The first clear weather after weeks of haze or showers, and what I am most agog at are the shadows. That, and the profusion of spider webs, most from one species – spined micrathena. I walk slowly through the woods, trying to spot each web before it snags me, but more than once I have to stop and clean myself of web and spider. I do appreciate the fact that this forces me to walk slowly and pay close attention. But they really should go after smaller prey.
In the spruce grove, small as it is, the air is noticeably cooler and (naturally) more fragrant than in the surrounding field. Here, too, the shadows are uncommonly sharp.
The effect of a two- or three-acre planting of even-aged trees in more-or-less orderly rows is altogether different from the oppressive feeling one gets from walking through a large plantation. An evergreen grove this size is a habitation within the larger landscape. For two years running, sharp-shinned hawks have nested here, secretive to the point of invisibility until the young hatch, then increasingly aggressive toward any intruder. We have yet to pinpoint the exact location of their nest.
Leaving the grove on the northwest side makes for an abrupt and surprising transition. Right outside it, among a ragged file of half-dead black locust trees, a half-acre milkweed patch hosts more monarch caterpillars than I have ever seen – one or two per plant. The location of the patch, at the one place where the old field laps up to the top of the ridge, may be especially effective in attracting the migratory butterflies. Be that as it may, there’s no question that these caterpillars are among the last of the year, and will become the generation of butterflies to head down-ridge toward Mexico, following the invisible paths of their great-great-grandparents the year before.
I cross into the black cherry – red maple – sugar maple woods that was so devastated by last January’s ice storm. The spear-point snags of snapped boles now sport clusters of five- and six-foot-long sprouts; I am cheered to think that many of these trees will live. In the middle of the old woods road, I come across a box turtle, one of at least two that reside in the vicinity of the ephemeral ponds. We found them mating last year at this time: a sight at once comic and awe-inspiring, as the male lies almost all the way over on his back, gyrating non-existent hips against the firmly planted female. I wonder if their slow blood is once again stirring? This one retracted its feet but not its head when I approached; the picture doesn’t do justice to its dark red jewel of an eye.
On the way back from the Far Field, a large burl on the trunk of a red maple brought down by the ice storm seems to invite the prurient attentions of a hay-scented fern. Or am I with my camera the one who’s being prurient? As I follow the trail along the head of Roseberry Hollow, one of the pair of ravens that have been circling and calling all morning lands in a tree somewhere close above me on the ridgetop. I’m startled by the loudness of its cries: RAWK RAWK RAWK RAWK RAWK. Then it switches to a more metallic, nasal call – ONK ONK ONK. An eerie sound. It repeats the phrase, as if pleased with the sound of it. I hear the distant reply of its mate. Then it lifts off, its wingbeats almost as silent as an owl’s. I catch a glimpse of its shadow passing through the trees, sliding up and over the strange green paintbrushes of new growth.