Thursday, April 16, 2009

April 16, 2009 - Where the Barn Used to Be, North River Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I'm busy, just like everybody else. I've got a forty-hour per week job for which I travel quite a bit. I'm a freelance writer for one newspaper and numerous magazines. I'm executive director of a national Coast Guard history organization, and do a lot of volunteer work for another. I speak in public several times a month, and lead private tours of several historic places. I'm sharing in the duties of raising a six-month old (admittedly, my wife is taking the lion's share), and did I mention that I take a walk every day?

Then there's the books. I've now got deadlines for five of them. I've got little spare time. But that doesn't mean I can't plan ahead. Someday, when I have time, I'm going to write another book. It'll all have to do with grass. Or, instead, the lack of it.

There's a spot, at the top of the grassland at the North River Wildlife Sanctuary, where a barn used to stand. It's been moved, and still stands elsewhere on the property. Where it used to stand, well, it's an example of what would happen to the rest of the property if we didn't mow it annually. There are small trees and bushes and thorns. There's a tiny pool of water and a path that runs right through the thicket. I've seen red-tailed hawks soaring above it, American woodcocks stepping into it at the end of a night's dancing, the remains of a fisher's kill strewn all about it, and much more. For a little place, it's got a lot of nature going on.

I got the call today that there were American toads croaking up a storm in the tiny pool. For most people, that's not jump-out-of-your-seat news. But I'm the citizen science coordinator at our sanctuary, and we're conducting an amphibian sounds survey. I grabbed my clipboard and camera and hustled out the door.

But by the time I got there, there was no sound at all. I crept up on the pool, keeping my eyes on the ground ahead of me, to see if I might spy a toad. Nothing. I waited silently for about a minute, patiently standing on a small rock. Then I heard the grasses move behind me. I looked behind me, but saw nothing. I looked in front of me, and there it was. A snake, a 16-inch garter, had slithered between my legs and into the pool. That's why there were no toads around.

It was another chapter unfolding in my someday to be published book, on one of my favorite spots, the place where the barn used to be.

Time: 30 minutes.

New species: Reptiles: garter snake (2); Wildflowers in bloom: myrtle (5).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: Eight full hours at the desk; work on magzine and book projects; got word that my latest book, on Monhegan Island, has hit store shelves.

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