Tag Archive 'fecundity'

May 26 2024

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Intertidal Fecundity

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Once again Judy and I rented a cottage on the Maine Coast for a week, and once again I couldn’t resist the urge to walk to a small, rocky island just off Goose Rocks Beach. For days I watched a spit of the sandy beach reach towards the island at low tide, but it didn’t seem to connect. Then it did, although very briefly. So the next morning early, I timed my walk so that I’d reach the narrowing channel between beach and island right when the tide was lowest. It worked. I stepped onto the island without getting my feet wet.

The sun, just above the northeastern horizon, shined brilliantly through the cloudless sky. No breeze stirred the still waters, and temps rose quickly through the 50s and into the 60s. The beginning yet another beautiful day. I felt lucky to be alive and kicking. I ventured onto the island’s rock-strewn, uneven ground, careful as to where I stepped… all the time looking downward…

That’s when I realized that I could hardly step anywhere without stepping on some kind of life-form: periwinkles, barnacles, clams and more. These rocks, underwater during most of any given day, are covered with marine animals. I have witnessed this many times before, but can’t get used to this intertidal fecundity. I knelt down and turned over one rock after another. Beneath every rock, tiny hard-shelled aquatic animals moved about, along with translucent creatures barely visible to the naked eye. Had I remembered to bring my hand lens, I would have seen much more, I’m sure.

When I went to pick up and look under one rock, it started moving. That took me by surprise. It was a crab doing its best to look like a rock, now that it was exposed. Fortunately, I came upon it before any of the nearby shorebirds did.

Gulls, godwits, and other shorebirds were busy feeding in the shallow waters nearby, just off the island. No doubt they were finding plenty to eat. I was pretty hungry myself, so I hiked back to the cottage to consume a bowl of granola cereal. Yeah, we all have to eat. Gotta keep those inner fires stoked. Life forms come into being, eat as they mature, reproduce and die. It’s the eternal cycle of life. And nowhere is this more obvious than on a shoreline at low tide.

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Apr 27 2024

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The Unfurling of Spring

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photo by Judy Ashley-McLaughlin

Late April is a glorious time of year here in northern Vermont. The snow and ice are gone in all but the highest elevations and the remote corners of the state, the trees are covered with catkins kicking out their pollen, the swollen buds of bushes are beginning to open, and the grass is greening everywhere, everywhere. Oh sure, there is still plenty of brown in the leafless forests and tilled fields, and the occasional snow flurry on colder days reminds us of winter’s recent passing. But the blazing sun is working its magic all the same.

We are well into the growing season now, even though it’s too early to break out the shorts and flip flops. Some people anxiously await those 75-degree days, resenting the rawness of the first half of spring. “Mud season,” some Vermonters call it contemptuously, but I am never as hopeful as I am this time of year. Every day brings a new development in the natural world, and directly ahead of us is the warmer half of the year and endless green.

In the mountains a little over a week ago, I tramped in cold mud next to a raging brook up to its banks in snowmelt. Walking along the Rail Trail the other day, I spotted wood frogs and clusters of their eggs in ephemeral pools. Spring peepers sing out every night from nearby wetlands; songbirds do the same during the day. Robins, blackbirds, and other migrators showed up weeks ago, and hummingbirds are not far away. Ants, mosquitoes, and scores of other insects are busy now. Worms appear whenever I scratch the soil with my rake. The resident chipmunk has come out of his burrow, running circles around me until I hand over some nuts. The sun is now up early in the morning – almost as early as I am. And it’s all happening at once!

But it’s the flowering plants that drive home the drama of endless renewal this time of year. In the wilder corners of my back yard, round-lobed hepatica and spring beauty are in bloom, along with the less obvious wild ginger. I kneel down before them for a closer look. In tamer places, a solitary pansy struts its stuff – an outrageous burst of yellow. The bright green leaves of columbine and bleeding hearts have already leafed out – the latter sporting clusters of pink and white flowers on the verge of opening. I can hardly believe my eyes…

Then yesterday late afternoon I stumbled upon a patch of purple trilliums on the forest floor, already in full bloom. I nearly swooned from it. What an incredible world this is! How fortunate to be alive! There is nothing more miraculous than the unfolding of spring, and no joy greater than being totally immersed in such fecundity. That’s what an unrepentant pantheist like me feels this time of year, anyhow.

