woods walks and common talk

Tonight as I sit down to write I am greeted by the sounds of a flock of geese landing upon the pond, where have they spent the day I wonder? What caused them to take flight and then land so noisily in the cove beside our camps? I will probably never know the answer and somehow it will be yet another mystery shrouded in the appeal of the magic of Spencer Pond.

Yesterday Oceania and I went on a nature walk. Armed with camera, binoculars, solid foot wear, and plenty of bug spray we began our foray into the woods surrounding the camp. My intent had been to capture various images on the local trails and upload them into a kind of virtual scavenger hunt for would-be visitors to discover. I got distracted from this mission, and I am quite pleased with the result. Some of the simple joys of the north woods.  We were rewarded almost instantly with the clamorous chatter of a red squirrel who was not thrilled that we had decided to enter his territory and he was definitely suspicious and unnerved by our intentions. We gently talked to him and discussed what squirrels eat and watched how he so dexterously ran up and down the tree trunk, backwards, sideways, round and round, and always with something to say. As we continued we saw  some goslings, two hooded mergansers, and began to hear the melodious and long call of the winter wren. I always thought it was an odd name for such a joyful singing bird. Do you hear winter wrens in winter? Not at Spencer Pond certainly, so where did this name come from?  Often the common names or vernacular terms of various birds make sense – meadow hen being one of my favorites. Meadow hen is the name that is reserved for the American Bittern, whose call sounds like the ceaseless croaking of an old hand pump. I prefer meadow hen to bittern, it seems to suit them better. They live in the swampy “meadows” around ponds and they are colored like a hen chicken, it’s a nice name, much nicer than the harsh term bittern.  The call of the meadow hen has eluded me so far this season, but I know they are here, I will just await the moment of aural confirmation. Other birds in this locale have equally colorful colloquial names, whiskey jack or gorbie birds as my gram calls them, cock of the woods, shags, whistlers, partridge, yellow rumped warblers. Others my husband likes to use are not so politically correct, such as dump ducks, shitpokes, ass up a tree birds, or oldsquaws. Yet all have a story and a history to tell that leads up to the name. I wonder how many of these stories have been lost or forgotten as ornithological societies across the nation keep themselves occupied in the creation of new naming conventions. I’m sure some deserve to fade away but sometime in my free time I may just start capturing some of these names and researching their origins.

But I digress. Nature walk: We saw the recent evidence of the beaver activity along the winter wren trail. They seem to prefer the beech in that area and have been busily harvesting trees along the edge of the marsh there. Say what you want to say about the mechanical ingenuity of the skidder and feller buncher but a beaver is an efficient albeit somewhat short sighted forester, converting the woods into a coniferous ring and weeding out the old and young hardwoods by design. They are amazing engineers, rerouting roads, bridges, trails and large quantities of water to the areas of their choosing, sometimes miraculously overnight. They can outmatch the most clever human endeavors to outwit them. They are truly an animal to admire with both tenacity and perseverance they set goals and achieve them mightily. The other night I met the resident beaver out on a kayak paddle.  He like the red squirrel made it known that I was a threat, the slap of his tail splashed water and nearly jumped me out of the kayak (I had been distracted by trying to discern the species of fish clutched within the talons of a passing eagle.)  I was quickly jolted back into the reality of being on the pond and gracefully made my exit so as not to disturb him further.

