like weather with it. I can see the new season in the leaves that strew my path. Most came from the damaged plants, the small trees weakened by drought, larger trees infested with some parasite or the annual plants whose time is almost up. It’s the same throughout nature-- the elderly and the young are those most susceptible to changes. The larger, healthier trees will hold onto their leaves a while longer, just as humans not at the far edges of their lifespan can better weather storms or the storms of life. I think of storms today, as the country braces for another major hurricane.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Raccoons yes, broadwings no

I can see fall creeping into the landscape of my morning walks now. Each day, the color change affects a few more leaves, a new tree. Sometimes I think a progression of the color parade is visible between morning and evening. The trees that were starting to turn yesterday are an even deeper shade of yellow this morning.

Last night I had visitors on the front deck. Four very large and fat raccoons arrived to clean up the left over food that I left out for the semi-feral cats dropped off at Roundtop. The cats pretty much ignore the raccoons, one even dozing on the deck railing while the little masked bears scuttled around on the deck, overturning the food dish and chortling to each other. Dog thought the bumping noises came from someone knocking at the front door and kept announcing each bump with a bark, probably wondering why I didn’t answer the door.

Broad-winged hawk numbers in southern Pa. were low yesterday after good numbers the day before --which now looks as though it likely was the year's "big day." A front moved across the state yesterday, leaving me to look this morning at that deep sapphire sky which means hawkwatching will be painful to the eyes. Today will likely bring better numbers of the hawks again, though the views won’t be much to crow since the birds will be so high they might as well be in the Martian flyway. Hawk counters, who tend to be numbers people, don’t seem to mind as much as I do. I’d rather see the birds, see each color shading and every tail feather, than report big numbers of them. Ideally, of course, would be to see both—20,000 birds at eye level is a fantasy that would be better to me than hitting the big one at Vegas. But winning the big one at Vegas is the probably more likely.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Where are the broadwings? (Don't ask)

At the beginning of the year I looked at the new calendar to see when September 17-18 fell. I was thrilled to see that in 2005 they fell over a weekend. These two days are most commonly the peak days for broad-winged hawk migration in southern Pa. But by the end of last week, it was pretty obvious that Saturday wasn’t going to be “the day,” and by Friday evening, I could pretty much tell that Sunday wasn’t likely either, though at that point I still had hope for late Sunday afternoon.

Between the weather forecast and the reports from hawkwatches north of me, I could tell it wasn’t worth the gas money to travel to look for broadwings this weekend. So on Saturday and Sunday, Dog and I went up the hill to the top of Roundtop Mtn. to look at our own private hawkwatch. We didn’t see much either, but it’s always nice to sit on top of a mountain in nice weather and see what there is to see. It’s a shame Sunday wasn’t the day, because the sky was perfect for broadwings—enough cloud cover to see them and perhaps enough to keep them low enough so I could see them half decently as well. We saw a few hawks—broadwings, redtails, sharpies, black vultures—that was pretty much it.

So when are the broadwings coming? Monday or even Tuesday, naturally, when I’m at work and can’t look for them. But if it’s any consolation—consolation to me, that is, not to those on the ridge tops—it’s that the sky is all blue again, and watching broadwings in all blue sky is dreadful. It’s like looking for little pinpricks of black in a vast sea of blue. So at least, I tell myself, I’m not missing a good flight, even if I’m missing the large one.

Friday, September 16, 2005

September 16, 2005

This morning I awoke to the gentle sounds of three nearby great horned owls calling back and forth to each other. Two of the birds were very close to the cabin and my open window and close to each other as well. The third was only slightly farther away.

Yesterday’s reports from the eastern hawkwatches and forecasts for Saturday’s weather do not bode well for a good broad-winged hawk migration in eastern Pa. tomorrow. The more western Pa. sites might do okay tomorrow, but the New England sites still haven’t reported any “big days,” so I’m guessing the northern birds aren’t really “in the pipeline” to head south yet. I’m torn between going to Waggoner’s Gap and staying on Roundtop to watch. I likely won’t decide until the last minute—after tonight’s daily counts are in and after a last minute check of the weather. Sunday looks to be a good hawkwatching day for broadwings.

I just saw two migrating sharp-shinned from my office window at work, even though my window faces an interstate and is near an intersection with 3 other interstates. Although I’ve only been in this location about 6 weeks, I have been surprised at what I can see here and around the grounds. Across the interstate and behind the restaurants is a thin line of mature trees. Hardly a day goes by without a sighting of the local red-tailed hawk. The office grounds have a wild edge at the property line where butterflies are common. I’ve seen monarch butterflies migrating past the window, and swallowtails, sulfers and cabbage whites in the edge growth. My office bird list is small but growing.

