In the vernal pool

vernal pond

In the vernal pool on top of the mountain, the trees shiver even when there’s no wind.


Wood frogs have anchored their egg masses to a pair of sunken twigs.


Long shadows inched over the leaves & the moss while the blue-headed vireo recited his song from memory.


A mourning cloak butterfly passed me on the ridgetop trail, & I turned & watched it until it was out of sight.


A wild turkey burst from cover, got tangled in a black birch sapling, & fell back to earth.


Some disturbance of the universe would be unavoidable even if I never left the house.


Hours later I remember to check myself for ticks.


11 Replies to “In the vernal pool”

  1. Love your photos, I just realized how I’ve missed them, and these snippets of sightings on your mountain are delightful. Are mourning cloaks a type of bird?

    1. Thanks. I’ve gotten rather bored with photography in recent months, but I really should get back into it. It’s such good training in awareness.

      Mourning cloaks are butterflies — sorry. (I just edited the post to add the word “butterfly.”)

  2. Mourning cloaks? Now had you not inserted the word ‘butterfly’ before I’d read the piece, I would have imagined all sorts of strangeness. A particularly sad variety of ghost. A plain-living, woodland-dwelling sect for whom the calendar is always stuck at Easter. The imagination races along with such an evocative name.

    I haven’t yet seen a butterfly in our garden here in Wales, even though the place is ablaze with Spring blossom. Bumble bees aplenty though, which is heartening given all the worrying news reports about colony collapse and killer bee-mites. And of course there are moths at night. But no butterflies. Not yet. I shall now have to Google Image a Mourning cloak.

    Beautiful piece of writing Dave. And don’t neglect your photography. You have such an eye and you live in a place that clearly inspires. Looking at what you do with a lens has encouraged me to pick up my own camera more often.

    1. Hi Clive – thanks for the kind words about my photography. “A plain-living, woodland-dwelling sect for whom the calendar is always stuck at Easter” is another line of pure poetry, which you seem to toss off with alarming ease. As for the butterfly, my mother just reminded me that you have this species in Britain, too. Quoth the Wikipedia:

      Nymphalis antiopa, known as the Mourning Cloak in North America and the Camberwell Beauty in the British Isles, is a large butterfly native to Eurasia and North America. The immature form of this species is sometimes known as the spiny elm caterpillar. Other older names for this species include Grand Surprise and White Petticoat.

      “White petticoat” gives a very different impression from “mourning cloak,” doesn’t it? And “grand surprise”?! But for sheer word music, I think “Camberwell beauty” has them all beat.

      1. Ahhh, the Camberwell Beauty! Rare as unicorns, though I did see some long ago. But not at all the way I thought a Mourning Cloak would look, which I’d concocted in imagination as a butterfly so sombre a shade of plum as to be notionally black, like my own ‘black’ hellebores, or the tulip called Queen of the Night, a favourite of mine. The Camberwell Beauty is really quite jaunty, and not dressed at all suitably for mourning, save for someone compromising grief for a touch of sartorial splendour.

        I think that Mourning Cloak is the more darkly beautiful name. Camberwell Beauty sounds like a flighty madam, mistress perhaps to King Charles I.

        I’m no poet. I bow to you in that department. And if I were, I think I’d be a VERY poor one.

        1. No, not black, but certainly dark against the snow, which is sometimes still present when they first appear. I’m sorry to hear they’ve grown so uncommon there — a genuine cause for mourning, I say. They really are striking insects.

  3. Two beautiful photos. I particularly like the trompe a l’oeil effect in the first and the colouring in the second. The sharp, lucid observations make me aware how impoverished is our natural environment, hostage as ever to the industrialisation of farming.

    1. Dick, I often think of England and other heavily populated parts of Europe as a good indication of what the northeast U.S. will be like in a few decades’ time, if we continue to fragment and industrialize the rural landscape at the present pace. To me, there’s a poverty on display in both photos here, pretty as they may be: both display an unnatural lack of shrubs and forbs due to decades of superabundant deer, which is in turn the result of our elimination of top predators and the fragmentation of forest habitat.

  4. Mourning cloaks are quite dramatic in their antics this time of year, I’ve noticed. Last year up on Fort Mountain, which is also called Gahuti and is considered by many to be a rather sacred Native site, I photographed quite a few of them, exhausted and hanging out on low branches and fallen limbs, their wings ragged and full of holes through which I could see more leaves and trees behind them. I accidentally deleted them the next day. never done anything like that before.

    1. You’re lucky to have some idea of where sacred sites might’ve been. This part of central and western Pennsylvania was depopulated at first contact, probably as a result of warfare between Susquehannocks and Iroquois combined with (and maybe abetted by) the waves of European epidemics that ravaged the continent in the 16th century. The only Indians here in historical times were recent refugees from elsewhere.

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