Sunday, February 15, 2009

February 14, 2009 - Northern Half of Carolina Hill Reservation, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I have a walking stick. It's a neat one that I bought at Foster's Crossing in New Hampshire last year, during a visit to the White Mountains. I've never used it much for support. I just like having it in my hand as I walk.

I didn't bring it with me today as I walked Carolina Hill, but in retrospect, I should have. On many of my recent walks, I've found that I'm clearing a lot of fallen branches from the trails, the casualties of a bitter, windy winter. With my walking stick, I would simply sweep them away. Without it, well, there's just more bending involved in the process.

I had no idea how much I've missed these tactile experiences in nature. With the temperature cold, but certainly bearable, I walked without my gloves on today. I had forgotten how unexpectedly soft the needles of an eastern white pine can be, and, alternatvely, how expectedly prickly those of a pitch pine are. And I forgot how both of these trees love to leave their sap behind on one's hands. Snow was the cure today.

The main trail over Carolina Hill holds two meanings for me. First, there's the Walk for Wildlife. Each year it's my job to walk last, to collect all of the arrow signs pointing the way to the ultimate destination. But I won't be walking this year, as I'll be out of state that day. Second, last year, this trail was in the heart of one of the Breeding Bird Atlas project blocks for which I had responsibility. I can still picture the hermit thrush I saw with a chunk of food in its bill, carrying it off to feed its young. Today, I watched a gray squirrel scurry up tree with a mouthful of leaves, already building a nest of its own.

Today, I diverted from the main trail, taking side paths that wandered over ridges, into vales and under widow-makers. On most of these trails, the landscape has turned brown. Snow has melted, revealing a dense layer of tannin-infused oak laves. I picked up a sizable branch after a half an hour and used it as a spur-of-the-moment walking stick. The cold, though, had combined with the natural process of death to make the stick brittle, and it shortened itself every few hundred feet, until it no longer reached the ground from my hand. I tossed it into the woods, letting what was left of it return to the earth in peace.

Time: 70 minutes.

New species: Mammals: opossum (9); Birds: snow goose (109).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else happened: Led a snowy owl prowl on Duxbury Beach; led a sundown owl prowl at Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield; had Valentine's Day dinner with Michelle and our baby boy.

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