December 21, 2013

Finding Light in Darkness

The light is ever more precious
on these darkest days,
so we may truly celebrate its return. 

Happy Solstice!

December 1, 2013

November Ice - Then and Now

Great Meadows was as still Saturday evening as it was howling with wind just a week ago.  Wednesday's generous rainfall finally filled the drought-starved river basin and marshes, then to be flash frozen since Thanksgiving day.  Lovely ice and the soft reflections of the evening sun have rekindled my winter's swoon...a bit early.

I was fascinated by a curious geometry in this fresh ice, a pattern I hadn't seen before...but someone had, exactly 157 years ago -- "What I noticed for the thousandth time on the 15th was the waved surface of thin dark ice just frozen, as if it were a surface composed of large, perhaps triangular pieces raised at the edges..." (Thoreau, Journal, 11/15/1857)  It's as if we're looking through shared eyes, back and forth over time.

November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving Quest

Today at sunrise, a snowy owl's quest for its own feast, at Hanscom Field airbase, became the focus for a few fellow birders, who were willing to rise early this Thanksgiving and brave the bracing wind for a distant glimpse.  Thanks to our ever-vigilant spotters of rare bird visitors -- Alan Bragg via the Winstanley brothers via Simon Perkins -- word reached me last night about two owls hanging out in center field.  So up I went for a distance glimpse of this marvelous bird, from a hilltop at dawn among kindred spirits.  The best possible beginning to this day of gatherings, feasting, and gratitude.

High numbers of snowy owls have been reported moving south this November, throughout coastal New England and down into the mid-Atlantic states.  As indicated by the plumage on this one, it is thought that these may be young birds on a quest for food in years when their numbers run high in their customary northern latitudes.  Cycles of high lemming populations and successful breeding, in the tundra, may drive these cycles of southern 'invasions.' Though there have been sightings at Hanscom in the past, and the last one nearly four decades ago, I was told that this is the first time to be officially recorded.

One of two snowies, still near the tarmac on 11.30.13
 The bird was barely discernible through some very good spotting scopes.  My photos were taken with a Sigma 500mm lens and significantly enlarged and post-processed to enhance some detail. 

November 24, 2013

November's Icy Blast

A rare glimpse of serenity amidst yesterday's icy blast at Great Meadows.  The glowing collar around this dried and floating lotus pod hints at the turbulent waters and subfreezing temperatures of the early morning hours.  Near record cold and winds on this late autumn day makes for a harrowing yet inspiring walk through the refuge, with a few surprises along the way.    
The strong wind and frigid temperatures work together to splash and freeze the marsh waters onto the thousands of remnant lotus stems and pods, creating an expanse of sparkling and bobbing diamonds out to the horizon.

In the shallow southwestern channel, the entire frozen surface glistens in backlight as the wind pours across the tops of these highlighted cattail stands, where I discover two phragmites plumes(!).

At the river's edge, air bubbles, leaves, and pebbles are frozen into patterned still lifes.  And a river birch reveals it's peeling, branchy, still leafy essence in the long rays of the autumn sun.

A shadow crosses me from above and I look up to see an immature bald eagle, wheeling and soaring over the southwestern end of the marsh, trying to catch thermals above the ridge line.

Asters show their silvery seedheads in the clear morning light.  And a resolute goldenrod stands, still blooming, buffeted by the 10º wind-chilled blasts. 

The shriveled fruit clusters and skeletal remains of smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) stand out along the trail's edge.

As I anticipated, the wind-whipped water on Borden Pond splashes and freezes into myriad ice forms along the water's edge. 

A decaying catfish washes peacefully in the undercurrents, beneath the glistening turbulence.

Ice bells and globes appear as water splashes against waterborn twigs and flash freezes as it drains down.  The ruffled form displays it's more exposed position and the perfect sphere of the second form belies its sheltered and slightly more elevated location along the shoreline.

Though my eyes are brimming with tears and breathing comes in quick, cold gasps, I'm reluctant to abandon my quest for the season's first icy novelties.  Finally, I spy three frozen creatures on low-hanging alder branches that let me know the morning's adventure is complete.

A heron
an emerging sea turtle
and a wild boar!

November 1, 2013

Sunset Glory Days

From now until year's end, sunsets warm the cooling sky with bronzed and fiery displays, filling us with beautiful light as we draw deeper into the season's dark nights.

Stirring winds from a powerful, clearing storm combined with the sun's lowering angle to ignite the sky with color during this November's first sunset. 

As the sun neared the horizon, the marsh turned from a golden hue to fiery orange, then a rose glow, and finally a deep purple.

Throughout this pageant of color, legions of ducks and geese flew in through the portal where the sun was setting, soared past the blushing clouds, and tumbled down into the refuge for their night's rest.

From now through December there will be many more vibrant evenings to illuminate the spirit just before the long dark night.


October 21, 2013

Crickets of Bush and Tree

Charmed by a black-horned tree cricket, Oecanthus nigricornis, 10/19/13 (Photo by Janice Koskey)
When I stepped out of my car after a long drive home from DownEast Maine in early September, I was overwhelmed by the cacophonous chorusing of crickets at ear level.  Whether it was a revelation born of a shift in my perspective or an unusual abundance of bush and tree crickets this year that grabbed my attention, I've been on a quest to meet those unfamiliar species who are filling the fall air with sonorous vibrations from the waist-level upward.

