Archive for the ‘hiking’ Category

Cleaning Out Bluebird Boxes

March 16, 2012

We’ve had a spate of early warm weather around here and though it wasn’t even St. Patrick’s Day the 60 degree temperatures had everyone in a springtime frame of mind.  All the same, it was late for cleaning them out.  So it seemed high time to get out there and get the job done, since Eastern Bluebirds have had breeding on their mind well before now.  It was so beautiful, I wasn’t sure my words could do it justice, so I decided to bring you along with me on my walk.  I hope you enjoy it.  To know more about both Bluebirds and Pussy Willows mentioned in the little film, there are earlier posts on the blog with more detail.

 

See you on the trails,

Diane Tucker
Estate Naturalist

Advertisements

Simply the Nature of Nature

February 25, 2012

I’m not the most sophisticated naturalist in the world. I know some some birds, wildflowers and some science around living things,but I see myself as more of a carnival barker for nature. What I really want to do is shout, “Hey look at that, isn’t that neat? Here’s WHY!” I think in my line of work a certain ignorance may be a plus, which is obviously why my employer seems to be happy with my work. What I mean is it’s tough to get charged up about Acalypa Rhomboidea. But the common name Green Adder’s Mouth sounds mysterious and sexy. If you follow that salacious moniker up with the fact that it’s an endangered plant and not a dirty movie, an orchid growing 4-10 inches tall with miniscule flowers well- camouflaged by color that blossoms from June to August, well, cheeks may color with interest. (Folks blush about orchids more readily these days anyway, after that movie with Meryl Streep, The Orchid Thief.) So I use common names, not the Latin, when I go walking with groups.  What I want is for people to (quite literally) catch the nature bug.  They may catch it from me, and then go far beyond.  I try to be as infectious as possible.  Nature is important.

I’m not a scientist. But I sure am enthusiastic about the science of nature. It seems my I’ve spent my life walking outside and saying “What the heck is that?” Unable to leave the question unanswered, over the years I’ve scoured books and (these days) websites, gone to museums, and bought innumerable field guides in order to achieve a certain intimacy with the natural world. I’m comfortable there, and to a degree I see how it all goes together and why one thing needs another. Interdependence is a fundamental element of life. As humans we are included in that. And I think everyone ought to know it. So I’m shouting it out in my simple terms, the ones that most of us understand and grasp more viscerally.

I really wish they would stop teaching about the rain forest in elementary school classrooms. Don’t get me wrong, I find the rain forest as fascinating as anyone, and I worry about it a lot. But that’s why I want them to stop scaring the little kids about it. It’s pretty hard to teach about the rain forest without mentioning that it’s going to be a housing development before the children graduate from college. Why bother being excited about nature when there’s no point? That’s the lesson kids take away. Better to save the rainforest for middle and high schoolers and let them exercise some critical thinking on its problems. Instead, get the younger kids outside right here in their own environment. Show them how exciting their native forest is by letting them handle frogs and bugs, find crickets, catch fireflies, do the bee dance, learn their wildflowers. What we have here is as thrilling as the nature found all over the planet.

I’m lucky. I have Hill-Stead Museum’s woodland, wetland and meadows with which to dazzle visitors.  In a simple way I can show off the exciting nature of environment. In our 152 acres there is enough titillation for the jaded. We even have rare orchids.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist

If You Plant It, They Will Come

March 27, 2011

Some of my friends are on a “cleanse”. You need the book  to participate- $9.16 on Amazon.com.  You give up “obstacles to digestion” which apparently include eggs, nuts, dairy, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, peppers, meat, soy, cheese, wheat, and coffee.  Since this doesn’t leave a lot you can actually eat, there is a line of shakes and supplements, $425 for the most popular package.  Evidently people are contaminated with poisons from  a diet which presumably includes tomatoes and peppers (see above list for other possibilities), and it is recommended that the cleanse continue for at least a month.  If you have had the habit of eating any “allergen, mucous-forming or inflammatory” foods (see above), then you need to take and stay on a pre-cleanse program for a time before you can get into the actual cleansing. The more poisonous your previous diet, the longer the pre-cleanse.  Then comes the gastrointestinal scrubbing during which you will need to take pills with names like Clear, Equilibrium, Pass, Ease and so on. The image I got when I heard about these wasn’t good at all, especially “pass” and “ease”.

