winter wanderings

1.22.23 ~ Leo Antonino Preserve, Groton, Connecticut
first brook crossing on the yellow trail

On a cold and cloudy winter morning we decided to explore a relatively new open space property pretty close to home. Leo Antonino Preserve was acquired by the Avalonia Land Conservancy in 2018. What a pleasant surprise we had as we meandered along the loop trail, so many twists and turns, ups and downs and bubbling brooks to cross. We haven’t had any accumulating snow this January, not even a coating. But the woods did smell like winter and the crisp cold air soon gave us rosy cheeks and runny noses.

spotted wintergreen

We were curious about this mysterious black stuff we saw on lots of the beech trees. Is it another symptom of beech bark disease?

The Leo Antonino Preserve is an unexpected tract of woods, wetland, rock outcroppings and erratics … The trail includes short sections of wide-open travel on packed earth and longer stretches of single-file trail that are rocky and rooty with elevation changes. The trail travels through areas of beech and oak and along vernal pools and active brooks. Erratics and upthrust sections of granite illustrate the geologic history of this section of Connecticut. Also illustrative of the history of this property, the yellow trail features the wreck of an old Chevy truck. The section of the yellow trail north of the Chevy is the most challenging with a scramble over a steep rocky ridge.
~ Avalonia Land Conservancy website

beech marcescence
very green mosses were everywhere

We made several crossings over a (or two?) brook. There were no bridges so we used the stepping stones, feeling grateful that we didn’t slip on the mosses!

another crossing
Tim left the trail, climbed the hill and then appeared from behind these erratics
yet another crossing
the wreck of an old Chevy truck
spotted wintergreen
a rusting metal circle hanging from a branch
ferns growing on top of a rock outcropping
lichen with moss
moss and lichen on different levels
sitting on top of a rocky ridge
American wintergreen
woodpecker work, I presume
???

Near the end of the trail we spotted these black lines on the path. I can’t help wondering if it’s the same black stuff we saw on the beeches…

I’ve been trying to be more selective and to include fewer pictures in my posts, but I had to make an exception for this one. When we started this hike I didn’t expect to take many pictures but it seemed like around every turn there was something interesting to notice. We’re looking forward to returning and trying the blue trail through these woods.

solitary boulders, stranded here and there

11.2.22 ~ a trail at Bluff Point State Park & Coastal Reserve

Hello, November! Taking an afternoon walk instead of our usual morning saunter proved to be invigorating — we went on for an hour and a half! There are many side trails at Bluff Point and we took a couple of them, finding some summery greens, a few fall colors and many bare trees, ready for winter. And of course, glacial erratics at every turn.

dried up browned ferns surround a glacial erratic
birch leaf

As we were walking along we were surprised to witness the silent flight of an owl. We did not see or hear it swoop down to catch its prey, but we suddenly heard the moment of capture, a rustling of the dry leaves on the ground, and then saw it fly up and away, soundlessly, carrying its squirrel-sized victim.

dense woodland behind old stone wall
sunlit maple leaves

The entire Connecticut landscape is a gift of the glacier. … Our safe harbors, historic mill sites and early farm economy were made possible by an ice sheet that oozed down from Canada between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago. The ice sheet also gave us fertile lowlands along our large rivers, gracefully curved upland pastures, gravel riffles in trout streams, verdant marshes fronting shoreline villages, a patchwork of stone walls, bricks for colonial buildings and solitary boulders, stranded here and there as if they were hillside shipwrecks. All of these are glacier gifts.
~ Robert Thorson
(“Connecticut’s Glacial Gifts”, Hartford Courant, August 31, 2003)

American wintergreen

We also saw a woodpecker and a nuthatch, but couldn’t get a decent picture of either of them. It was loads of fun navigating all the side trails weaving through the woods, deciding which fork to take several times. It was almost like a maze and we did backtrack a few times when we seemed to be going in the wrong direction.

sassafras leaf
a squirrel for Linda

When we got back to the parking lot a man was feeding a couple of squirrels. I think he must be doing it regularly because the squirrels were hanging out there very close to him. There were a few birds scolding this squirrel, impatient to have at some of those seeds he was sitting on. It was such a pleasure to be deep in the woods on a warm and lovely November afternoon.

