when the sun comes out

2.6.24 ~ Parker Preserve, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

When the sun comes out the world brightens up, even the browns and grays in the winter woods. It was a very sunny morning the other day, but too cold for a walk. So we opted for an afternoon walk. Even then it was still cold, Tim wore a coat, and I was bundled up with hat and mittens, too.

We found a new place to walk, another property belonging to the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Parker Preserve. It connects to the Mason Farm Biological Reserve we had explored back in December. At the beginning of the trail is Parker Meadow, the site of the former home of Bill & Athena Parker.

American holly
coming soon!

The huge bench above is one of two sitting in the meadow, where a 19th century log cabin was destroyed by a fire in 1995. (I assume it was the home of Bill & Athena.) After noticing what we presume to be dozens of patches of daffodils about to bloom, we headed into the woods, following the Woodland Trail.

late winter shadows
marcescence highlighted
this leaf was probably stranded here all winter
moss with sporophytes

Off in the distance we saw a huge log, covered in moss with sporophytes sprouting out of it. I used maximum zoom but could only manage the fuzzy picture above. We have been warned repeatedly about copperhead snakes so I resisted every urge to go off the trail and wade though the leaves to get a closer look.

in the spotlight: a maple leaf surrounded by oak leaves
illuminated roots from a tree that fell long ago
I’m calling this a ghost stump
effulgence

The disadvantage to taking an afternoon walk is that the traffic on the way home is very congested and slow. We found ourselves sitting in the car for a very long time at a traffic light near the James Taylor Bridge. From the road this bridge is unremarkable, the only hint that a bridge is there is a small sign identifying it and a short cement wall with a low fence on either side of it. But it’s located a mile from JT’s childhood home and it goes over Morgan Creek, which he wrote about in one of his songs, Copperline. We’ve encountered Morgan Creek a couple of times on our walks. This is all of particular interest to me because James Taylor was my idol when I was a teen, and he was the first singer I ever went to see in concert. I had all his albums. It’s a small world.

Half a mile down to Morgan Creek
I’m leanin’ heavy on the end of the week
Hercules and a hognose snake
Down on Copperline
We were down on Copperline

~ James Taylor
♫ (Copperline) ♫

sandhills pyxie-moss

1.28.24 ~ North Carolina Botanical Garden

It’s been a challenge getting outside with all the rain we’ve been getting lately. It was drizzling when we got to the botanical garden Sunday afternoon, even though the weather people had promised that the sun would be coming out. We decided to walk anyway.

Along the path we met a staffer named Lauren, who was out in the rain looking for salamanders. We fell into a nice conversation and when we told her about our hunt for seedbox a couple of weeks ago she suggested another plant for us to hunt down. A tiny pyxie-moss was flowering now. She showed us a picture of it on her cell phone, and gave us directions to its location. We found it!

By then it had stopped raining so I went back to the car and got my camera. What a treat to see this plant so rare and unique to the Carolinas!

A rare minute creeping subshrub of xeric areas in the Sandhills region of North Carolina. This is the smaller of our two species of pyxie-moss. Very range-restricted, the entire known range of this species is a handful of counties in North and South Carolina.
… The tiny succulent evergreen leaves are less than 5 mm long. … The flowers rarely set seed and the seeds rarely sprout.
~ Carolina Nature website

After enjoying our discovery we went on to explore more of the soggy gardens. There is always something different to see. It was still a damp, gray day.

pretty sure this is a longleaf pine

This resurrection fern was growing abundantly on one side of a tall tree stump. On the other side of the stump it was all mushrooms.

I couldn’t get around to the back of the stump for a full all-mushroom shot, but you can see where the ferns ended and the mushrooms began in the photo below.

I close my eyes and listen to the voices of the rain. … Every drip it seems is changed by its relationship with life, whether it encounters moss or maple or fir bark or my hair. And we think of it as simply rain, as if it were one thing, as if we understood it. I think that moss knows rain better than we do, and so do maples. Maybe there is no such thing as rain; there are only raindrops, each with its own story.
– Robin Wall Kimmerer
(Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge & The Teachings of Plants)

lichens on a fallen branch
‘lemon drop’ swamp azalea buds
‘Spain’ rosemary flowering
Atlantic ninebark (rose family) seed head
Ozark witch-hazel blooming
witch-hazel marcescence
winterberry aka black alder

And you know the light is fading all too soon
You’re just two umbrellas one late afternoon
You don’t know the next thing you will say
This is your favorite kind of day
It has no walls, the beauty of the rain
Is how it falls, how it falls, how it falls

~ Dar Williams
♫ (The Beauty of the Rain) ♫

Lauren had mentioned that rainy days are the best time to look for salamanders. On warm wet nights from January to March here in the Piedmont they emerge from their underground burrows and head for vernal pools to mate and lay eggs. A week after that artic blast it did get unseasonably warm. I wonder if she found any salamanders after we talked. We kept our eyes open but didn’t see any.

gray day

12.13.23 ~ North Carolina Botanical Garden

It was a gray day for a walk.