Nature somehow manages to survive, many times, all around us in very non-natural settings. And yet many people simply don’t pay attention or notice much of anything that happens outside buildings. Yesterday, while sitting at lunch with several colleagues, one expressed amazement that two others of us knew what a mallard was. She thought they were just “ducks.” I thought everyone, from kindergartners on up, would know what a mallard was. I’m constantly amazed at how little often intelligent people know about the world outside.

The sky remained overcast last evening, so I had no opportunity to look for aurora borealis, though the preliminary report this morning is that the solar storm didn’t produce the widespread auroras that were hoped for.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Curses, foiled again!

No, the backpack trip to Pa.'s Grand Canyon is still on.

I was foiled in looking for aurora borealis last night. After 2 solid weeks of cloudless weather, it naturally clouded up on the day auroras were predicted for the lower latitudes. A second chance to see auroras is possible tonight.

Also foiled were hundreds of hawkwatchers in the eastern part of the country. Yesterday was uniformly terrible for broadwinged hawk migration throughout the region. Normally, yesterday would have been a day of building migration numbers but the weather wasn't cooperative. SW winds in New England kept the birds in place. Numbers from the northern hawkwatches indicate the birds are still north of the New England sites. Currently, there's an approaching front to the west and a stalled hurricane to the south. So for the moment, migration is moving very slowly. At this rate, the best day in southern Pa. is likely to be Saturday afternoon or possibly even Sunday. East winds today further north are likely to keep migration slow there today as well. Friday seems to have rain associated with it, possibly lasting into Saturday. Until the hawks move in the north, we won't see them here in the mid-Atlantic states. I suspect the birds will move, big time, on Saturday, but it's possible they won't arrive here until Sunday. more later.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

September 14, 2005

Late Note: Maybe tonight is the night!! The forecast for aurora borealis in the mid-latitudes for tonight and tomorrow night looks very promising. I’ll be out there if the weather is at all clear.

Fall weather is fast approaching here now. Each day I see a few more leaves in the forest understory that are yellowing or turning reddish. The annual plants are starting to die back as well. But the strongest indication that fall is near is by the smells.

My sense of smell isn’t nearly as acute as Dog’s, but we humans have better noses, I think, than we give ourselves credit for. I can identify a good many animals by their smells. I can tell that a homemade cupboard I have was made from boards taken from an old chicken coop, though those boards haven’t seen chickens in many, many years. Horses, cows, skunks, dogs, cats all have their own species scents that most humans can differentiate. I can also tell when deer are close by their musky smell, and bears have their own strong and pungent smell as well. Now, I can’t tell one deer or dog from another by their smells, the way Dog can, but I can still tell one species from another.

Places have their own smells as well, and sometimes when I smell a scent that I haven’t for a while, that scent takes me back to the place where I first smelled that aroma with such strength that it is almost magical. I can still remember the smell of my grandmother’s kitchen, and when I get pieces of that smell in other places, even today, for a second or two, I am back there again.

I remember the smells of the Adirondacks in winter—crisp and raw, snow and pines. Alaska’s coast smells to me of spruce and moisture. Africa, ah Africa, such glory in a smell. So many spices, mixed with the smell of earth and animals. I remember that smell as much as I remember anything.

And now I can tell fall is coming by the smells around me. Early fall smells are richer and deeper, almost indolent in a way that even summer is not. Mid-summer smells still carry some of the brightness of spring smells and don’t carry the same deep richness as those of early fall.

If you want to know better what I mean, drive or walk past an apple orchard with your windows down in the next few days or a week. The apples are nearly ripe now, heavy with sweetness, and the scent from them is almost impossibly beautiful and pervasive. That’s a smell you don’t get earlier in the year.

In the woods, the smell of leaves and earth has a similar richness, but not, of course, the sweetness of the orchard. In the mornings, when the air is damp, the smell, to my human nose, is strongest. It is a little like rich, damp soil, but not only that. It is a more complex smell than soil alone. It’s as though the earth has reached not only the height of its abundance but also its full breadth. And then, before that starts to fail, the aroma is tinged with a hint of crispness, the tang of change that makes the richness all the more poignant.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

September 13, 2005

For the past week, each time I’ve entered my driveway, I’ve startled a male pileated woodpecker who has suddenly decided the old stump of a long-dead tulip poplar is his new favorite restaurant. Pileated woodpeckers are the smaller cousin of the birding world’s latest star—the ivory-billed woodpecker.

