Life in a cabin on a mountain in southern Pennsylvania
Monday, February 27, 2012
Back in business!
Sunday dawned sunny and calm, a blessed relief after the brutal winds of Saturday. Time for a walk through the forest to see what late non-winter, early spring looks like. Baby Dog was my companion, a guinea pig for the new hands-free leash system I’d just gotten. With Baby Dog tied around my waist, I could carry both my hiking stick and my camera.
The weather was seasonably chilly, especially during the pre-noon hours. I noticed only the sun and its increasing warmth, far warmer than the sun of just a month or so ago. I wanted to see if the warm winter had sparked any signs of new spring growth, even though it is still very early. Baby Dog wanted to sniff her way from one end of the mountain to the other. It was a good mix.
Looking across to Nell’s Hill, the vista looks as wintry as ever, considering there is no snow. The trees are still sleeping, and even the buds aren’t yet enlarged. Grasses are brown and flattened. The landscape is largely silent, at least until three pileated woodpeckers got into a shouting match. I never could decide if they were alarming at me or were fighting among themselves. Three crow-sized black-and-white birds screaming through the forest are ear-splitting.
We hadn’t gone very far before six deer tiptoed and then bounced along in front of us. They all looked brown and healthy. These deer had an easy time of it this winter, though they aren’t fat. I suspect that even during a mild winter a diet of dead, brown grass and the few acorns that fell last fall doesn’t have much nutritional value.
At the bottom of the abandoned ski slope, we turned north and reached a pond, as always unfrozen. Water is pumped out of this pond for snowmaking, so the water never freezes. Even without that, the pond would be late freezing as it is both deep and spring-fed. In summer the edge of the pond is dense with cattails and other moisture-loving plants and is a great spot to watch butterflies that are attracted by thistle and the mud along the water’s edge. I look for skunk cabbage, among the earliest and arguably the largest of the new spring growth. I don’t see any.
After the pond, we walk along an old woods road. I notice that I can see deeper into the forest than I’m used to. The lack of underbrush means I can better see the topography of the land, see rock outcroppings that I normally can’t, see a small draw across a creek that bears investigating on some future day.
The stream that flows through the narrow valley is running and pretty full, if not as full as after spring rains. The ground is soft but not muddy. In April the area is often too wet for walking in hiking boots, and even with Wellies or rubber boots, the ground can be so mushy that I can easily sink 3-4 inches. I usually just avoid the area then, waiting for the drier weather that will come after.
Baby Dog isn’t sure about the new leash. She wants to stop and sniff everything, and I want to keep walking. She’s like a kid in a candy store, and I’m not letting her buy any candy. We move deeper into the forest, her lagging behind as always. I reach an area where mosses are thick and lush, a haven of greenery in the brown. I’ll post photos from that part of our walk tomorrow.
I live in a cabin in the forests of Pennsylvania. I write about what I see and do in the natural world around me. I've been a hawkwatcher for more than 20 years, a birder for longer than that, and a crayfish-catcher since I was a polywog.