Christmas fern resting on moss
“Cicada Maple Seed” sculpture by Sam Spiczka
squirrel peeking at me from under a holly bush
holly holiday colors

Surprise! A gray catbird in December! North Carolina must be one of the places they migrate to in the winter. I’ve never seen one in Connecticut after September or before May.

He begins early, and makes up his song as he goes.
~ Mary Oliver (Catbird)
His black cap gives him a jaunty look, for which
we humans have learned to tilt our caps, in envy.

~ Mary Oliver (Catbird)
oakleaf hydrangea

But it was a great day for a walk. A good break from busy, busy, busy…

zipper spider

“Don’t let Mom see,” Larisa advised in an early morning text. She found a zipper spider in their garden and thought her father might like to check it out. If you, dear reader, are an arachnophobe you might want to skip this post. There are pictures. Well, I am afraid of spiders but my curiosity was piqued.

The zipper spider is also known as a garden spider, writing spider, banana spider or golden orb weaver. The female is BIG. Her abdomen can be more than inch long! The zipper, zigzag she weaves into the web is called a stabilimentum. Scientists don’t know its purpose but they have several theories. Katherine’s is that it warns birds not to get caught in the web.

We had picked up Katherine from school and asked her to show us the spider. She loves and is very knowledgeable about bugs. There was some kind of magic at work here because I didn’t feel terrified when I saw her from a safe distance, perched on her magnificent web in the bright sunshine. The giant web was hanging between two tall bushes. After admiring her size and coloring and that amazing zipper pattern I realized that we were looking at her underside.

underside

Well, that wouldn’t do. When I expressed my disappointment to Katherine she said she would show me a way around to the other side of the web. It involved climbing up over a porch bench and jumping down into a narrow space between the house and the bushes, and then making our way between the bushes until we got to the opposite side of the web. Wow! My little Katherine was an excellent nature guide.

If the sun sets you free …
You’ll be free indeed, indeed …
She’s only happy in the sun

~ Ben Harper
♫ (She’s Only Happy in the Sun) ♫

Mind you, if I had seen this spider in the house I would have had a panic attack. But somehow, outside, it was different. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this. Why the difference? Larisa says these spiders never come in the house. Because they love the sun? Maybe because house spiders creep around in dark places is why they are so dreadful. All I know is that the words of Ben Harper’s song came to mind when I saw this one!

not to be found in books

“Eye in Eye” by Edvard Munch

I was looking for a course, a way
and meaning in my life
and thought the answer could be found
in all that wise men wrote.
And they are surely not to blame
if I ended up no wiser.
That mystery so clear, so deep,
is not to be found in books.
It was in your eyes, shining, blue,
that I first saw it once.
Eternity opened a tiny crack,
And earth and heaven sang.

~ Olav H. Hauge
(The Magic of Fjords)

a few prosaic days

Besides the Autumn poets sing
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the Haze —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #123)

After a few muggy, rainy days it felt wonderful to get out for an autumn walk in good weather. It was only in the 40s Friday so we wore our winter coats and headed for Sheep Farm. I realized we had been here in September 2021 and November 2020 but never in October. Fall is in full swing now here. We started down the yellow trail.

10.28.22 ~ Sheep Farm
glacial erratic viewed from the yellow trail
new trail markers on the trees

There were so many leaves on the trail we made good use of the new trail markers to stay on track. Love walking on dry, crunchy leaves…

leaves, moss and lichen on a glacial erratic
waterfall in Fort Hill Brook
amazing root system

The drought seems to be over (or almost over) judging by the water flowing in the brook. The drought map for Connecticut puts us on the line between “none” and “abnormally dry.” We decided to cross the footbridge over the brook and get another view of the waterfall.

waterfall viewed from other side of the brook
the same root system viewed from the other side of the brook
footbridge and huge tree with its amazing roots

The we turned around, heading up the hill and branching off onto the red trail.

golden yellow and burnt orange
other side of glacial erratic viewed from the red trail
tree with leaves in shades of green, rusty orange and brick red

