little surprises

10.4.23 ~ Cabe Lands Trail, Eno River State Park
Durham, North Carolina

This trail was pretty much a seemingly endless straight line through the forest. But imagine my delight when I noticed a small patch of princess pines growing alongside the path. It’s good to know they live down here in these woods, too! It was like running into an old friend.

These tiny plants are usually less than 6 inches tall but they look like miniature pine trees. They were fairy forests in my mind when I was a child.

Wonder — is not precisely knowing
And not precisely knowing not —
A beautiful but bleak condition
He has not lived who has not felt —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1347)

sun ray lighting up a fallen leaf in the princess pine forest
downy rattlesnake plantain

At first I thought I also had the good luck to stumble across a wintergreen but the above plant turned out to be a downy rattlesnake plantain. Apparently this orchid grows in New England, too, but this is the first one I’ve ever noticed.

There are 18 trails in Eno River State park, over 30 miles of them, so we have plenty of places to explore in the coming months.

flora by the sea

10.10.22 ~ Cognitive Garden at Avery Point

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day my good friend Janet and I took a long afternoon walk from Eastern Point to Avery Point and back again, passing by Beach Pond both ways. The weather was picture perfect, if a bit on the breezy side.

After admiring the views of Long Island Sound and identifying the various islands and lighthouses we could see on a clear day, we found the “Cognitive Garden” on the Avery Point campus. There was still a lot of interest to see there in the middle of autumn. Textures and colors.

Cognition means to acquire knowledge through the senses, experience, and thought. A cognitive garden encourages learning through these three processes while exposing people to nature. While the benefits of nature extend to all ages, young children learn primarily through their senses and a multitude of studies have demonstrated a correlation between sensory stimulation and brain development.
~ University of Connecticut, Avery Point Campus website

The naturalist is a civilized hunter. He goes goes alone into a field or woodland and closes his mind to everything but that time and place, so that life around him presses in on all the senses and small details grow in significance. He begins the scanning search for which cognition was engineered. His mind becomes unfocused, it focuses on everything, no longer directed toward any ordinary task or social pleasantry.
~ E. O. Wilson
(Biophilia)

black-eyed Susan

I wish I could include the smell of a patch of thyme for you, dear readers. What an amazing scent filled the air!

thyme ~ it smelled wonderful!
a bee enjoying the smell, too

On the way back I was happy to see that Beach Pond was full of water again, although we were still in a moderate drought that day. I suspect Thursday’s torrential rains may have moved us up into the abnormally dry category. No waterbirds around but still some flowers blooming, and others spent.

asters at Beach Pond
cattails with fluff

So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,
and put your lips to the world.
And live
your life.

~ Mary Oliver
(Red Bird: Poems)

the pond is full of water and the breeze was making little ripples
juvenile song sparrow
backside of a lingering swamp rose mallow and orbs
swamp rose mallow bud and orbs

It felt so good sauntering along and catching up with a friend!!!

a living museum

2.11.22 ~ Alewife Cove Nature Walk
Ocean Beach, New London, Connecticut

When we arrived at Ocean Beach and started walking down the boardwalk to get to the Alewife Cove Nature Walk we heard a couple of starlings singing the loveliest songs and couldn’t believe our ears. (Back at home I was surprised to learn that “they have impressive vocal abilities and a gift for mimicry.”) I’ve only heard them making unpleasant noises until this day.

European starling

As we went along I spotted a cat spying on us. He must have been enjoying the spring-like weather.

The last time I was at this place was in April of 2012, almost ten years ago, with Janet and Nancy. It’s changed a lot due to the many storms forever reshaping the coastal landscape. Here is what I posted back then: walking is discovery. When Tim & I walked at Waterford Beach Park back in October we could see this nature area across the cove and so I made a mental note to revisit it soon. See: sunlight by the sea.

song sparrow
Alewife Cove and Long Island Sound
great blue heron
Alewife Cove
looking west across Alewife Cove to the walkway to Waterford Beach Park

On the walk ten years ago I discovered a praying mantis egg case like the one above. On this walk we saw dozens of them! This must be a favored habitat for them because I’ve never noticed these anywhere else on our wanderings. Apparently the nymphs, up to 300 of them, will emerge as soon as temperatures warm in spring.