In some ways, the birds are similar. Their body shapes are virtually identical, with the only obvious differences being that the ivory-billed is larger, has more white on its wings and possesses its namesake ivory-colored bill. Both look like Woody Woodpecker. Both have raucous calls, and even the smaller pileated woodpecker is a large crow-sized bird that rockets through the eastern forests with amazing speed. The pileated is also a shy bird but obviously not as reclusive at its larger cousin.

Unlike smaller woodpeckers, such as the downy or hairy woodpeckers who are often seen on small dead tree branches, pileateds work the bottom of a tree. If you see bored woodpecker holes near the base of a dead tree in a southern or mid-Atlantic state eastern forest, you’ve found a pileated’s work.

So typically, pileateds are found in unmanaged forests away from houses. A dead tree, rotted at the base, makes homeowners nervous when that tree is near their house. And in forests that are managed or cleared of larger timber, those kinds of dead trees are among the first to go. So with it goes the pileated woodpecker.

Other birds also prefer dead trees—bluebirds are one. Bluebirds like to nest and roost in the hollows of dead trees. I have bluebirds all around me even though there are no nest boxes, as the birds have so far been able to find natural nesting and roosting areas.

I think it’s strange that people profess love for the very birds they are often so instrumental in destroying. Yet, we don’t seem to make the mental connection that if we didn’t destroy the habitat, including the dead trees, we would still have those animals to watch and enjoy. Far beyond any reasonable potential fire source or danger to a house, we simply consider dead trees to be an eyesore and remove them for that reason alone.

I think we need a redefinition of what is and is not an eyesore. A forest without pileated woodpeckers would be an eyesore. A meadow without bluebirds would be an eyesore. That dead tree, on the other hand, is suddenly starting to look pretty good to me.

Monday, September 12, 2005

September 11, 2005

I reluctantly decided not to drive to one of the larger hawkwatches this weekend for two reasons. The wind was from the NE, not the best direction for an eastern fall hawkwatch, and worse, the sky was completely and profoundly blue.

Blue sky is the bane of hawkwatchers. The hawks don’t mind it and in fact probably love it, flying so high into the stratosphere that they are little more than tiny, tiny black dots that are almost impossible to see. I like to look at hawks, not dots, or even the slightly larger dots with wings. I like to see the birds themselves and even count their primary feathers, if I can. Dots just don’t make it for me.

So I stayed home and took Dog, my binoculars and my chair out to the new pond to see what I could see from there. I started at 10 a.m. and was only out until 11:30 a.m. Even though I had sunglasses and a brimmed hat, I still ended up with a headache from looking into that blue sky. Here’s what I saw:

My first sighting was two hummingbirds that may or may not have been migrating. The goldfinch and the pewee that came soon after were still summer residents. Next came a flock of 30 starlings, a cardinal and some local blue jays. Then I heard a killdeer and two dueling Carolina wrens.

After 15 minutes I heard a croaking sound that made my ears prick up. And suddenly a raven soared out of the north, gliding and making fussing noises, crossing over the pond and towards the southwest. Now that made my morning!

After that, came turkey vultures, migrating dragonflies (orange and blue ones) and monarch butterflies. I heard a chickadee, saw several chimney swifts, black vultures and mourning doves. I had one red-tailed hawk.

All told, not bad for an hour and a half, but I would have preferred a slight breeze from the NW and some clouds to hold the hawks down into the range of good visibility.

Friday, September 09, 2005

September 9, 2005

One of the things I like best about living in the woods is how quiet it is here. Often, I grow so used to the quiet that the noise of a town, let alone that of a city, seems loud and intrusive to me when I’m in one. But just because it’s quiet living in the woods doesn’t mean that it is silent or even that all the noises I hear are natural ones.

Here’s what I can hear at the moment, before work on this early September morning:
The call of a distant great horned owl
The twittering of a flying goldfinch or two.
The whine of a distant siren, probably somewhere over in the next township
The Canada geese fussing about something over on the new pond, about a quarter mile away.
A barking dog to the west of the cabin—the nearest I know of, and the nearest house, is about half a mile away.
The sound of a car out on the road, almost half a mile away.
The sound of an airplane.
This is a sound that I am rarely far away from. Even when the woods are silent, the airplanes aren’t. Although I am about 15 air miles from the nearest and not large airport, planes overhead and planes on approach create a lot of background noise. During the days after 9/11, when the planes were still grounded, I was astonished just how much noise they added to my sounds because the absence of them was so noticeable.
A crow some distance away.

It’s not that there are no sounds to hear in the woods, it’s that I can hear more sounds that are further away because there’s fewer sounds nearby to overpower the more distant noises. Imagine trying to hear geese a quarter mile away when you’re in the city. There, you’d be lucky to hear a sound from the next street over.