how to take a walk

9.16.22 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum
waning gibbous moon
bee inspecting a hole in a trumpet vine blossom
blueberry life on the rocks
trumpet vine reaching for the moon
fallen leaf standing in water

We enjoyed a lovely long walk around the pond at the arboretum on Friday. I was in my sweatshirt and enjoying the fresh cool air. The trees are still green for the most part and we wondered what kind of fall color is in store for us in the wake of the drought. There were still some summer tints lingering side by side with hints of autumn hues.

half standing lily pad
pond in moderate drought
upside down

Few men know how to take a walk. The qualifications of a professor are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much. If a man tells me that he has an intense love of nature, I know, of course, that he has none. Good observers have the manners of trees and animals, their patient good sense, and if they add words, ’tis only when words are better than silence.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(The Later Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson: 1843-1871)

We also took a side path to the Glenn Dreyer Bog which was illuminated with spots of bright sunshine. The light near the equinoxes is amazing, as I often say.

Glenn Dreyer Bog
Glenn Dreyer Bog

The woods were full of gray catbird calls and we heard them rustling around in the tree branches. Occasionally we spotted one but they were diligently avoiding my camera. This was the summer of the catbird. Not only did we have one singing in our river birch outside our kitchen window, we saw them on almost every walk we took. Back in June, though, they were out in the open and more amenable to being photographed.

gray catbird
gray catbird
gray catbird
small fern and moss

How much of beauty — of color, as well as form — on which our eyes daily rest goes unperceived by us!
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, August 1, 1860)

river birch triplets

Today the humidity is creeping back with higher temperatures but it shouldn’t last for too many days. We plan to go see an outdoor Ibsen play, Peer Gynt, in the park tonight and will bring blankets to keep warm. This was supposed to happen in June but covid got the theater group and they had to postpone. We got our new bivalent booster shots last week but still plan to exercise caution as we try to move forward.

the -ber months are here!

9.2.22 ~ Haley Farm State Park

Yesterday the weather was perfect! It was so crisp and cool I had to close my windows overnight because it was so chilly. 🙂 But it wasn’t cold enough yet to immobilize the mosquito population which came after us on our otherwise lovely walk through one of the meadows at Haley Farm. The sunshine on our skin felt so good and there were whispers of autumn everywhere.

Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was, is not, and never again will be; what is, is change.
~ Edwin Way Teale
(Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year)

common wood-nymph

At the edge of the meadow we took another path into the woods for a short way, until the whining mosquitoes and a growling dog encounter turned us around. I love seeing how the sunlight highlights little spots in the darker woods.

Came home feeling refreshed and renewed! In spite of the covid concerns remaining stubbornly in place. Our positivity rate is 9%. We keep testing our kids and our grandchildren when they come to visit. We keep wearing masks in public places. We patiently wait for our new booster shots to be available. It will be nice to finally go get a haircut…

a new bridge

7.8.22 ~ Avery Farm Nature Preserve
daisy fleabane (?-it was a very tall plant)

Back in May a group of seven volunteers from the Groton Open Space Association replaced a dilapidated bridge over Haley Brook in this nature preserve. The new bridge is longer, wider and has more secure handrails. So on this pleasant day we decided to use some mosquito repellent and take a rare walk into the summer woods to check out the new bridge.

To compare with an autumn view of the farm relic pictured above, see here: autumn afternoon.

the new bridge
a clump of ferns by the brook
view of Haley Brook from the new bridge
spotted wintergreen flower

I didn’t want to risk contact with poison ivy or ticks so I couldn’t get too close to the spotted wintergreen flowers, but I was very excited to spot them out of the corner of my eye. I’ve only seen these plants before on my winter walks and have never seen the flowers. Tim used his walking stick to hold some of the surrounding vegetation back so I could at least get this blurry picture.