When you complete the tour of duty, you will feel energy and clarity, and be at least $434.16 lighter.  Starvation for the privileged.  But if you want to be on the cutting edge of weight loss fashion, look no further.  The book alone is a runaway bestseller.

I am polite about all this.  But I shudder at the frivolity while people the world over could eat for months on $425 and feel overfed.  Being riven with hunger is torture. Real starvation means the Cheezits aren’t six feet away in the cabinet if you tire of it.  The price of such hunger far exceeds $425. It is known, tragically, by millions.

On another plane, but no less pitiable is the deprivation known this winter by animals and birds throughout our area.  As the snow melted here at Hill-Stead I sadly found quite a number of bird and animal corpses.  In a harsh winter, hunger is a ruthless creditor.

This year birds gobbled up late summer berries like wild grape, pokeweed, poison ivy and blueberries before the fall was even over, so they had to start in on winter berries early.  Winter berries include cedar, sumac and winterberry.  They were in turn eaten up early. Starvation set in and with no other crop to draw from, many birds switched to eating alien and ornamental plants like multiflora rose and bittersweet. Without these foods as sustenance, I would  have found quite a few more corpses during my springtime wanderings. This got me thinking.  Because the birds had to switch over to eating invasive plants , it may mean that invasives will spread more than usual when spring warms up and the seeds dispersed by the birds begin to grow.

I began to consider the further effect of an increase in alien plants. I’ll use Hill-Stead’s experience with a butterfly, the Baltimore Checkerspot, as the perfect example. This insect has a favorite food.  And like a picky child, if the favorite food is unavailable it simply won’t eat.  But the bug has more gumption than most children, and it dies out in places where its’ preferred plant has died out.  No plant, no bug.  In this way, once common insects become more local then gradually go extinct.  Hill-Stead used to be a last gasp location for the Baltimore Checkerspot since we had quite a bit of turtlehead, the favorite plant. But the meadow began to be mowed in wider and wider margins, and the turtlehead went.  It was long before my time and anyone else here now. But the butterfly census folks still shake their heads, and so do I.  The Baltimore Checkerspot is not unique in its stubbornness. Every single insect is the same.

But here’s the thing: 96% of terrestrial birds (as opposed to sea-going birds, for example) feed their babies on insects and spiders. What determines how many and what kind of insects are around?  Plants! So, if we keep creating scenarios where invasives multiply, we will continue on a crash course with insect extinction and by extension bird extinction and by further extension, well, you get the idea.

Eastern Redbud (native)

Now it probably isn’t anyone’s specific fault that we had a bad winter and the birds had

Serviceberry (native)

to resort to eating multiflora rose hips.  But it is our fault if we fail to increase our use of native species when we plant around our homes, parks and ornamental gardens.  In this way, the birds and insects and everything that depends on them will have a leg up by having the proper food to eat. More native plants, more insects, more birds. More, please.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker
Estate Naturalist

Fertilizer Happens

March 10, 2011

It’s been a bitter winter. Record snow and ice, roofs collapsing day after day, kids home while crews shovel mountain-loads of snow off the school roof. After a beating like that, I have a hard time lifting my head and getting on with it.  I am not a winter person.  I do my best to enjoy it, adding snow shoeing to my repertoire of sports, but this winter I only made it out once and I lost my car keys in the snow. After that I wound up like a meadow vole, ten pounds of snow overhead, living alone in my own sub-nivean world.  Now I’m struggling out of my lair, looking for a reason to stay above ground.

I saw a mosquito yesterday, though temperatures were barely in the 40’s.  He must have woken from diapause, that state of suspended animation that insects enter in the fall as days shorten.  In diapause you are just about nearly dead, and I think that free-flying mosquito and I are in nearly the same situation right now.

Soon we should start seeing an occasional Mourning Cloak butterfly floating along. These guys are the Magellans of the butterfly world, first out to explore. They over-winter as adults too, and venture forth when the days are still relatively cool. Look for them, about the size of a four-year-old’s fist, rich brown with a creamy edge all around. When I think of them, I think of possibly getting out of my armchair.  I’d hate to miss them.