praying mantis egg case

Whatever the environment from which it springs, local knowledge matters, because enchanted living begins with local living: genuinely understanding, and so living in harmony with the landscape you occupy.
~ Sharon Blackie
(The Enchanted Life, Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday)

praying mantis egg case
driftwood caught in the brush
driftwood on the sand ~ maybe part of a tree trunk?
cat hanging out at the beach pavilion

It was a great day for a walk. It’s a good thing we left when we did, though, because the Ocean Beach parking lot, which was empty when we arrived, was suddenly full of activity and people placing traffic cones everywhere to make space for lines of cars. They were setting up for free covid testing. We had to to exit out of an entrance to finally find our way out of the maze! A reminder that the pandemic is still with us. Our positivity rate is currently 5%. Seems to be going down slowly…

theory of sundials

“Midsummer Twilight” by Willard Metcalf

From astronomy we find the east, west, south, and north, as well as the theory of the heavens, the equinox, solstice, and courses of the stars. If one has no knowledge of these matters, he will not be able to have any comprehension of the theory of sundials.
~ Vitruvius Pollio
(Vitruvius, the Ten Books on Architecture)

tipping rock

2.24.21 ~ Hewitt Farm, North Stonington, Connecticut

Because of the winter storms we hadn’t had a real walk in the woods in over a month. “Get out there!” my favorite TV weatherman advised on Wednesday morning. We opened the door and the birds were singing and it felt like a spring day at 45°F (7°C). Most of the snow had melted. So we headed out to a new park for us, the Hewitt Farm in North Stonington.

This 104-acre park and recreation area was purchased by the Town of North Stonington in 2008 for the enjoyment of its residents and visitors to the region. The property consists of forests, fields, wetlands and streams; more than a mile of hiking trails, including the town’s Bicentennial Trail; the Shunock River; 3.5-acre Lower Hewitt Pond and dam; and several structures. The dam originally provided water-power to John Dean Gallup’s woolen mill located nearby.
~ Hewitt Farm Trail Map

a preview of the bigger rock to come

We took the Bicentennial Trail. It felt so good to be outside with a just a sweatshirt and no gloves needed! We walked for an hour and a half, up a hill to Tipping Rock, a huge glacier erratic that didn’t disappoint. From the top of the hill we could see the wooded landscape 360° all around us. But there was also lots to see along the way.

moss texture
another glacial erratic with a different energy
interesting root formation

For most of us knowledge comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”
~ Rachel Carson
(The Sense of Wonder)

perhaps the largest burl we’ve encountered

Not sure how long the trail would be we were thinking of turning back but then we saw the sign. So we pressed on up the hill…

first glimpse (telephoto lens)
what? could that be a ladder?
yes, indeed
no, we do not “do” ladders!
photo by Tim

After much oohing and aahing we headed back down the hill. It was a lot easier and faster than climbing up, but we still paused to see a lot of nature’s delights.

pincushion moss, I think
another interesting root formation

About half way down we heard the delighful sounds of excited children approaching. Two mothers with two babies and four little ones between them were coming up the trail so we took our usual six-feet-off-the-trail position as they passed. We exchanged pleasant greetings. They were wondering about the ladder…

remnants of autumn and winter

We were so happy to be out and about, as much as is possible, during the pandemic. Tim got his first shot on the 17th. Next one scheduled for March 17. My age group opens up on Monday but it may take a while to get an appointment because there are a lot more people in my age group than there are in Tim’s.

even the smallest thing

2.19.21 ~ white-throated sparrow, Birch Plain Creek

One can only hide from the cold for so long. One’s mind needs to be outdoors! One’s spirit needs simple things. It snowed most of the day on Thursday and Friday and when I woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday morning there were still flurries dancing around. We went for a walk in the scattered snow showers on Friday, with about five inches of the white stuff on the ground. Not wanting to drive anywhere, we walked in the woods and along the creek behind our condo complex.

I spotted a new bird, for me, a white-throated sparrow! She was not cooperating about posing very much but I was happy to get the above picture. One musn’t be greedy. I wonder what she was eating.

left over from a city-wide Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt
mourning dove

A mourning dove landed on a branch and eyed me. I thanked her for letting me see the coloring under her tail. Another new thing for me to see. And then she knocked some snow off the branch — yes dear little dove, I did see you do that. 😉

mourning dove knocking snow off the branch
waiting for spring

The creek was mostly frozen over. Tim spotted three gulls out on the ice. Two waiting for an opportunity and one devouring a fish. One always wonders who stole it from who…

great black-backed gull, first winter
it looks cold out there on the ice
winter survival

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing —
each stone, blossom, child —
is held in place. …

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
(Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God)

somebody’s tracks
Birch Plain Creek

My mood improved 100% by the time we returned home. Pretty flurries just continued floating through the sky all morning and afternoon, until dark, still there every time I looked up from my book. I have finished reading The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and have started on The Girl in the Tower, the second book in the Winternight trilogy. Perfect books for winter.

Birch Plain Creek

on the existence of atoms

“Young Girl Seated” by Amedeo Modigliani

It troubled me as once I was —
For I was once a Child —
Concluding how an Atom — fell —
And yet the Heavens — held —

The Heavens weighed the most — by far —
Yet Blue — and solid — stood —
Without a Bolt — that I could prove —
Would Giants — understand?

Life set me larger — problems —
Some I shall keep — to solve
Till Algebra is easier —
Or simpler proved — above —

Then — too — be comprehended —
What sorer — puzzled me —
Why Heaven did not break away —
And tumble — Blue — on me —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #516)

Finn

Finn

Little grandson Finn has been home for a few days now and we are all very busy! His name is Irish, given to him as a nod to his family’s year in Ireland, where he was conceived.

Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) was a legendary Irish giant who fought the Scottish giant Benandonner, who was threatening Ireland. Larisa, Dima and Katherine visited the Giant’s Causeway while they were in Ireland.

A blessing for a brother written by John O’Donohue:

The knowing that binds us
Is older than the apostrophe of cell
We formed from within the one womb.

All that flowed into us there
From the red village of ancestry
Sowed spores of continuity
That would one day flower
Into flickers of resemblance:

An unconscious gesture
Could echo an ancestor,
And the look of us stir
Recognition of belonging
That is ours alone;

And our difference finding
Its own rhythm of strangeness,
Leading us deeper into a self
That would always know its own
Regardless of difficulty and distance;
And through hurt no other could inflict;

Still somehow beside each other
Though the night is dark
With wind that loves
To clean the bones of ruins,
Making further room for light.

~ John O’Donohue
(To Bless the Space Between Us)

morning light

10.22.18 ~ morning light ~ Chapel Hill, North Carolina

As a scientist I am indeed only an ant, insufficient and anonymous, but I am stronger than I look and part of something that is much bigger than I am. Together we are building something that will fill our grandchildren’s grandchildren with awe, and while building we consult daily the crude instructions provided by our grandfathers’ grandfathers. As a tiny, living part of the scientific collective, I’ve sat alone countless nights in the dark, burning my metal candle and watching a foreign world with an aching heart. Like anyone else who harbors precious secrets wrought from years of searching, I have longed for someone to tell.
~ Hope Jahren
(Lab Girl)

Reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren was eye-opening for me. My father was a scientist and, like many children, I didn’t have much of a grasp on what he did all day. I knew he was researching chicken viruses in a lab at the university. Sometimes he would take my sister and me to work and I noticed all sorts of lab equipment, especially a special light he used to examine chicken embryos in their shells. I knew every couple of years he would be stressing about whether he would get funding for another couple of years. (He always did.) Once I tried to read his PhD thesis, but it was like trying to read a foreign language.

In this book Jahren, who studies plants, introduced me to the concept of curiosity-driven research. The scientist sets up and runs experiments to investigate whatever she happens to be wondering about. Any “real-world” applications of the results are not immediately apparent or sought. Collecting data is pure joy for her. She adds to the volume of scientific knowledge and leaves information for future scientists to make use of in their own research.

Now I get what my father was doing all those years! He may not have made any dazzling discoveries but he was an important ‘part of something that is much bigger than he was.’ Hope Jahren gives a very enlightening look into the everyday world of scientists, in words all of us will understand.