All of us derive security and comfort from the imaginary world of memories and fantasies and plans. We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down.
~ Pema Chödrön
(The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times)

mushroom

There were lots of damselflies fluttering through the air. One finally landed on a leaf long enough to get some pictures. Unfortunately another leaf was obstructing the view of its body but I was happy to capture some of the detail on her wings. The white dots at the end of each wing identify her as a female.

female ebony jewelwing
aka black-winged damselfly
another mushroom
view of bridge from the other side, coming back
pine cone in tangle of branches and vines
someone planted a little garden in a stump

The bug repellent seems to have worked. I heard one mosquito around my ear but never got bit. Since I discovered a couple of things (wintergreen flowers and black-winged damselflies) I’d never seen before I wonder if it might be worth the trouble to take more summer walks in the woods…

And now the covid positivity rate in Connecticut is about 10%. Heading in the wrong direction…

as you walk the meadow loop

6.24.22 ~ Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center

A lot had changed in the seven weeks between our visits to the nature center. The trees had leafed out and we could barely see the little mound where Mama Goose had been sitting on her eggs. But on this day the bullfrogs were still populating the pond. After checking out the pond we headed out to the meadow.

We’re squeezing in as many walks as we can before the weather forces us inside. The meadow was lovely with a few well-mown paths to follow through and around it. It was so refreshingly cool that in the shade I wished I hadn’t left my hoodie in the car, but in the sunshine the warmth felt so good on my bare arms. There were lots of birds flitting about, but not too many stayed still long enough for pictures.

eastern bluebird
a small portion of the large meadow
sign surrounded by orbs
birdhouse with some unique “landscaping”
honeysuckle
house sparrow (molting?)
clover blossom and bug

Then we walked back through the woods to the parking lot, and enjoyed the different things the dappled sunlight was highlighting.

ferns in a sunbeam
American robin

But beyond perpetual wonders
and mortals asking why
casting its light upon us all
is the sun’s supreme reply.

~ Gunnar Reiss-Andersen
(The Magic of Fjords)

summer solstice in the woods

6.20.22 ~ Bluff Point State Park & Coastal Reserve

This is the third year we’ve celebrated Midsummer since this endless coronavirus pandemic began. Driving on our way to a walk in the woods I was chattering to Tim about the “end” of the pandemic, how it was becoming more or less endemic now and that maybe I should stop tagging my posts with “pandemic.”

last quarter moon

Monday was a perfect summer day and the trees were green and lovely. Tim was already wearing shorts and I was still in my hoodie, typical between-season attire for this couple. 😉 We had forgotten it was a 3-day weekend, a Monday holiday for Juneteenth, so there were lots of people in the state park. No matter, everyone was friendly and in good spirits.

a peek at the Poquonnock River

We had a nice conversation with a young couple from New Hampshire who were very excited about a bird they had spotted. (We finally got a glimpse of it but couldn’t see it well enough to identify it.) And another conversation with a man, about our age, who commented on how good the honeysuckle was smelling and asked me about the zoom lens on my camera. I really didn’t feel too nervous being so close without a mask since we were outside.

it looks like these two trees are lifting the glacial erratic up off the ground

I took a picture of these trees holding the boulder (above) in November 2020. See here. Interesting difference between autumn and summer surroundings.

beach rose blossom
honeysuckle blossoms
greenery!

It turned out to be the longest walk we’ve taken in ages, a whole hour and a half! And I don’t know what it is about catbirds this year — they are turning up everywhere! It was one of those days where it simply felt exhilarating to be alive and present.

gray catbird
twig art on glacial erratic
the twig and the glacial erratic in the above picture
clover blossom
another sunlit glacial erratic
another gray catbird

I’m still enjoying daily encounters with the catbird coming to the birch tree outside my kitchen window. He usually announces the visit with a few meows and then begins his repertoire of varied melodies, songs that I imagine he has picked up and adopted along the way.

on another branch

People who watch a banded gray catbird outside their window all summer will find it hard not to wonder exactly where it’s spending the winter, or to marvel that science still doesn’t have the answer. And if the catbird doesn’t come back, they, too, will inevitably wonder why.
~ Miyoko Chu
(Songbird Journeys: Four Seasons in the Lives of Migratory Birds)

looking the other way
hawkweed (thanks to Eliza for the id)
a chipmunk on the path

But perceptions will inevitably shift, as fickle as the weather. On arriving home we learned that a fully vaccinated relative has come down with covid and had a very high fever. The news shattered my hopeful illusions. Other relatives who have had the virus have said it was no worse than a cold. One of the most disconcerting things about the illness is that it is impossible to know how it will hit you until you actually catch it.

