Archive for July, 2021

Jul 30 2021

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When Least Expected

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A few days ago Judy and I lingered in the Northeast Kingdom after visiting family at Lake Wallace, clear up in the northeast corner of Vermont. We drove past the small town of Island Pond to the Wenlock Wildlife Management Area. Then we walked the trail to Moose Bog Pond. We had encountered some interesting birds there during a visit last year and hoped to do so again.

The trail is a short, easy, nearly flat path winding through a spruce/fir forest that’s home to the ever-elusive spruce grouse. I caught a glimpse of that bird last year but it disappeared before Judy could get a photo. No matter. There were plenty of friendly red-breasted nuthatches and grey jays to entertain us at Moose Bog Pond back then.

But that was last year. This year the grey jays were nowhere to be seen, and the nuthatches were skittish. A great blue heron was feeding at the pond, but it was too far away for Judy to get a good shot. So she photographed northern pitcher plants as we hung out for a while on the boardwalk jutting into the bog surrounding the pond. It was a beautiful summer day in the woods so we were happy just being there. All the same, I could tell that Judy was a tad disappointed.

On the way out, Judy took pictures of some interesting mushrooms while I crept ahead. That’s when I caught a little movement out of the side of my eye. I looked over and, sure enough, there was a spruce grouse half-hidden in the dense understory. I froze in place then signaled to Judy. She was looking down at the time and didn’t see me at first, but I didn’t dare say a word. Remarkably, the grouse didn’t move away. Then Judy saw me gesturing wildly and slowly moved in to photograph the bird. Even more remarkably, the grouse turned around giving Judy an even better view. She took a bunch of pictures.

Isn’t that the way it goes when dealing with wildlife? How many times have I gone looking for a creature only to come up empty-handed? How many times have they popped up, taking me completely by surprise? It’s all very serendipitous.

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Jul 19 2021

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Deep Woods Solitude

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A few days ago I hiked five and a half miles into Five Ponds Wilderness, located in the western Adirondacks, and set up camp at Cat Mountain Pond. I got there early in the afternoon, hoping to be the first person there. I was. In fact, I was the only person there well into the next day.

After a quick swim to wash away sweat, I settled into a rather pensive frame of mind. This is normal for me. As a philosopher of wildness, I often contemplate existence and meaning while sojourned in the woods. The wild seems to me like the best place to do so. The wilder, the better.

With no one to talk to, all my elaborate philosophical arguments seem rather moot. The wild isn’t interested in my version of reality. It is reality. I can babble all sorts of logical theorems to myself, but that’s pointless. I can scribble down my thoughts in a journal, but my thoughts are dominated by the wild. That is, if I’m paying any attention to my surroundings, all I can do is take dictation.

Are my journals the gospel according to the wild? Hardly. There’s a big difference between experiencing the reality of the wild and being able to articulate it. After forty-odd years of scribbling I’ve come close perhaps, but deserve no cigar. There remains some aspect of the natural world that eludes me. There remains some aspect of it that is beyond words.

All interpretations of the Real are sadly lacking. The wild teaches me this time and time again. It teaches me this when the sun sets, a barred owl hoots and the hum of insects fills the forest. It teaches me this as a great wild silence settles over a still pond. All I can do is listen, and this listening borders upon being a mystical experience, for that’s all that we mere mortals can do.

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Jul 12 2021

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Backyard Wildlife

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Early this morning I spotted an turkey with its new brood in our back yard. Last year we had a bunch of them come through our yard on a daily basis. Judy and I are hoping that happens again this year.

We live in a grove of maple trees that used to be tapped for syrup but is now a cluster of homes. Only two miles out of town, our neighborhood hardly qualifies as being rural, but the wild animals living around here don’t know that. They visit us on a regular basis.

We’ve put up several bird feeders so we see the usual suspects during the day: woodpeckers, goldfinches, nuthatches, and other avian inhabitants. Crows and mourning doves scrounge around at the base of the feeders. Squirrels take advantage of the situation, of course. All our feeders have baffles on them because of the squirrels – circular metal obstructions halfway up the poles to the feeders that confound those rodents. A single chipmunk scurries about, as well. Yeah, our backyard is a busy place.

Recently field mice got into our garage and made a real mess of things. That probably explains why I found a garter snake in the garage once. But the snake didn’t keep the mice from damaging one of our cars. So the garage doors stay closed now, and eight highly effective mouse traps take care of the occasional mouse that gets in anyway.

Gary Snyder once said that the wilderness isn’t all berries and sunshine. The same could be said about our backyard, even though there there are plenty of berries to be had, as the deer passing through know all too well. They like to munch on the flowers in our garden, as well. Hmm…

When a mouse dies in one of the traps, I lay its body on an open patch of ground near the edge of the woods. I hear a barred owl back there around daybreak, thinking that she gets the treat. Or maybe one of the wandering skunks or raccoons does. Or maybe the red fox that showed up once knows about that snack bar. Hard to say.

With the help of Judy’s nephew Rick, we’ve just put up a game camera in the backyard to find out exactly who’s getting what. A bobcat showed up on a neighbor’s game camera earlier this year. We’re hoping to see that, or some other big surprise. After all, there are plenty of critters out there. I see more wildlife here than I do while wandering around in deep woods. Go figure.

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