Flowers in the Woods

Heartleaf Foamflower

Flowers are out in the woods. I guess it must be spring. I have tried to pay attention to flowers this year. I am curious what I see. I want to know what lives in the world around me. What is that flower? How long will it bloom? Which flowers grow in the woods, or the edge of the woods, or out in the sun? I keep wondering.

Herb Robert

Last year a friend introduced me to iNaturalist. I downloaded the app and have used it a bunch this spring. It is pretty slick–take a photo, get some suggestions for what you see and select what you think you have found. Most of the time it works like a charm–the first suggestion in the list is usually a match. Others can see what you have posted and can confirm your identification or suggest a different one. It has been really helpful in identifying flowers, as well as moths, caterpillars, fungus. It can be used for anything that lives.

False Solomon’s Seal

I have added it to my adventures when I go birding. This morning I got so engrossed in trying to identify some white flowers (they were Columbines but I did not realize they could be white as well as purple), that I found I was tuning out the sounds around me. I had stopped listening for birdsong. I had to bring myself back into the audio sphere in the trees once I walked away from the flowers on the ground.

Common Columbine
Common Columbine

Many of these flowers will be gone soon. They are ephemeral. Others will bloom, however, as the summer progresses. I will keep trying to identify them. Some day I may know when to expect them to bloom, and when the next flowers will appear. I am not there yet, of course, but I keep learning. I can’t keep my curiosity in check, so I will keep wondering. And I will keep trying to answer “What is that?”

Golden Alexander
Canada Mayflower
Virginia Waterleaf
Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Not Winter Anymore

We are in those early days of spring when it is still chilly in the morning, but the world keeps getting greener, when the leaves are not fully out yet and peepers sing at night. Winter has left the scene but summer still has a way to go before she arrives.

I have to get out as much as I can to find birds now. Every day new summer residents arrive. This morning I heard my first Common Yellowthroat and I heard two Field Sparrows singing at once, which is unusual around here. A Barred Owl calls all day in the woods above our house, and that Phoebe nest that sat above the porch light all winter is getting rebuilt. In the woods, leaves are still buds. That means I can see the warblers as they hop from branch to branch in the tops of maples. In a month some of those little dudes will be heard and not seen.

Spring flowers are out as well. Marsh Marigolds are blooming, bright yellow flowers and bright green leaves among the leaf litter in the woods. And Trout Lilies, those dainty pale yellow bells, have emerged. Ferns are still curled into fiddleheads, and wild ramps carpet the forest floor.

Spring’s arrival is a gift right now. It is a gift any year, I suppose, but after being inside so long, after worrying about the health of family and neighbors, after staying away from others, it feels especially powerful. A friend said the other day that she has never noticed spring as much as this year. When you spend less time moving around you have more time to pay attention to what is right there.

I plan to get out early again tomorrow, to listen and to look. I may startle the beaver that slaps its tails when we walk past on the bridge, or the wood ducks dipping into the grass on the river’s shore, but I will try to stay calm enough to avoid disturbing them. Every day the world changes a little, layering on spring. If I don’t pay enough attention, summer will arrive and I will have missed some of spring’s wonderousness. Wonder can be found at any time of year, but spring is when it puts on its best display. I would hate to miss the show.

Butterflies and Asters

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Asters are blooming like crazy right now: Purple Aster, New England Aster, Fleabane. Black-Eyed Susans are done. Touch-Me-Nots are gone. Dandelions? Haven’t seen them. Asters rule the fields these days.

I don’t know my butterflies well. I have thought many a time that I should learn them. I got some exposure to learning them on a trip this summer the butterfly garden at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury. They had a tent full of them with signage to show what was what. I don’t remember squat from that. Poor student, I guess.

The butterflies in the photo above are American Ladies. I had to look that up. I might be able to tell a Viceroy from a Monarch, but don’t trust me too much. I know there is more than one Swallowtail in Vermont. Can’t tell them apart though. But I tell you this: they are just cool-looking.