Even here, with little but forest around me and the nearest road almost half a mile away from my front steps, about half of the sounds I could hear in the space of five minutes were manmade ones.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

September 8, 2005

When Dog and I left the house this morning at our usual time, it was so dark I almost returned to the cabin for the headlamp. But I didn’t and my eyesight adjusted shortly, aided by stepping into an area with fewer trees. I soon realized just how dark it is at 6:15 when we stepped off the front deck to the sound of a nearby screech owl's call.

The mornings have cooled enough now that I wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt on our morning walks instead of the shorts and t-shirt of mid-summer. We headed up towards the new pond and soon so startled a robin from its beauty rest that it scolded us for yards, outraged that we’d awakened it. The Canada geese were already up and cackling at each other. I don’t think we were original cause of their upset as they were already scolding something before we arrived, but our presence made them scold even more. I think we even woke the crows this morning, though they tried to pretend we hadn’t.

Back at the house, Dog and I went onto the back deck after our walk where we were greeted by a ruckus in a small bush. I soon realized we had startled a mottled young cardinal who had lost its balance and was now flapping madly trying to regain its equilibrium. It eventually hopped to a more stable location, urged on by mom’s concerned calls. At one point I could see four cardinals, though I couldn’t see them closely enough in the still dim light to discover how many were adults and how many were the klutzy teenagers.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

September 7, 2005

Wherever I am, when the wind is in the northwest and the air has a bite to it, the view from Hawk Mountain spreads itself before me in my memory and I long to be a part of it…” Michael Harwood, The View from Hawk Mountain

Last night I dreamed about broadwings—thousands of dark pepper spots circling in a blue sky. The hawks swirled in loose circles, impossible to count. I sat atop a rocky mountain but looked only at the sky. I was very disappointed when I woke and realized it was only a dream.

It’s almost that time of year again. I know that’s why I dreamed about them. In another two weeks I hope broadwings will fill the sky someplace where I’m watching them. I didn’t go hawkwatching this past weekend, though I wanted to, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I talked myself out of going because of the high gas prices and the sad realization that it was still very early in the hawkwatching season. At the current price of gas, my trip would cost me approximately $1 per hawk. In another week or so, as the number of hawks builds, that price should drop to $.50 or even $.25 per hawk and that, I tell myself, I can afford.

I am like this every September. The lure of a mountain top and the flight of raptors draws me more strongly than any magnet I’ve ever felt. It must be primal, some urge left in my bones from my most ancient ancestors.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

September 6, 2005

The season is turning. Dog and I took a long walk in the woods yesterday. The weather this long holiday weekend could not have been any better. As far as weather goes, this weekend was perfect. Although it's not fall yet, during the walk I saw signs that at least point to the arrival of late summer or even almost autumn. The most noticeable to me was the color of green that surrounded me. It's no longer the bright green of spring or even the deep rich green of mid-summer. It's starting to take on a faded shade.

Some leaves are even changing color, though I don't think it's related to autumn's color change. The change is most noticeable in the understory or growth low to the forest floor. The poison ivy leaves are turning yellow. Some other lower growth is also turning yellow. I think this is mostly on growth that has a shallow root system. It hasn't rained for a week or so, and I think that's enough to move those plants to drop their leaves.

Some trees that have been damaged by insects or disease or perhaps just those with poor roots or soil are also starting to turn color, though their leaves are mostly turning brown. Usually, with those trees, it's not the entire tree's leaves that are turning, just the lower leaves. It simply might be that the combination of shorter days and the lessened sunlight that these lower leaves get is enough now to make them start to turn color. I tried to look at the leaves that littered the path in front of me; most were from tulip poplars.

Other signs of near autumn are around too. The wind, mostly from a southerly direction in summer, is starting to have a more northerly component to it. North wind comes down from Canada, bringing cooler and drier weather with it. In the summer, warm and humid tropical winds from the south dominates.

Bird migration is starting to pick up. I saw grackles, starlings and blackbirds starting to group together or "stage" for the trip south. Hawks, especially broad-winged hawks, are starting to move, as are swallows and monarch butterflies. The sound of the cicadas, deafening in mid-summer, is starting to diminish. At least I can now hold a conversation outside without raising my voice. The lightning bugs are fewer as well. Yesterday I saw a group of robins floating through the upper story of leaves--more than I've seen in one place since spring. They are on the move now, as well.