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Feb 04 2024

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Midwinter Daydreams

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For several weeks now, I’ve been getting up early each morning and writing about my various excursions into Adirondack backcountry during the past half dozen years. Talk about scratching an itch!

It’s the middle of a mild, somewhat dreary winter, and the world outside is mostly gray. Occasionally I venture into the cold for a long walk somewhere, but I’m really missing the lush, green seasons. Even if Vermont received enough snow to reclaim its title as a winter wonderland, I’d still be thinking green.

Last August, I ventured deep into the Silver Lakes Wilderness to a small, unassuming place called Canary Pond. There I grooved with the wild to my heart’s content. It has been foremost in my thoughts lately, as I work hard to regain my health. A bout of dizziness sent me to my doctor who, in so many words, told me that I either improve my diet or forget about doing what I love most. Ah yes, the hard choices of old age… Actually, it’s a no-brainer. I can’t afford to lose deep woods solitude. I’d go mad without it.

The wild green forest is fecund and brimming with activity in the middle of the growing season. There’s no substitute for it. Winter sports are good for one’s health, and there are no blood-sucking bugs to deal with this time of year. But being outdoors in February, well, it’s not the same as tramping through a dank forest crawling with activity. The latter is my cherished domain.

I hope to wrap up my collection of Adirondack hiking narratives soon, and get back to being fully in the here/now. Despite the cold, dreariness and lack of snow, the natural world still goes about its business. Short-eared owls have been spotted recently in the nearby Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. Judy and I have made one unsuccessful attempt to see them. It’s time to try again.

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Jun 07 2014

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By the Sea

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low tideFecund. That’s the word leaping to mind as I walk the Maine shoreline at low tide. At my feet lies the detritus of the ocean: shells mixed with seaweed, spread along the beach as far as the eye can see. Knotted wrack, barnacles and snails cling to every square inch of nearby rocks exposed by the retreating sea. In shallow tide pools I find more snails, hermit crabs, and so many smaller life forms that it seems the water itself is alive.

My wife Judy takes a wider view – her eyes locked on the distant horizon as the incessant, low roar of crashing waves washes her mind free of mundane thoughts. Impermanence is the word that leaps to her mind, and the shifting sands underfoot confirm it. All human constructs are like the sand castles built along the shore that the incoming tide dissolves.

A few days later, we board a 65-foot boat that takes us twenty miles off shore, to the feeding grounds of finback whales. For an afternoon we are sandwiched between low, gray clouds and sea swells. The edge of land grows fainter in the mist until it disappears altogether, unsettling a landlubber like me. When the captain kills the boat’s engine, all we can hear is water spraying upward from blowholes as those behemoths surface.  Their slick bodies shimmer in the dull light as they break skyward. Then they disappear beneath the waves. When finally we see one sucking in the ocean with its great mouth, we get a sense of what’s going on here.  “Lunchfeeding,” the captain calls it – tons of fish converting into tons of whale.

Back home, hundreds of miles inland, I return to my daily routine and the comfort of a green world that makes more sense to me. But for a few days I was reminded that we live on a water planet along with countless other life forms both great and small. The ocean is humbling, to say the least. I can’t grasp the sheer magnitude of it.

 

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Apr 02 2012

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Reservoir Reflections

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It’s a cool, overcast day in early spring. Even though Indian Brook Reservoir is only a few miles from the hubbub of suburban Burlington, Matika and I have the place all to our selves. The ice pellets occasionally spitting from the sky have kept everyone away – that and fact that it’s early afternoon on a weekday.