Beside this beaver flowage Oceania and I found yet another treasure trove on a slight incline of lady slippers growing amongst the light in the newly open forest canopy. I was amazed by how much the trail had changed from my previous memory and excited to be sharing its wonders with my daughter. We passed several species of equisetum and I was quick to point out the horsetails which I knew my horse-crazy daughter would be easily enamored by. We scouted out raspberries patches and discussed in detail the various scat (bear and moose) and tracks (mostly moose) we stumbled across. I was amazed by how quickly the delicate spring flowers unfurl and how quickly they retreat. Only a few Canada mayflower, star flower, and bunchberry remain. The trillium have sagged and wilted, and now it is time for the flowering of the leaves as I say. The moose maple (aka as striped maple- but again I like moose maple better for a name), viburnum, and sarsaparilla have sprung into full bloom. The fiddleheads have unfurled and are growing into a lustrous carpet across the wooded clearings. We  stopped to enjoy the dance of a huge spider, and saw “humungous fungus” growing out of an old dead beech. This is the joy of a nature walk, throw your agenda to the wind, forget what you planned to see, and let the woods share with you the life that springs forth. The buzzy call of the parula, the loud echo of the ovenbird, and the squeaky whine of the black and white warblers were with us all the way. Never could a child be bored in the woods with so much to see and discover, and as I watched my daughters eyes light up and her imagination ignited by each new find I realized how much entertainment and reward I too was reaping. This I told myself must become a nightly occurrence, for if we do not take the time to slow down and teach our children how to love the land and be connected to it, who will.  I find myself more excited to take her out on future walks, to the woods where I know the fairies live, to the spot where the big hemlock grows, and into the vernal pools to discover salamanders and toads.

Back in the cabin Dana was reading some accounts posted in various books by  the former owners about Spencer Pond. He was quite entertained by one account that mentioned wolves had been heard near the camp, his eyes lit up with amusement, and his grin started to grow, as he read the account to me, he wanted me to be sure to let folks know that Squash Bamdicook (devlish imaginary folk hero), along with Sneaky Peep (Oceania’s imaginary and mischievous chipmunk) were also recently seen chasing the Side-Hill gouger (ficticious monster) and Swamp Wampus (another ficticious monster) around Spencer Mountain last week.  All joking aside, we were amazed at this wolf account albeit dubious and will be carefully listening and watching for any sign while guarding ourselves against the equally fearsome gouger and wampus.

During the day Dana has continued to restore the Main Lodge (Sabohtowan) and his progress each day is amazing. Soon I will have another cabin to clean and furnish and I am looking forward to welcoming guests there this summer.  Dana has been frequently kept company by our visiting hummingbirds. For those that do not know, Dana is somewhat of a” hummingbird whisperer” He is humble with his talents, and no one understands quite why (maybe because he’s so sweet?) but hummingbirds love Dana, they all but land on him. He thinks they might be planning kamikaze attacks, but they obviously think he is an object of considerable interest. They flit and fly around him, zooming close, and then departing only to return to perch and watch him as he goes about his chores around the camp.

Dana has also been trying to convince our young snowshoe hare (of which we have at least two regular visitors now) to just let him get close and he will pull the ticks off their ears. Now you may laugh, but these little bunnies listen to him as he implores them in his deep voice and they let him venture quite close (within two feet) but they are a little unsure of his request, and I personally would like to witness him put to the task! One of my fondest childhood memories of the camps is spending hours talking to the bunnies and trying to convince them to let me just get close enough to pat them. No need for an ipod, xbox, or TV, I could entertain myself for hours just sitting on the lawn, holding a piece of clover (I have since learned, they really prefer the dandelions) and trying to get just an inch closer than the circle of trust in which they allowed me. I am so happy to see my husband and children doing the same. How many children of Spencer Pond share the same memories I wonder, and how many children can we allow to carry that memory along with the experience of being in direct contact with nature into the future.

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One response to “woods walks and common talk

  1. Gramp and I enjoyed reading the blog this morning. Nice way to start the day with similar memories. We are anxious to hear the Winter Wren again, one of my very favorite birds. Does Dana have a red hat? The hummers used to love my red kerchief , that I wore on my head, and often made their presence known with a peck or two.
    Wolves…? Now that really takes some imagination! More than likely a coyote or two.
    Gramp gets anxious about Dana’s perserverance on the Sabotowan’s re-juvination and very anxious to see how it turns out. He has empathy with the endevour.
    Thank you for the lovely blog, it brings back such joy to our old bones.