As the snow melts, it’s a shock to see what’s been going on outside. When the layers recede, we see a winter’s tale of survival by those who cannot enter diapause.  Mammals don’t have this option.  So what do we see that reveals their winter lives and rituals? Footprints are preserved in ice, sometimes new ones appear in the moist snow overnight. We know there were rabbits here earlier this winter. Did they make it? Food was scarce, plants were covered. Deer had the same problem and even coyotes started to feel the pinch. In fact, there were loads of animal sightings in crazy places this winter as predators were forced to make bold to find food, any food at all. Owls revealed themselves in frantic efforts to locate mice, moles and voles, all hidden tidily under three feet of snow.  No chance to hear a telltale rustle and soundlessly pounce out of the sky.  Rehabbers reported a record number of emaciated owls brought in for nursing.  A friend tells me bears are out now, and another has seen a bobcat, so things are easing.  And that’s especially good news for animals enduring winter without a snug den.

As dog owners can tell you, there are a few other things exposed by snow melt. No,not dog toys!  There is frozen scat everywhere. Personally, I am thrilled. The educational value of poop is not to be underestimated. Nothing gets a kid’s attention like poop. And let’s be honest, grownups tend not to forget that part of the nature walk, either, though possibly due to delicate sensibility rather than potty fascination. Coprology, the science of scatology, is a biggie.  You can tell which animal did what.  Size, shape and composition are nature’s mug shot.  And it provides essential information about the diet of animals in a given area, their health and which diseases if any, are present. Tapeworm, anyone? Included in the package (pun intended) is information about where the animal has been and whether populations are rising or falling.

I better get out there before it all melts.

See you out on the trails,

Diane Tucker
Estate Naturalist

Home For the Holidays

December 21, 2010

What does it really mean to come home?  Traffic projections tell us that this holiday season more people than ever will head home, possibly breaking a record for pre-Christmas travel.  People across Europe lately find themselves stranded in airports from freak snowstorms, sleeping on the floor for days just trying to get where they wanted to go.  Yet there are a gaggle of “funny” movies about going home for the holidays, especially Christmas, that depict the annual pilgrimage as nothing short of a personal horror.  Sneering, taunting, insensitivity all play roles in such films and you have to wonder why anyone would ever go home to families like these.  The answer of course is that they likely wouldn’t and the whole thing is just a device of “entertainment”. Sure, we laugh, but sometimes it’s an uncomfortable snicker.  We recognize in them the subtle torture that only your  loved ones can mete out.

Animals go home because they have to.  It’s instinct and survival. Increasingly scientists are discovering that at some point living things across the spectrum from insect to mammal migrate from where they moved, returning to their original birthplace. Sometimes they go to breed, sometimes to die. It’s just built in. There is a lot unknown about animal interactions and in my sophomoric mind I wonder whether the outliers get made fun of when they turn back up with something new and different about them.  In people, sometimes just maturing becomes rich fodder for family members to pick at, never mind a funny haircut or strange girlfriend. Good times!

Mostly animals hunker down in winter, either hibernating or limiting their appearances to warmer winter days.  The ones with really nice winter coats get around well, but even they need somewhere snug to see out a storm.  Around here it’s pretty easy to see where our animal friends are hanging out. Because Hill-Stead’s grounds are still to my mind underused given the treasure they are, it’s a piece of cake to take a short walk and see deer tracks, coyote, our “famous” mink and loads of other creatures’ travels through snow and across the pond. You may even see one of the critters themselves.

But these darkest days of winter and indeed other dismal times, have a way of making us focus inward. Illness, loss, upheaval, have a way of isolating us whether or not we are even aware of it. To the best of my knowledge animals don’t have the luxury of introspection.  They have to get on with it, just manage or pay the highest price.  In contrast to us, they don’t go home for holidays or because they are worried and careworn.  They can’t take umbrage at the modern world, hop on a train and go home to warm welcome and hot soup.  It’s down the rabbit hole for them and hope for the best.

Wherever you go, or if you go anywhere at all, everyone here at Hill-Stead hopes you find yourself someplace cozy and restful.

Happy Holidays, and I’ll see you on the trails,

Diane Tucker
Estate Naturalist

Snake Creeps Up

September 1, 2010

Grace. Grace of motion, grace of spirit, poise.  Some have natural grace and you can easily see it, even by the corner of your eye, in an animal, insect or bird.  I’d venture animals have not only grace of movement, but also grace of spirit.  If you have that, you cannot hide it no matter what you do. Sometimes it spills out and shows itself in nimbleness of body and movement. This is certainly one of the ideas behind many martial arts.  T’ai Chi, it is said, was inspired by the sight of a crane and snake fighting with soft, curling motions. The T’ai Chi forms are even named for patterns of movement in nature:  Cloud Hands, Snake Creeps Up, Golden Pheasant, White Crane Cools Wings.