I have the day off from work so I thought I’d run a few errands in town then come out here to decompress. My dog Matika is happy to be in the woods for any reason. We hike to the far side of the reservoir then bushwhack a couple hundred yards off trail to a favorite rocky point where I like to sit and think. It’s a good day to do so.

We pass an old beaver lodge right before reaching the point. Plenty of new cuttings nearby. I wonder how long the caretakers of this reservoir will allow the beavers to proliferate before taking action. The longer the better as far as I’m concerned.  I like beavers. They make good company in the woods. Matika jumps on top of the lodge and sniffs around a bit.  Hers is an entirely different perspective, of course.

On the point, I sit on a rock and gaze across still waters reflecting the trees surrounding it. I come to this exact spot every spring to reflect upon events of the past year and quietly celebrate the end of another Vermont winter. A crow caws once in the distance then falls silent. Silence and stillness. Suddenly all my concerns seem trivial in the cool, gray light – all concerns but one that is. I’m another year older than I was the last time I sat here. Time marches on relentlessly.

I get up and walk around a bit. I spot a dead crayfish belly-up in shallow water. The shoots of a few wildflowers have already broken through the forest duff. Birth and death are common themes in the wild. They are clearly apparent everywhere one looks. I am both awed and horrified by it. The world is in a constant state of flux and this all-important “I” of mine is but an aggregate of dust quickly gathered then blown away. Fecundity and flux. Nothing withstands it.

I finish my hike without further reflection. I have things to do. If I dwell much longer upon The Big Picture, I’ll get nothing else done today. Perhaps it’s best to simply assume that things will go on forever just the way they are. That way we can go about our business as if any of it really matters.

 

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Aug 19 2011

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Year of the Rabbit

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They appear when least expected: late at night as I’m getting home from work; early in the morning when I’m retrieving the newspaper; sometimes in broad daylight, just sitting there in the middle of the yard.  There have been rabbits in our neighborhood for as long as I can remember, but never have they been so ubiquitous.  They are everywhere now, and in great abundance.

I told my granddaughter, Maddie, that she would probably see rabbits when she, her cousins, and her brothers came to visit Judy and me last week, and sure enough she did.  They all did.  We flushed one from the day lilies during the first hour of play.  My dog, Matika chased another one to the backyard fence late that afternoon.  Maddie chased another shortly thereafter.  On the last day, we saw a rabbit sitting in someone’s yard just as we were finishing a hike up Aldis Hill.  They’re all over town it seems – not just in our neighborhood.  Why the sudden influx?

Rabbits are closely associated with the idea of proliferation.  “Breeding like rabbits,” someone says, and a horde of cute, furry creatures comes to mind.  Then we smile.  Even in great numbers they are non-threatening – our vegetable gardens notwithstanding.  Come on now.  If there was a movie about rabbits taking over the world, could it be anything but a comedy?

When tough guys talk about the “survival of the fittest,” they think of themselves as predators not prey.  They identify with those fierce, toothy creatures at the very top of the food chain.  But there are other survival strategies that work just as well, if not better.  Proliferation is one of them.  The hungry trout gobble up the mayflies as they hatch, but the mayflies survive anyway.  There are simply too many of them.  Clearly rabbits “survive” the same way.  Breeding is the key to their success.

When I read Darwin’s The Origin of Species a few years back, I was surprised by the amount of sex talk in it.  We commonly think of Darwinism as a tooth-and-claw worldview, but it has more to do with reproduction really.  And rabbits, well, they do that quite well.

Fecundity.  That’s one of my favorite words.  I use it all the time when talking about wild nature. Top predators might get all the media attention, but it’s the breeders that dominate the planet. Most biomass consists of insects, vegetation and bacteria – all very fecund life forms.  In the animal world, frogs, rodents and certain species of birds proliferate . . . along with rabbits.  Yeah, rabbits.  Bugs Bunny was no dummy.  And the predators never did get the best of him.