Male, red-headed bush cricket, Phyllopalpus puchellus, eyeing me from an oak leaf (9/19/13)
The metallic trill that drew me in that evening was the call of red-headed bush crickets (Phyllopalpus puchellus).  One of my high school students, from the CCHS Rivers & Revolutions Program, helped us spot this tiny singer along the trails at Great Meadows NWR in Concord, a wetland habitat it prefers.  For more information on this species, see - Red-headed bush cricket

Singing male, red-headed bush cricket
A black-horned tree cricket, shown at the top of this post, appeared on cue last Saturday, shortly after I shared the delights of cricket hunting to a group of walkers I was leading along the Emerson-Thoreau Amble in Concord.  Named for it's long, blackish antennae, this cricket was crawling along a rose bush on the edge of a overgrown field and revealed itself first to an observant young eyes our group.  Unlike many tree crickets, this species prefers to be just a few feet off the ground, on the edges of fields, and sings during daylight hours.  Janice Koskey was kind enough to share her photo from our walk.

For more information on tree crickets, visit this beautiful website:
Black-horned tree cricket call and info

For additional natural history information, see - Black-horned tree cricket

For a fantastic resource about our native singing insects, visit Singing Insects of North America

October 10, 2013

Swimming in Color and Light

The sight of a mallard swimming through brilliant autumn reflections can transform our appreciation for this common bird and richness of autumn's palette. 

October 5, 2013

A Peak Experience

Overlooking a remote bog on the edge of Estabrook Woods
I've never quite understood why New Englanders drive long distances from home in search of a "peak foliage" experience each fall.  Surely some of the most beautifully adorned trees and shrubs are ablaze in and around wetlands and woodlands close to home.  Lucky are we in Concord, for the rivers and streams, ponds, bogs, and shrubby swamps that grace our town.  Their autumnal displays would strike awe even in the most avid leaf peeper.  Wader-clad and camera in hand, my foliage tour covers a five mile radius from my front door. 

Drifts of tawny cotton-grass cover the open sphagnum mat in the bog's center
Tawny cotton-grass (Eriophorum virginicum)

Ferns and acid loving trees and shrubs form dense stands on the outer rim of the bog
Sphagnum moss, cranberry, blueberry leaves, and dried fern curls

September 18, 2013

Fall Programs and Events

Meadowhawk (Sympetrum sp.) perched on arrowwood berries
Programs will be added and amended as information becomes available.

Saturday, September 7-8
Concord Ag Day and Farm and Garden Harvest Fair
Farmer's Market, Garden Tours, Film Fest, Community Gardens openhouse
For more information and schedule see, Concord Farm and Garden Harvest Fair

Tuesdays, weekly from September 10 - December 10, 9 am - noon
Fridays, monthly from September 20 - December 13, 10 am - 12:30 pm
Weekly and monthly environmental learning program for homeschoolers, led by Cherrie Corey
Enrollment now closed, stay tuned for winter-spring programs.

Wednesday, September 11, 4-5 pm
Witness/Record/Engage:  Walking Ecologies
Join WORK OUT artist Jane D. Marsching and area naturalist Cherrie Corey on a walk through deCordova's Sculpture Park to observe, identify, and record the interactions of plants, animals, art, and people.  Free with museum admission.  For more information about the exhibition and related events, see WORK OUT - deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
Rescheduled from August 9, due to rain.

Monthly Autumn Walks - Great Meadows NWR/Concord
The marsh moves through many changes in the autumn months.  Colors peak and fade, migrants fill the sky then are gone, muskrat lodges appear, spiders drape the landscape with gossamer, and sunsets deepen their fiery glow.  Join Cherrie for late afternoon walks around the refuge when autumn's majesty is most palpable.
Saturday, September 21, 3:30-5:30 pm 
Saturday, October 12, 3:30-5:30 pm  October walk moved to Estabrook Woods, due to government shutdown.
Saturday, November 9, 2-4 pm

No pre-registration required.  A $5 donation/person will be gratefully accepted.

Co-sponsored with Musketaquid Arts and Environment Program
and Friends of the Assabet River NWR

Meet at the information kiosk at Great Meadows NWR in Concord

For questions or to be added to the emailing list, contact Cherrie at or 978-760-1933

Saturday, October 12, 2:30 - 5:30 pm
Haiku Walk at Great Meadows and Thoreau Farm  Walk moved to Gowing's Swamp 
Join haiku poet, Brad Bennett for a seasonal haiku experience and saunter at Great Meadows NWR in Concord.  Following an inspirational walk, the group will gather at Thoreau Farm to share poems and other creations.
Fee:  $35, no prior experience necessary
For a reservation or more information, contact Brad at or call 781-646-5032.
Meet at Great Meadows NWR in Concord, near the information kiosk off the main parking lot.