Grace combines tension, balance, order, in much the same way a work of art does.  So it was a perfect marriage of genre to have a group of T’ai Chi practitioners on our front lawn last Sunday as the farmer’s market teemed with shoppers and folks readied themselves for the Diabetes Walk.  Some wore T’ai chi uniforms-white flowing tunics and pants that reflected the white colonial revival house behind them. Others wore street clothes, the way you so often see people practicing martial arts in the parks of China.  I recognized many of the forms from my study of T’ai Chi years ago.  I used to love doing Cloud Hands.  It’s only one tiny piece of a whole form, but I could do it for hours it relaxes me so. But on Sunday I focused on Snake Creeps Up. It is remarkable how this martial art so accurately portrays the real, organic movements.  Snake Creeps Up grabbed me because we have an incredible snake down by the Pump House Bridge.  We all just love that fellow, a huge Northern Water Snake that luxuriates on the far side of the bridge as you head toward the farmhouse.  He’s an amiable sort. He’ll let you look at him from pretty close up if you are quiet and relaxed. Somehow he recognizes tension, and slinks off into the weeds. In no time he’ll be back, sunning himself and displaying his four inch diameter.  I don’t actually know how long he is, since he tucks his rear into the brush and even when he turns around I’ve never seen the whole of him at once.  But he’s just about always there, like a sentinel, recognizing those who belong, and warily regarding newcomers.

You sometimes see people react badly to snakes, screaming, running away, grabbing their babies.  It’s instinct, I think, and most of the time you can’t get them to simmer down and they scare the wits out of the poor snake. So many myths have developed.  Milk Snakes were named for their supposed ability to suck the milk from cows.  They were killed en masse by farmers “protecting” their cattle, when in reality, the snakes hung around barns to eat mice and such.  In a sad irony, the snakes were actually performing a service. Puff Adders are said to add poison to their breath, puffing it toward you in toxic, murderous clouds.  But our Northern Water Snake is a gentle giant. Reports of snake size are usually on the fantastically generous side.  But I’d say our guy is pretty well full grown, based on his coloring (he is very dark and his pattern is hidden.  Youngsters show the pattern clearly) and a full-grown Northern Water Snake tops out at around fifty-five inches.  So he might seem like a giant to some, but I hope they never see a grown up Black Rat Snake.  They can get to be about eight feet.

I’m kind of psyched right now, since I think the big guy might be about to become a father.  He has to have a lady friend at his age, and Northern Water Snakes give birth in August and September.  This kind of reptile has live babies, not eggs.  I’m not saying our snake is going to be handing out cigars, since snakes (especially fathers) have desultory parental feelings at best.  But it is nice to think of him passing on his good nature to a new generation.

My tip-top favorite snake legend is that of the “hoop snake” who when threatened takes his hind end into his mouth, turns himself into a circle and rolls away like a wagon wheel to safety.  I love the whole idea, and wish I could do it too, rolling away when times get tough. Since I can’t, and neither can any snake known of, I’ll just meander down to the bridge and relax with our big, old, comforting snake, and forget the cares of the world.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist

Take Back Your Mink

May 28, 2010

After my mother died, I saw her everywhere.  I followed people whose hair reminded me of hers before shaking off the idea that it might somehow be her. This kind of reaction is completely normal, and in a way comforting after a loss, but I never expected to feel similarly about a few muskrats.

Earlier this year I thought I saw a weasel of some kind around the pond, and one day I got a good view. It was a mink. They are very handsome animals, and I don’t think most people think of them as weasels although they are a member of the same family. They think of them as coats. Weasels, of course, have a bad reputation and it isn’t nice to call someone a weasel, or be called one yourself. The insult is intended to mean “sneaky and low-down”. Weasels are also considered (by farmers especially) to be cruel and needless killers. Because they often “scalp” their prey and simply leave it, people think that the weasel kills for sport. Not so-he kills and returns later to eat the prize. He’s not fussy about a little putrification, and he also “caches” his food.  A farmer who wakes to a hen house full of scalped chickens regards the weasel as the worst kind of varmint, and the natural history of it is of little importance to him.  But a weasel has to kill when the opportunity presents itself, and also have a little something to fall back on. You never know when a meal is going to come along and a mink has a high metabolism. Think of them as the Holly Golightly of the animal world. And I think I remember that Holly Golightly had a really nice mink coat.