 

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Jun 12 2011

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Summer Bloom

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The wildflowers that grow along roads and in fallow fields are easy to ignore.  It is the warm season, after all, and we are exuberant with baseball, beaches and a vast array of other summertime activities.  But the bloom has moved now from canopied forests to open places awash in sunlight.  Now the green is punctuated with tiny splashes of yellow, pink, blue and a dozen other dazzling hues.

It’s a subtle beauty to be sure – the stuff of impromptu bouquets given to mothers by their children.  One can walk along a recreational trail for twenty minutes before really noticing them.  But see one and hundreds suddenly appear, no, thousands.  Thick patches of birdsfoot trefoil and clover at one’s feet, bright yellow and orange hawkweed here and there, tangles of dewberry, and the ubiquitous buttercup – they all vie for our attention.  Summer’s bright, happy palette is everywhere, half-hidden in timothy bent over by a steady, warm breeze.  Bladderwort hugs the trail’s gravely edges.  Cow vetch lurks in the background.  Daisies steal the show.

When I walk in the open this time of year, I marvel at nature’s diversity.  The forest is just as fecund as the field, but the field flaunts it.  The untended places drenched with high sun allow plants to go crazy.  Ferns, moss and other lifeforms may creep relentlessly across the damp forest floor, but in the meadows biomass explodes.  Feel the heat that all these plants generate on a hot day and there’s no doubt in your mind that life pulsates on this planet.  Butterflies, dragonflies and countless other insects go about their business in these roofless hothouses.  Step into it and you come out covered in pollen and seeds.  Yeah, the wild fields are like that in June.  And they will only grow more intense as the season progresses.

It is easy to be awed by snow-capped mountains, roiling seas and blazing sunsets, but the power and glory of nature lies in the tiny flowers that we hardly notice at all – the ones whose names we forget or confuse with others, the ones that can only be appreciated with a magnifying glass.  Herein lies irrefutable proof that the wild will persist no matter what.  Herein lies the true genius of the ordered chaos that is Nature.  An hourlong walk this time of year reaffirms my pantheism.  God is in all things, surely.  What other explanation can there possibly be for such overabundance?  The fields full of wildflowers echo the chorus sung by billions of stars in the night sky.  Both the universe and the world we inhabit are absolutely teeming with possibility.

 

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May 20 2011

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Getting into the Green

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The appearance of fresh verdure is so dramatic that I have to touch the bright young leaves to convince myself that they are real.  Walking through a forest that has suddenly leafed out is absolutely delightful, and the perfumed smell of pollen and raw earth pushes me over the edge.  Trilliums, blue and yellow violets, and the white starbursts of baneberry accent the bright green foliage, putting a permanent smile on my face.  An unseen hermit thrush sings the perfect song for a day like this – nothing but flute-like joy.  How can anyone be anything but happy on a day like this?

I sweat heavily while walking slowly along the damp trail.  The humidity is high, thanks to incredibly persistent rains during the past few weeks, and mosquitoes gather around me the moment I stop to catch my breath.  I don’t care.  I am grooving on a wild world suddenly springing to life.  I am getting into the green.

My dog Matika, also exuberant, races up and down the trail, splashing through puddles and splattering me with mud so frequently that it seems intentional.  But all I can to is egg her on with: “You go girll!”  Sometimes being muddy is a good thing.

A gray squirrel peeks around a tree trunk at me and my canine companion.  A woodpecker cackles in the distance, as if it too is intoxicated by the green.  False solomon’s seal, only days away from blooming, underscores the promise of the season.  No doubt about it, the best is yet to come.

You’d think that, after all these years, springtime would hold no surprise for me, that I would have lost all enthusiasm after so many decades of it.  But a part of me is as young as the countless insects and other forest creatures stirring to life at my feet.  I can’t help myself.  I am young at heart despite wrinkles and gray hair.  And this world is my playground – a true marvel in the universe, a planet fecund.  Thank god for it.

 

 

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