It is kind of nice to simply not know the names of things. There is real pleasure in being able to look at an insect, or a plant or a bird, and to know its name. To name something is the beginning of getting to know it, to knowing more than just its name. However, there can be just as much joy in simply wondering at a thing, in watching and seeing with ignorant eyes, in being present to observe.

A sunrise does not have a name, but it is beautiful. We can watch the sky change and the clouds trudge along in their pinkness and just feel awe. We do not have to create a name for snow on trees to find it wondrous. So it is with butterflies. I am curious about what they all are, what makes them different, where they go in winter, what flowers they prefer–all of that starts with naming them. But I do not need to name them to find them wondrous. They dance, unnamed, among the asters I might be able to name, and I feel like kid. “That is so cool!” I say aloud. And that is enough.

 

Wandering Back to the House

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This morning after I saw the kids onto the school bus, I wandered back to the house. I worked at home today and I knew I would have a lot to do. I did not have many hours to accomplish all I needed to accomplish. So I wandered back to the house. Our driveway is about a quarter mile long so wandering is easy anyway. I took to the field, however, looking and listening, taking my time to attend to the duties I have accepted to make a living.

I saw five bluebirds land in a tree, with two chipping sparrows accompanying them. I heard a Canada goose honk in the distance and I wondered if it was alone. I stooped to look at the purple asters, some light purple, some dark purple. I looked under the milkweed for monarch butterfly caterpillars and watched the chaotic flight of one of those orange and black beauties.

The sun came out today for a few minutes this morning, but mostly it was just plain old cloudy. A few ducks flew off, blue wings flashing in the morning’s dimness. A breeze pushed the grass around in waves. I thought of the meadowlarks, so recently singing across this same field. I thought of seeing a crowd of them last October, late migrators stopping by our meadow. No meadowlarks sang today. But for the few cars passing and a handful of crickets, it was quiet.

I got back to the house too soon, of course. I would have been happy to lie down and to watch the clouds, to look for spiders in the goldenrod, to smell the dampness, to watch the ash trees flutter their fading leaves. Reluctantly, I pushed open the door and got to work. I was not too distracted by the glory of the day so I did mange to get things done. I met my obligations, indeed, but I would have preferred to have shunned them today. I feel that way often these days. I want to soak up the world while I can. I don’t want to miss the butterfly that stops to sip at the last touch-me-not. I don’t want to miss the squirrel squirreling acorns.

Each day passes and I miss most of it. We all do. We complain when the days are cloudy, but the cloudy days are as full of wonder as the sunny days. I have to choose to pay attention if I want to see it. I have to choose to be a part of the world, rather than to just watch. I have to choose to wander.

Crazy Nice Day

Millipedes were everywhere today

Millipedes were everywhere today

The family took a hike up Mount Philo today. We have a couple of nicknames for the place–Mount Dog Walk, Mount Fido. It lived up to its name today. We did not take the dog, but everyone else did. Or else, like us, they took their kids. There were some kids in backpacks, some kids in front pouches of various sorts, lots of kids on foot. Ours were on foot. They are way to big for some little pouch on the chest.

We saw some interesting stuff. The leaves are really popping out now. Trilliums were blooming in huge clusters. Columbine, apple blossoms, Solomon’s seal all busting out their stuff. We heard and saw a Chestnut-Side Warbler, Ovenbirds, lots of Robins doing their best to attract the ladies. The sun was shining and it was cool but not cold, warm but not hot. Couldn’t be nicer.

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We had a fine view at the top as well as a picnic lunch. Trader Joe’s just came to town (it opened two days ago) and we enjoyed Cookie Butter on pretty much all items in the picnic basket–bagels, strawberries, carrots, day old waffles. Those last ones were probably the best. Cookie Butter is deadly good. No wonder it is the best selling item at Trader Joe’s.