On our way back to the car we encountered a very large group of mothers and children of all ages. They just kept coming and coming and the air was filled with their happy, excited voices. I wondered if they were all being homeschooled. When we got back to the parking lot we laughed because when we had arrived earlier ours had been the only car parked. Now there were a dozen (we counted!) SUVs surrounding us. Can you tell which car is ours? They sure gave us plenty of elbow room!

picked out by the sun

10.7.22 ~ Caroline Black Garden, Connecticut College Arboretum

Caroline Black Garden is known as the secret garden of Connecticut College, located on a steep hill between the college and the Thames River. Starting with this gate you follow paths passing through various garden “rooms.” It has four acres of native and exotic ornamental trees and bushes. We enjoyed a morning of exploration.

western red cedar
paths connected the “rooms”

Sit and be quiet. In a while
the red berries, now in shadow,
will be picked out by the sun.

~ Wendell Berry
(This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems)

path leading to a magical pool
Tim pretending to climb a huge glacial erratic
water bubbling out from under this rock ~ a spring perhaps?
Japanese inspired water feature
THIS POOL GIVEN TO
THE CAROLINE BLACK
MEMORIAL GARDEN
BY THE NEW LONDON
HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY
1930
gate leaving pool “room”

The clearing rests in song and shade.
It is a creature made
By old light held in soil and leaf,
By human joy and grief,
By human work,
Fidelity of sight and stroke,
By rain, by water on
The parent stone.

~ Wendell Berry
(This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems)

prickly pear, the only cactus native to Connecticut
bee and goldenrod
another garden gate

What a natural wellspring — cooling and refreshing the years — is the gift of wonder! It removes the dryness from life and keeps our days fresh and expanding.
~ Edwin Way Teale
(Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year)

unknown wayfarers

1.4.22 ~ Avery Farm Nature Preserve

I guess my feet know where they want me to go
Walking on a country road

~ James Taylor
♫ (Country Road) ♫

rusting away

We didn’t last too long out there, but we hadn’t had a walk since December 15th — because of all the holiday preparations and a long visit with family and bad weather — so we decided to go anyway, in spite of the temperature being 21°F/-6°C. With the light northwest wind the feels-like temperature was 10°F/-12°C. But the sunshine was bright and abundant!

frozen pool off Haley Brook

The brief moments I took my hand out of my glove to take these pictures were enough to turn my fingers painfully cold. Even quickly sticking the fingers back in the Thinsulate glove didn’t help. (All my other thermal layers were working superbly, though!) So that sent me back to the car to warm my hands in the warm air from the heater. Sigh. After we got home I looked online for some warmer mittens and will try them out as soon as they get here…

ice forming over running water

In our hurried pace back to the car we encountered an elderly man walking in the opposite direction. He gave us a very wide berth. We exchanged muffled good mornings but it was obvious that some of us are still trying to stay six feet apart, much like we were at the beginning of the pandemic. It made me reflect on how it was the same way with people when the Black Death was spreading in Scandinavia around 1350.

Haley Brook

Fourteen days later Kristin saw for the first time one sick of the plague. Rumor that the pest was raging in Nidaros and spreading through the country-side had come to Rissa — how, ’twas not easy to understand, for folk kept their houses, and every man fled to the woods or thickets if he saw an unknown wayfarer on the road; none would open his door to stranger-folk.
~ Sigrid Undset
(Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross)

ice

Although we had a lovely visit focused on our family for the holidays there was the background worry about the continuing spread of covid. The positivity rate in Connecticut was 9% before the visit. After they left we saw it jump from 15% to 18% to 20% to 22% to 24%. We may be “done” with this pandemic but it certainly isn’t done with us. Our town has gone back to indoor mask mandates.

sunlit frozen beauty

I may be crazy, but we’re expecting a snowstorm, a good old-fashioned nor’easter tomorrow, and I am looking forward to it!!! Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for but it would be nice to feel a little bit of normal for January for a change.

wonder

Finn at 3 years old ~ photo by Larisa

Wonder shining in my eyes
Like I’m three years old

~ David Gray
♫ (Heart & Soul) ♫

One of the things that has helped me get through this pandemic — besides taking walks with my husband, working on jigsaw puzzles, practicing yoga, video calling with friends and family, blogging — has been listening for hours on end to the music streaming on my favorite indie radio station. Hearing some songs, like David Gray’s Heart & Soul, will forever bring me back to these days. Will it be possible that in the future some of us will look back on this time with a tinge of bittersweet nostalgia?