And then, the next morning I woke to the news that a play we were planning to attend outdoors this week was put on hold:

Update on PEER GYNT: Due to COVID delays, our production will not be opening this weekend (June 23-26) in Wilcox Park. We will update on our revised schedule of performances as soon as we can. Thank you for your understanding and stay safe!
~ Flock Theatre

Connecticut’s positivity rate is hovering around 8%. So, all things considered, I guess it’s too soon to remove the pandemic tag from my posts. This refreshing walk will be recalled as our third pandemic summer solstice celebration. Feeling gratitude for the company of sociable strangers, playful catbirds and a chipmunk with the munchies on this memorable, bittersweet day.

hints of autumn

9.4.21 ~ Sheep Farm, Groton, Connecticut

Labor Day weekend with autumn weather! I didn’t think it was possible. We couldn’t resist taking a morning walk in the woods in spite of mosquito and poison ivy threats. I’ve been waiting impatiently for this kind of day all summer.

American burnweed

To include nature in our stories is to return to an older form of human awareness in which nature is not scenery, not a warehouse of natural resources, not real estate, not a possession, but a continuation of community.
~ Barry Lopez
(High Country News, September 14, 1998)

smaller bug with bee on goldenrod

As I’ve often said, I love the sunlight this time of year, in the months surrounding the equinoxes. It seems just right, not too dim nor too bright, and it immerses everything I see in a wonderful presence. Sometimes my camera even catches it the way I perceive it.

Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are “patches of Godlight” in the woods of our experience.
~ C. S. Lewis
(Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C. S. Lewis & The Chronicles of Narnia)

waterfall in Fort Hill Brook
daddy-longlegs on the top trunk of a tree,
snapped off during Hurricane Henri

Impermanence and fragility are essential components of beauty, and of love. In some mysterious way, we are all here together, one whole happening, awake to the sorrow, the joy, and the inconceivability of every fresh and instantly vanishing moment, each of us a bright light in the dazzling darkness.
~ Joan Tollifson
(Facebook, February 24, 2021)

circling around the kettle

11.4.20 ~ Kettle Hole Trail
Ledyard, Connecticut

Kettles form when blocks of ice are broken off of the glacier and then buried in drift. When the retreating glacier melts, so does the block of ice, leaving a depression. Kettles can be very small and hard to find if they are obscured by foliage, and if the water remained in the hole, they can become lakes.
~ Jessica Cobb
(Connecticut’s Landscape Is the Story of Glaciers website)

a stone wall surrounded most of the kettle,
it’s hard to see how far the land drops down beyond the wall

While trying to learn more about glacial erratics online I discovered kettles, and learned that we had one nearby. And so Tim & I were off to have a look at Kettle Hole in Ledyard. A loop trail circles along the perimeter. Well, it was very large and easy to find, even though it was obscured by foliage, and was not filled with water. Unfortunately, this kettle was not easy to capture in a photograph, its depth (perhaps about 50′ – 15m) just didn’t show up in a flat picture. Sigh.

Tim thought the drop might be more visible from this angle
this rock looked like it had started to tumble into the kettle

All the same, we had a very pleasant walk on a lovely autumn day. And enjoyed photographing other things. We’ve had some rain here and there so our drought level has dropped to moderate, so we’re headed in the right direction.

rotting log covered with moss
not sure what to make of this,
it looked like a miniature fern growing out of and lying on top of the moss

All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite.
~ Gretel Ehrlich
(The Solace of Open Spaces: Essays)

acorns and oak leaves on moss
fading fall colors
princess pines ♡ little fairy forests in my mind
spotting these evokes sweet memories from my childhood

The green branchlets and stems of princess pines stay fresh-looking all winter, and they stand out prominently on the dry browns of a forest floor. Being evergreen like that may have contributed to the name, even though princess pines do not make pine cones. People often collect the tough, pliable plants and make Christmas wreaths and lush table arrangements out of them. They last a long time that way, despite the dryness of life on bare walls and tabletops. All you have to do is soak them in water for an hour or so to revive them. Although princess pines do a fine job of evoking holiday spirit, I do not want to encourage you to go out and collect great heaps of them every year. So many people are doing it already that some of these plants are in danger of being wiped out.
~ Curt Stager
(Field Notes from the Northern Forest)