Saturday, October 19, 1:30-4 pm
Fall Family Ramble on the Amble
All ages welcome to join me for a ramble on the newly completed Emerson-Thoreau Amble.  We will wind our way from Heywood Meadow in Concord Center to Fairyland, in the heart of the town forest and back -- passing behind Emerson's house, crisscrossing the Mill Brook, and exploring the golden fields, a variety of forest habitats, Brister's Spring, and Fairyland Pond in all its autumn splendor.  Tales of the Emersons, Alcotts, and Thoreau abound here as does the promise of magical encounters along the way!  Sponsored by Musketaquid Program for Arts and Environment.
Fee:  $12/adult, $3/youth ages 4+
To register, go to AmbleRamble registration/Musketaquid

October 20, 1-4 pm
Boggy Kettleholes in Walden Woods
To the south and west of Walden Pond, itself a large kettlehole pond, lie several smaller kettles made famous by Thoreau's descriptions of their floating sphagnum mats and boggy flora.  Explore these intimate glacial landscapes and their plant communities, going over Emerson's Cliff, down into Heywood Meadow and along the terraced Andromeda Ponds toward Fairaven Bay on the Sudbury river.  the return route passes by Thoreau's historic cabin site, Wyman's Meadow, and through mixed hardwoods, remnant stands of pitch pine, and still flowering groves of witch-hazel with beautiful views of the pond along the way.  Wear sturdy footwear, and bring a snack and water.  Sponsored by New England Wild Flower Society.  For more information and registration, go to Boggy Kettlehole registration/NEWFS.

September 13, 2013

Walking Ecologies at deCordova

Artist Jane Marsching's Field Station Concordia
Participating as one of four artists in the deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park's inaugural outdoor exhibition - WORK OUT, Jane Marsching created Field Station Concordia from which she has been engaging visitors to observe, record, and respond to what they experience in the museum's landscape.  On Wednesday, September 11, Jane and I lead a walk through museum grounds to explore the dialogue between wild ecologies and expressive landscapes as they inform our relationship to place.  It was a record 97º F. with a permeating haze and warm breeze, quite a contrast from the rainstorm that eclipsed our August walk.  Included here are impressions and natural dialogues that we experienced during our saunter through the sculpture park with several inspired visitors and staff.  Enjoy!

The fractal beauty of umbels on a role.  As many of you know, this is one of my favorite flower forms in the wild.  Also see my album, Umbel Moments.

James Surls' Walking Flower Times the Power of Five (2010)
The tortured surfaces of Dine's Two Big Black Hearts (1985), yield metaphoric wild reflections from the surrounding landscape.

Female spotted orbweaver (Neoscona sp.) takes advantage of the jagged surface to mount her vertical web, as she's inclined to do on building surfaces.  We discovered her poised and waiting on this baking bronze facade, about 7' above the ground!  An intriguing metaphorical pairing with the sensibilities of this sculpture.
The heart-shaped leaves and delicate flowers of burdock, whose root is nature's blood purifier and whose barbed seed pods have been the bain of long-haired little girls and furry passers-by for eons

On a more playful note, we encountered ripe poke berries nearby, which Jane mentioned using to create a deep pink ink for printing.  Inspired, Jane's mother-in-law then applied some crushed berries to her hair for a purple flourish!

Siegel's compelling buttes, constructed from surplus Worcester Telegram newspapers, rest inside an old barn foundation on the edge of the deCordova property.  Incredibly, the smaller form has poison ivy vines cascading down from its summit, while the other larger form and the surrounding ground are lush with jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), whose plant juices are the natural antidote to poison ivy's irritating oils.  Apparently, this is a serendipitous dialogue that has occurred between the landscape's inhabitants and the sculpture's terrain.

Steven Siegel's Big, with rift (2009), constructed forms newspapers and flora
Late afternoon sun highlights layers of time and stories
In this dark hollow, Jane found the fruit cluster of a Jack-in-the Pulpit, an unusually bulbous structure that was new to many in our group.  Almost immediately, we had another sculptural response...

Jack-in-the-pulpit fruit cluster
Tom Chapin's Manna (2007)
As we moved across the the lawn toward the parking lot, we discovered two fresh creations left by a morning's visit from Concord-Carlisle High School's Rivers and Revolutions students, who will be working with the deCordova, two other Concord schools, and me this fall to explore the experience of cultivating Sense of Place.

Though we didn't climb the Walking Path behind the museum on this afternoon, one sculpture that caught my eye previously reflects a primal energy that hides in plain sight both in the sculpture park and throughout the local landscape.  After a summer of caterpillar revelations inspired by Sam Jaffe's programs, Hansel's creation felt intimately familiar...

Michael Hansel's Reflex (2004)
DeWitt Godfrey's Lincoln is a monumental engagement with Lincoln's rolling landscape, its earthen colors tying in the museum's warm facade with its gently cascading front lawn.  After our July walk washout, I explored the sculpture in the rain...a shining, rhythmic revelation of sight and sound! 


Day's end images on each of the Walking Ecologies days...

August walk postponed due to rain

Up in a cloud of midges.  The steamy park air fills with swirling clouds of exuberant life, as I depart!