Minks are solitary, except during breeding, at which time they virtually define the word “promiscuous”, with both males and females mating as much as possible, with as many partners as possible. So the gene pool is nice and healthy, and the DNA for survival very strong.  These animals are smart and canny predators, eating fish torpid from cold during winter and switching to slower, more defenseless animals in warm weather. Which brings me back to the muskrats.  Mink will eat anything, but they really love muskrat.  Also, “abandoned” muskrat lodges make swell mink houses. So I think it is pretty clear what happened to the Hill-Stead muskrat family. Of course, muskrats need water that covers them. Our pond is getting more shallow all the time, so the muskrat days were numbered in any case.

For a while, I saw the muskrats in my imagination, too.  But, as with my mother, I finally had to accept that they were gone. In the hierarchy of small mammals, the mink with its sensitive nose and killer instinct has it all over the poor vegetarian muskrat, who just likes to noodle around the pond eating weeds. And even in the hierarchy of coats, the mink is the trophy outerwear, the muskrat for wannabe’s.  

But nature has a way of equalizing things, and the mink may eventually be taken by a coyote or even an owl. And then I’ll miss the mink.

Muskrat Love

April 7, 2010

I am dating myself to admit I remember a certain popular song describing the romantic antics of two muskrats.  I believe the animal’s names were Suzy and Sam, though I wouldn’t swear to it.  If I did, I’d have to admit that I actually remember some of the mortifying lyrics. If there’s a list somewhere of egregious top-forty tunes, this should be number one. The musical duo “The Captain and Tennille” should relinquish any royalties they earned from it to the George Gershwin estate, or maybe Cole Porter’s. The crazy thing is that they unwittingly hit on a certain truth: Muskrat family relationships are marked by a touching constancy.

A muskrat family lives at the edge our pond. Their tunnels extend into the surrounding meadow. The waterside part of their home is made from plants, so if they get hungry during a winter cold snap, they just crawl down and take a few bites. The tunnels make nice, snug winter quarters, and they start low near the water and go upwards, keeping the burrow dry when the water rises.

I enjoy watching the muskrats, and though they are largely nocturnal, you can see them during the day, particularly in the early morning. They glide around the pond, busily chomping up wetland weeds. Sometimes they carry a big mouthful of greens, pushing it along with relaxed determination. They never seem to hurry, even if disturbed by a possible threat. Instead, they gently flip underwater leaving a little eddy to mark their place.  I’ve read they sometimes slap their tails to warn of danger, like the beaver, but I’ve never seen that.

Baby muskrats are called both kits and pups, and sometimes pinkies,-though I don’t care for that name because it is the same as the tiny baby mice you can buy frozen to feed pet snakes with. Muskrats do look like little puppies paddling about with their mother in the spring. Prolific breeders, muskrats can turn out up to four litters in a year. Gestation is a month or a little less, and the pup has to move on after about a month of life, to make room for the next batch. In this they are much like big, aquatic field mice. But families don’t stray far, just further on into the wetland. They live essentially in an extended family group, with grandparents, cousins, aunts and parents all within shouting distance.

Vegetarians, muskrats don’t pursue prey, they instead forage for plants. Cattails are catnip to them. It’s their favorite food, and not a bit goes to waste. Cattails are edible (even by people) from root to flower. It’s sad that cattail colonies are destroyed by the graceful but useless phragmites plant, an invasive species that overruns wetlands that cattails (and those dependent on it) favor. As cattails disappear, muskrat families peter out too, to disease, predation by coyotes or foxes, or they just move on if they can manage it.  Muskrat families become fragmented, much like the American family after World War II. Before 1940 25% of Americans lived with parents, grandparents and children. Often aunts, uncles and cousins lived close by.  The habits of children were policed by legions of well-meaning relations. Forty years later, that life had become an anomaly, vanquished by the post- war economic boom.  Phragmites is a world war to cattails, and to muskrats. Fragmented family units fare poorly in contrast to those that are intact, be they one mammal or another.

We have a big stand of cattails which is holding its own. We have phragmites, too, unfortunately, but not nearby. Though phragmites spreads like wildfire, it would have quite a distance to cover before reaching the pond. So I think our little muskrat family is safe at least from that threat.  I’d hate to see them split up.  Pretty soon we’d be seeing those little muskrat pups listening to thumping popular music on ipods, wearing droopy pants, with no nosy aunts to disapprove.