View from the top of Mount Philo

View from the top of Mount Philo

Once we topped ourselves off with the Speculoos deliciousness of Cookie Butter, we headed down. More millipedes, wind in the new leaves and gravity assist made us feel good. We saw a couple of Raven’s nests on the way down, on the cliffs of the Devil’s Chair Trail, and heard a Raven cronking away, out of sight. All in all, it was a spectacular day. I started it off with some morning birding and brought my county year total to 148. Now the sun drops below the hills. A day of wonder, start to finish. I even managed to get in some gardening, and in my late apathetic mood, that really makes the day a wonder.

Raven's nest on the Devil's Chair Trail

Raven’s nest on the Devil’s Chair Trail

Morning in Burlington

When I first moved to Burlington I worked at Abraham’s Camera Shop. I worked the standard nine to five shift, selling cameras and film. They had a great selection, although the owner was creepy. Actually, he was really creepy. He had an assistant in the upstairs windowless office whose job in part was to watch the security cameras. The cameras were to make sure no one stole anything, but they were aimed not out at the floor, where customers lingered, but behind the counters where the staff worked. They were watching me. Creepy.

That was a short job for me, however–only a few months. I was out of there as fast as I could go. I got a job at Photogarden around the corner, processing film. That was way more enjoyable. In both cases I did not have far to go to get to work. I lived on Hyde Street, in the old north end, so I walked or rode my bike to work every day. Those were not career jobs, but the commute couldn’t be beat.

Since I worked on Church Street, which is open only to pedestrians most of the day, I loved walking down this street in the morning. The street was bustling. Shops were being unlocked and deliveries were being made. Before 9:00 trucks would park on the street and unload. It felt like the world was clear and real and waking again to a new day. It gave me a sense of perspective–I was just one of many people with interesting or boring, exciting or mundane, happy or depressing lives. I felt good about my own life. I had health and friends and a good attitude and years ahead of me to fulfill my dreams.

I watched the boxes roll from a truck and thought about the man pushing the trolley. Did he have children? Did that Remington hat mean he was a hunter? I thought about the woman accepting the boxes. Did she own that place? Did her business mean as much as a relationship? I looked at the cute waitress serving breakfast at the restaurant next door. I thought about the future sometimes and often just lived in the moment.

Yesterday I walked down Church Street early. I do not do it often anymore. I had just dropped off my daughter at a photography camp program on lower Church Street (how things loop around) and was walking with my son to have breakfast in town. The scene has not changed much. I still wondered about the people on either side of the deliveries, and the waitresses don’t seem so cute now (compared to my wife, who could?) but the trucks were still lined up and the boxes still rolled off the backs of them.

I had some of those same feelings of hope and wonder that I had all those years ago. I felt proud of my daughter for trying something new and I felt happy to spend some time with my son, who is turning out to be a pretty great person. We walked up the street, some of my dreams now fulfilled, some still to be met, and I felt glad to simply be there, to be alive and to welcome the day.

Spiders in the Morning

In the morning these days, the sun catches the light across the field. The nights are cool, and that means dew on the leaves. The milkweed and grasses and goldenrod are covered in beads of water.  And if you look when the sun is shining at just the right angle, you see the spider webs. The light only lasts a short time and then they disappear, but if you catch it right you can see them everywhere.

There are hundreds of them, stretched between stalks, glowing in the morning light, their creators waiting for things to dry so they can have breakfast caught the night before, or so they can repair the damage and try again. There are too many to count.

Gazillions of Webs

I have been looking at them up close and took a few photos. Some are whole and some are broken. Each is amazing, a geometric wonder, woven by tiny creatures we usually don’t even see.

This One Liked the Black-Eyed Susans

More Perfection

This One Took Some Hard Knocks

And I found an orb weaver. This one has been settled in the flowers for weeks. They like to hang in one place for a while. Check out the zig zag below her. And check out how cool this spider looks. Kind of a combination of “don’t mess with me” and “don’t like I look beautiful?” all in one.

Queen of Her Realm