Humans like to quantify things and have definitive starts and stops to the seasons. Logically, to us it makes sense to say that autumn begins on the day when the days and nights are equal in length--the autumn equinox. But the rythmns of the forest do not follow human sensibilities. For the trees in the forest, each day is a progression. In a way, each day is its own season, with its own changes that only the forest knows.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

September 4, 2005

I was typing at my computer this morning, felt a slight tickle on my arm and brushed it away without a thought. A moment or so later, I felt the same thing. This time I paid attention and discovered a walking stick on my arm. It was a small one, thus probably a male. I don't know how it got into the cabin, though my computer is near a window. I'll guess that it probably found a small space at the edge of one of the window screens and decided to explore the great indoors.

Anyway, I moved to take it outside and discovered how fast these little buggers move. It was all over the place, even in my hair for a moment. Now I like walking sticks. I think they’re neat-looking, but having one in my hair is a bit much. I don't care if they are vegetarians, I don't like bugs of any kind in my hair. So it was a struggle to get the thing out of my hair without hurting it. I finally managed to get it back onto my hand and took it outside, placing it on the fig tree that summers on the front porch.

Well, you wouldn’t find a walking stick in your house in suburbia too often. Although I can't honestly say that having one in the cabin and in my hair ranks up there as one of the great pleasures of living in the woods. But still....

Friday, September 02, 2005

September 2, 2005

"It seemed to me that something extraordinary in the forest was very close to where I stood, moving to the surface and discovery." - Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

I walked in the woods before dawn this morning. It was still and clear and a blessing to watch the world wake up. Waking before dawn in early September is not like waking before dawn in June. At this point in the year, dawn comes a minute or so later each morning, and it won’t be more than another week or two before my early morning walks will need to include my headlamp.

This morning I woke up early, before the alarm, and rather than toss restlessly until it was time to get up, I decided to greet the day early. Dog didn’t seem to notice the early hour, nosing along as he does each morning, smelling all those smells that I can’t. The eastern sky was just starting to glow with red as we walked up a little two-track dirt road to reach the pond. The Canada geese, slumbering along its edge, slid off into the water, grumbling with the soft tones they use amongst each other. The pond was like glass, only marred by the small island made by the silhouette of each goose, and even the geese, somehow, didn’t make ripples in the water as they floated quietly, with a stillness of their own.

In the distance I heard the call of a great horned owl and nearer, that of the eastern wood pewee. Dog and I walked along the edge of the pond for several minutes before a few of the normally hyper-vigilant crows saw us and announced our presence to the rest of the forest.

Night’s hold on the forest wrapped it in shades of black and gray. Still dark enough to feel other-worldly in the forest, I felt like I was walking inside an old black-and-white movie. Colors didn’t exist yet, or were only hinted at towards the eastern sky.

At the far end of the pond, two deer, cropping grass at its edge, flagged and ran from us. It was still too dark for me to see more than their white tails bouncing for a few steps as they ran deeper into the woods. Dog, his nose to the ground and the wind taking our scent to them and not to him, never noticed.

As we returned home, the rest of the world was starting to awaken, though the sun hadn’t yet broken the horizon. Mourning doves, a downy woodpecker, the kingfisher, a flight of goldfinch were all on the move with the coming of the light. It was time to start the day.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

August 31, 2005

"I found myself looking more closely at what went on around me." - Colin Fletcher, The Man Who Walked Through Time

Wild grapes – I found two small, poorly formed bunches were laying on the hood of the truck when I walked outside this morning.

I can remember asking my father when I was young if they were edible and got “Fox grapes?!?” as an answer, which suggested to me that they could not possibly be edible. And naturally, it never occurred to me at the time that my father, who knows quite a lot about the outdoors, could possibly be wrong about such a thing. In fact, for years after I knew wild grapes were edible, I still assumed that “fox grapes” were some kind of sub-species or different variety that were not edible simply because of my father’s offhand comment from about 40 years ago. (This is yet another example of the dangers of assuming. You’d think by now I’d learn not to do this, but apparently I’m not trainable in such matters).

Even after finding the phrase “none are poisonous” when doing a little research about this plant, I was still hesitant to eat one. Animals certainly don’t have that same hesitation. Virtually every local animal and most of the birds are fond of them.

And I'm afraid I must admit that I still haven't eaten any. At this point in my life, I would be willing to try them should I ever find a bunch that is ripe and reachable. But usually when I find them they are in the state they were in when they were on my car hood--dried up little stones of what used to be grapes.

I’ve made wreaths from the vines on occasion, but it’s not as easy to do as it seems. The worst part is gathering the vine, the easiest part is making it into a circle, so if you can make the wreath without finding and gathering the vine itself, it might not be too bad to do.