Interestingly, today economics is driving a revival of the extended American family. Expenses for seniors and a paucity of entry-level jobs for young people are keeping us together longer.  It’s not muskrat love, but it’s a start.  Pass the cattails, please.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist

The Object of My Envy

March 19, 2010

It rained and rained last week. But it’s spring, and warm enough to ward off snow. So all we’ve had is submerged river banks, and some downed trees and branches. The ground is saturated, so worms flee to the surface to avoid drowning. Sadly, once up top it’s still wet and they die en mass out in the driveway. I once knew a naturalist who tried to save the drowning worms as she walked through a rainstorm, but to my thinking this is misguided. As far as I know, worms haven’t yet made it to the endangered species list, and dead ones make fine food for scavengers.

Children love worms. They love drowned worms that they can “save” by putting them in the grass, and they love the water-logged ones they find on the sidewalk because they can yell, “eeewwww!” and run away from them. Worms not experiencing a flood are also popular with kids. When I take groups around our grounds to look under bug boards, regardless of whatever else might be under there, the kids will shout, “a worm!”. There could be a rare specimen of some kind under the board, but nothing holds a candle to a worm. Mostly, kids want to hold them. If I’ve come across a mother lode of worms, I pass them out like peppermints to all the little cupped hands reaching toward me. This scene is repeated no matter how many bug boards have worms under them, and they pretty much all do. The pinnacle of worm discovery is finding worm “castings”, a polite way of saying worm poop. Nothing tops that. It really spices up a nature walk!

Charles Darwin thought so, too. He spent thirty-nine years studying the “lowly” worm. As a matter of fact, despite their choice in housing, worms are not in the least lowly. Like every single thing on this earth, worms are sensational once you get to know them. Just as we do, a worm needs air, food, an amenable temperature, and some moisture. If these elements are lacking, they up and wiggle away. Cold-blooded, these helpful though homely creatures bring fresh soil to the surface, mixing it with nitrogen they hold in the slime covering their bodies. For this gardeners prize them. The healthiest gardens are chock-full of worms. An acre of land can hold about a million, a goal for every home gardener.

If only people were more like worms! They are perhaps one of the most practical animals on earth, possessing not only the ability to reproduce (and that’s another story!), but also the ultimate party trick of self-regeneration. As children everywhere know, if you pull off a little section of a worm, you have two new worms! The replication is not completely fool-proof, depending on the species of worm and where the “disengagement” occurs on the body. It’s pretty easy to lose a tail, but not quite as easy to lose a head!

Oh, to remake oneself anew following slings and arrows of assault, to enjoy the endless approval of children, and the eager appreciation of those who tease life and beauty from the soil. I envy the worm.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist

Edit this entry.

To New Beginnings

March 11, 2010

The pussy willows were in full bloom today, and life is waking up again throughout the estate. Today I even saw a butterfly -a tortoiseshell type, the earliest I’ve ever seen one.  A butterfly afficionado I know says it might be a record.  Along with Mourning Cloaks, tortoiseshell butterflies are seen in the earliest days of spring. I also spied jumping spiders in the meadow, and incredibly, a grasshopper. The Northern Water Snake that naps near the bridge down by the pump house is awake, and a turtle plopped into the water as I walked along the sunny side of the pond.  Bluebirds circle the newly-cleaned bird boxes. Skunk cabbage is well along now and woodcock are skulking in the woods surrounding the fields.  They rest and forage in the wet woods during the day and come out at dusk to do their bizarre dancing and calling.  Wood frogs are awake, too.

skunk cabbage

We’ll have cold, raw days yet before spring takes a real foothold, but the first sunny days of the season provide such relief even after an uneventful winter.  Today you could almost hear flowers pushing up earth and green shoots unfurling. Beginnings are so much fun.  First date, first dance, first day of school, first car, first love, first kiss, first flower, first caterpillar, first red-wing blackbirds, first phoebes. You might say that without endings, there wouldn’t be beginnings and in a limited sense this may be true.  Organically speaking, there is a cycle of birth and death that doesn’t vary.  But there are human beginnings that seemingly spring from nowhere, and, heaven knows, unforeseen conclusions. Beginnings are rarely bitter, even in plants this is true.  Dandelion salad, for example, is lovely when the leaves are small.

Circumstances and sentiment can all too often dictate endings, when bonds become in their own way overgrown and too big for the container. Last misunderstanding, last farewell, last regret.  At least nature’s endings are free of recrimination. The past melts away graciously and makes way for the new.  Last snowfall, first snowdrop.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist