So far the fall color here is pretty patchy. Occoneechee Mountain is the highest point (867 feet) here in Orange County, where we now live. So Monday we climbed a trail up to the top to see what the view might be like. Even though we see deer almost every day in our yard it’s still a thrill to see a wild one out deep in the woods.
On our way back to the parking lot we heard quite a commotion in involving several crows and possibly another kind of bird. We kept stopping to try to see what was going on, but we never saw anything.
Part of me thought perhaps we had chosen the wrong week to visit Mt. Mitchell, that we might have waited a week in order to see more fall colors. Well, it turns out it was a good thing we didn’t go a week later. They had enough snow over there in the mountains to close Mt. Mitchell State Park and 37 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We would not have been able to go see any of what we did!
Saturday, seventeen days after the last one, we woke up to a low humidity day and got ourselves outside for another walk. Because the UNC students are moving into their dorms for the fall semester there are signs everywhere warning about extra traffic in Chapel Hill. So we headed in the opposite direction, to a 24-acre park in Hillsborough. It was very busy there, too, with kids practicing soccer on a field and countless people walking dogs and parents pushing strollers and bicyclists zipping by. I learned later there is a fenced dog park somewhere on the property.
But we stumbled across a little gem, a pollinator garden with a bee hotel. In the garden we met a master gardener who was on her knees, photographing bees on the flowers. While we were talking with her a goldfinch landed nearby and a hummingbird quickly chased it away! After she shared a lot of her knowledge with us she told us about the Orange Master Gardeners website. (We live in Orange County.)
In 2016, Hillsborough became the 35th city to be named a Bee City USA. Dedicated in November 2017, the bee hotel provides a home for the 90 species of bees native to the area, many of which live solitary lives and seek a safe, tunnel-like dwelling to lay eggs and care for their young. ~ Orange Master Gardeners website
The website mentions that we are located in Ecoregion 45C, the Carolina Slate Belt, which sent me off on a web-search, wondering what on earth an ecoregion is…
An ecoregion (ecological region) is an ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than a bioregion, which in turn is smaller than a biogeographic realm. Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural communities and species. The biodiversity of flora, fauna and ecosystems that characterize an ecoregion tends to be distinct from that of other ecoregions. ~ Wikipedia
Anyhow, after we were done chatting she kindly pointed us in the direction of Riverwalk, an urban greenway along the Eno River. We enjoyed the boardwalk and scenery. The rest of it was paved so it wasn’t really a walk in the woods. But it was nice to get out in the fresh air and sunshine and to move our bodies. (I’ve been doing a lot of yoga but I’ve missed the pleasures of walking!) I’m not used to seeing so many people.
A something in a summer’s Day As slow her flambeaux burn away Which solemnizes me.
A something in a summer’s noon — A depth — an Azure — a perfume — Transcending extasy.
~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #104)
On our way back we passed by the pollinator garden again we spotted a flash of iridescent blue, the wings of this very large wasp. (above) I couldn’t capture the blue on camera. But I’m pretty sure it must be a great black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus). It prefers solitude and is not aggressive. Nice to know it’s a helpful pollinator and goes after garden pests.
Curiosity about ecoregions led me to discover that most of my life I lived in Ecoregion 59, the Northeastern Coastal Zone which is in the Eastern Temperate Forest. And now I live in Ecoregion 45, the Piedmont which is in the Temperate Coniferous Forest. Wikipedia has a map of ecoregions in the contiguous United States here. In which ecoregion do you live? (If you care to share.)
We are slowly getting our bearings here, still working on our to-do list, getting acquainted with new doctors, spending time with the little ones, etc. One nice thing that has become routine is visiting the fantastic Carrboro Farmers’ Market every Wednesday afternoon. It’s been a treat having fresh picked locally grown flowers (some familiar, some new to me) in my vase every week. Makes me feel at home.
It was our lucky day — we got to see the Canada goose hatchlings still in their nest! However, papa goose was standing guard right where I usually stand to take pictures of mama goose on her nest. He never budged — what a vigilant, protective papa. I had to make do and find a different spot to zoom in from for my pictures.
If you look closely in the above picture, all the way on the left papa goose is standing there keeping an eye on the whole pond and his family. All the way on the right mama goose and the goslings are on the little rock island.
On our way over to the nature center we happened to see the Viking ship Draken Harald Hårfagre being moved to a different dock in the preservation shipyard at Mystic Seaport. Tim parked the car illegally so I could hop out and cross the street and capture it, probably the last time we will see it. Most of the time it is covered in marine shrink wrap so this was a real treat!
The Draken Harald Hårfagre first came to Mystic in 2016, if I remember correctly, and it’s been exciting to me having it here for so long. Even though its home port is Haugesund, Norway the crew seems to have made Mystic its home away from home. Its website says it’s the world’s largest viking ship sailing in modern times. Official website.
We first came to this open space property three years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, and have been here many times since. Since we know we’re going to North Carolina in a few months this visit seemed special because we were well aware that we may never pass this way again.
A few days ago I spent some time sorting through my “walks” index file, pulling our favorite walks out of the rotation so we might visit them one last time before we go. Please forgive me for this very lengthy post. I want to save as many picture memories as possible!
Usually we walk down to the waterfall and back up the hill, but this time we explored two side trails. First we walked upstream to the dam and walked out on it until the break which lets the brook through now. Then we hopped down off the dam and walked along the brook, getting a different view. With no leaves on the trees yet we could see a lot of the features in the woods.
By the time it came to the edge of the Forest, the stream had grown up, so that it was almost a river, and, being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly. For it knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, “There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” But all the little streams higher up in the Forest went this way and that, quickly, eagerly, having so much to find out before it was too late. ~ A. A. Milne (The House at Pooh Corner)
We had never been at the top of the waterfall before. Tim even went out over it a little bit. My legs didn’t seem long enough to jump down where he was.
Then we found the main trail again and made our way down to below the waterfall. I was looking forward to getting pictures of an old tree with amazing roots extending into the brook.
After crossing the footbridge and getting the above pictures we decided to follow a new trail for a little bit. Sheep Farm South, a property adjoining this one, was purchased by the Groton Open Space Association in April 2021. New trails were created on it and linked to the existing ones on Sheep Farm. So we started down this one which passes by a large moss covered outcrop. It was taller than Tim.
After we passed the outcrop we found a path that went up above it and walked through the woods a bit until we circled around and spotted the waterfall below us. I’m pretty sure the little vine below is partridge berry. It looks like the plant my brother-in-law identified for us at Connecticut College Arboretum, although not as lush looking.
Before crossing the footbridge I noticed a side view of the tree with the water hugging roots. It was a rough trip back up the long hill to the parking lot because Tim’s sciatica started acting up, but he made it. Perhaps we strayed a little too far this time but we did get to see a lot of things we haven’t seen before.
Packing boxes have arrived and I’m feeling overwhelmed with the enormity of the task before us but it was great spending a little time outside in the woods we will miss so much.
It was time to dust off the camera and resume taking our walks again. The big project is, for all intents and purposes, finally completed. But, I haven’t figured out how to write about it yet, so that long story will have to wait until after the holidays. Now to prepare for the coming visit of our darling grandchildren!
I added a layer of thermal leggings under my jeans for the first time this season and then we enjoyed the winter scenery along the Poquonnock River Walkway. We might be getting a coating of snow this afternoon. I love the cloudy light before snowstorms.
But the winter sun was shining brightly for the day of our walk, illuminating the tops of the reeds in a magical way.
Let us dig our furrow in the fields of the commonplace … and leave to others, more favoured by fortune, the job of explaining the world’s mechanism, if the spirit moves them. ~ Jean-Henri Fabre (The Life of the Fly: With Which are Interspersed Some Chapters of Autobiography)
We came across a large flock of house sparrows flitting around in the bushes along the boardwalk — how commonplace can it get? But a couple of them actually stayed put long enough to get their portraits taken.
It felt very good getting out of the house again and enjoying the ordinary, simple things the natural world has to offer.
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)
I wish I could include the smell of a patch of thyme for you, dear readers. What an amazing scent filled the air!
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.
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)
It felt so good sauntering along and catching up with a friend!!!
On Tuesday we left early to vote in the Connecticut primary and then drove down to the pond by way of the road along the Thames River. Some of the river’s banks are covered with an unattractive cement ramp, but, I happened to notice a swamp rose mallow popping through it as we were driving by.
Fascinated, I asked Tim to stop the car so I could hop out and examine the wildflower up close. How could it be growing in such an inhospitable spot? It wasn’t that big yet, maybe 2 feet tall, and I wonder how high it might be able to grow there. (They can grow to 7 feet, and the flowers are 4-6 inches in diameter.)
As I was enjoying the close encounter I noticed another wildflower growing through another seam. I loved the shades of purple on its petals.
Back in the car and on to the pond. So sad to see even less water remaining in it. I’m surprised the shorebirds don’t do their fishing over at the beach but they must have their reasons for hanging out here still.
Nature, like a loving mother, is ever trying to keep land and sea, mountain and valley, each in its place, to hush the angry winds and waves, balance the extremes of heat and cold, of rain and drought, that peace, harmony and beauty may reign supreme. ~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Feminist as Thinker: A Reader in Documents & Essays)
We’re supposed to get a break from the heat and humidity this weekend, which will be nice, but we also need some rain!
It was a muggy but very breezy morning so a walk was possible. About half way through I spotted this sweet mourning dove perched on a rock by the Thames River, partially hidden behind some vegetation. She stayed put while I moved around trying to get her best angle.
I was surprised that she made no motion to leave until I grew tired of taking pictures and turned around to leave. Then she finally flew off. It was a treat seeing a mourning dove by the water because they usually show up on our balcony and in the trees behind our condo. I appreciated the chance to get some pictures of one in a much more natural setting.
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.”
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.
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.
I took a picture of these trees holding the boulder (above) in November 2020. See here. Interesting difference between autumn and summer surroundings.
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.
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.
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)
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.