November 24, 2015

In Thanksgiving

Up early on the coldest morning of the season, so far, hoping for a frosty etching of the marshscape at Great Meadows and a colorful sunrise.  Seeing that neither will be offered today, I suspend my expectations, in time to share in greater gifts.  As I walk into the open on the cross-dike trail, in the quiet darkness, a shiver of sound moves through the ice as geese awaken and push their breasts through the water's light crust.  The sky brightens and small groups of geese arise (from the 250+ sleeping there) to preen in the frigid morning air.

A few attempt a bit more exercise, but have trouble on the icy runway.

Three mute swans swimming in the distance, take to the air for a long, breathtaking flight around the full circumference of the refuge's floodplain.  Their bright bodies catch the earliest sunlight and the beating of their powerful wings fills the air with a loud, rhythmic sound like the turning of some mighty 19th c. engine.  No matter one's feelings about the impact that these introduced birds might have on the natural order of our wetlands - their beauty, grace, and awesome power is humbling to behold.

Anticipating an early morning exodus, I wait patiently on the observation deck as the sun rises slowly higher.  The swans' morning exercise stirs more of the geese awake and slowly small groups commence to honking and taking flight.  Finally, the moment comes when the largest assembly directly in front of me bursts into cocophonous trumpeting and takes to the sky en masse, flying directly toward me...glowing in the dawn's warm light.

While I watch them fly west, off to their morning's grazing fields, I hear the warning calls of several crows behind me, and turn to see a young bald eagle entering the airspace above the marsh and circling ever closer toward a small flotilla of coots in the lower impoundment.  After several unsuccessful attacks, it finally catches one of its favorite prey for breakfast.

With the privilege of all of these encounters warming me, I meet another early-rising refuge visitor and we finish walking the full circuit of the trail together.  Then as I drive out the refuge road at 8:50 am, a fox turns out in front of me from the old rail trail and lopes up toward Monsen Road. Stopping to grab my camera, I then drive slowly behind him as he turns the corner and proceeds to sniff out all the neighborhood dog markings on mailbox posts and street trees.  He trots, unfazed, down the middle of the road for half its length before turning off.

Another morning that reminds me to enter each day open, attentive, and ready to receive the gifts that are offered.  In thanksgiving...

November 13, 2015

Changing Landscapes and Flora: From Thoreau's Time to Today

Sunday, November 15, 2:30 pm
Wayland Public Library
12 Cochituate Road, Wayland, MA

In recent years, much scholarly attention and press have been given to Concord's historic botanical record.  Thoreau's descriptive and detailed accounts of his town's flora and landscapes inspired generations of lay botanists, naturalists, and scholars to revisit, expand, document, and analyze this dynamic and changing landscape for more than 170 years.  How has the landscape and flora changed and what has influenced these changes?  Who are some of the principal explorers, record-keepers, and scientists - past and present - who have played a role in creating and maintaining this botanical legacy?  How can Concord's historically deep botanical record inform us today?  Naturalist and photographer, Cherrie Corey, has been working at the heart of this story for the past several years. She will share with us her field explorations and observations, collaborations, and intimate photographs that reveal an at once historic and living landscape that is, at once, both rapidly changing yet enduring...that relies on our deeper understanding and careful stewardship.

Co-sponsored by the Wayland Historical Society and Wayland Public Library.
Free and open to the public.  Refreshments will be served following the talk.

November 7, 2015

Gossamer Days Return

Over the years, walking the cross-dike trail at Great Meadows has deepened my appreciation for the unseen wonders that reveal themselves in the backlight of the sun. One of the most magical revelations has been the discovery of gossamer days that occur each year during the first half of November.  When the blazing maples have shed their leaves, oaks are glowing with earthen tones, restless geese fill the sky, a light breeze stirs from the WNW, and fluffy cattail seeds just sprung from their brown, velvety wands are floating like snow squalls over the marshes...I now know to watch for spiderlings making their autumn exodus.

Last week brought a perfect string of such days.  Here are some images from one of my late afternoon walks from the parking lot to the river and back, in search of gossamer. I've coupled these with such perfect descriptions from Thoreau's Journal that it leaves me breathless to know that we experienced the same ineffable qualities of this seasonal moment across 160 years of time.

[Thoreau, Journal.  Nov. 1, 1851] It is a remarkable day for fine gossamer... They have the effect of a shimmer in the air.  This shimmer, moving along them as they are waved by the wind, gives the effect of a drifting storm of light.  It is more like a fine snowstorm which drifts athwart your path than anything else.  What is the peculiar condition of the atmosphere, to call forth this activity.  If there were no sunshine, I should never find out that they existed, I should not know that I was bursting a myriad barriers.

[Thoreau. Journal.  Oct. 31, 1853]  I slowly discover that this is a gossamer day.  I first see the fine lines stretching from one weed or grass stem or rush to another, sometimes seven or eight feet distant, horizontally and only four or five inches above the water.  

When I look further, I find that they are everywhere and on everything, sometimes forming conspicuous fine white gossamer webs on the heads of grasses, or suggesting an Indian bat [lacrosse stick].  They are so abundant that they seem to have been suddenly produced in the atmosphere by some chemistry, -- spun out of air, -- I know not for what purpose.

...I see myriads of spiders on the water, making some kind of progress, and one at least wth a line attached to him.  True they do not appear to walk well, but they stand up high and dry on the tips of their toes, and are blown along quite fast.  They are of various sizes and colors, though mostly a greenish-brown or else black; some very small.  These gossamer lines are not visible unless between you and the sun.

...We pass some black willows, now of course quite leafless, and when they are between us an the sun, they are so completely covered with these fine cobwebs or lines, mainly parallel to one another, that they make one solid woof, a misty woof against the sun.  They are not drawn taut, but curved downward in the middle, like the rigging of vessels, -- the ropes which stretch from mast to mast, -- as if the fleets of a thousand Lilliputian nations were collected one behind another under bare poles.  

And back to my present-day ramble, I turn away from the sun, the gossamer disappears from sight and a last shimmer of cattail leaves and seedy froth close the day.