July 18 – The Common Wanderer

The Common Wanderer:

For the past several months I’ve been following the adventures of my friend Dave and his family as they thru-hike the Appalachian Trail together. What a wonderful way to still feel connected to adventure and nature while my explorations have been somewhat curtailed. On Friday I was able to meet up with them in Southern Vermont where the trail crossed a road. I brought them a picnic and caught up for a couple of hours before they shoved off to hike up Killington.

Dave has been blogging the whole trip. His posts are wonderful, full of humor, insight, and character. They’re well-worth perusing.

Originally posted on A Family Adventure of the 2,185 mile hike from Georgia to Maine - 2014:

Today was the last day that we would follow the Long Trail, before the Appalachian Trail turns east while the country’s first long distance trail continues north to the Canadian border. Back in the last century, years before I met Mama Bear, my first long distance trip was along that trail. Traveling alone, I met a French Canadian with whom I walked for about a week. Our conversations had a certain poetry stemming from the combination of my broken French and his broken English. He described to me how he had found himself in Vermont’s Northern Kingdom: “For my heart; it was in need of a journey, and so I am here.”

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Things That Are Back:

Hummingbirds at our feeder.

Jack-in-the-pulpits in the forest.

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Us. Our family traveled over to Wales last week. I’ll write more about the circumstances of our visit later, but it was amazing to see how quickly spring has progressed in our absence. Our rhubarb has completely unfurled and is ready for eating, the lilacs are about to bloom, and our lawn is already overgrown.

I love spring!

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Hoo-hoo-hooray

Today, a at the age of 35, I was able to cross an item off my childhood bucket list: I found an owl pellet.

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This is probably more gross than exciting to most people, but it fulfilled a lifelong desire for me that began with a class assignment in sixth grade. We were each given an owl pellet, purchased from some science supply company, and told to dissect it, pick apart the bones, and create a skeleton out of whatever animal had been eaten by the owl.

For those who did not get an early education in owl pellets, they’re the coughed up remains if an owl’s last meal. When an owl catches a mole or a mouse, it eats the poor critter whole. But the owl can’t digest the hair and bones. So it regurgitates them in a small pellet.

When I got that first pellet in middle school I found the full skeleton of a tiny rodent, skull and all. It was so exciting, like unraveling a biological mystery, that I asked for another. A family friend who was a high school biology teacher, Linda, could get me extras and I would pick the bones from the fur, bleach the bones, and glue them to a strip of cardboard in the shape of whatever animal I found.

This hobby was short-lived, but it was intense while it lasted. And ever since, I’ve kept my eye out for pellets in the woods. But I had never stumbled across one until today. I’d been hearing several bard owls calling to one another through the woods and just happened to look down. There was this oblong hair-filled object. For some reason it just stuck out.

I’m sure you will be relieved to know that I did not spend the afternoon meticulously recreating the poor devoured rodent. But this was a childhood wish, after all. So I did wrap it in leaves and take it home to show my parents, who happen to be visiting. Brought me right back to childhood!

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Emergence

It used to be that autumn was my favorite time of year. That bite in the air. Once I started cross country running in high school, the cool weather was a signal that it was time to run again. Plus, there was the return of school. Friends I hadn’t seen in months, and the possibility of new romance.

But now, as an adult, Spring is definitely my favorite. Everything comes alive so suddenly! After long hard winters, it is such a joy to be outside and see things growing and emerging. Here are a few photos from my walk in the woods with Oliver this morning.

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Eft Return

My favorite harbinger of spring, the red eft, has returned. I had my first sighting of the season on a little-used dirt road on a cold and chilly run this evening and stopped long enough to snap a picture.

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I say harbinger of spring, but nightfall has brought a drop in temperature and turned the rain to snow. We may have as much as two inches by morning. Fickle season, this one.

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Rejoice!

Rejoice, for spring is nigh!

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I’ve been seeing so many photos of plucky flowers in my social media feeds and today I ventured back to our south-facing side and there they were: daffodils and tulips sprouting where the snow has just receded. We have them too!

And for the past two nights I’ve heard the earliest of the peepers gargling in the swampy scrub down by the road.

It’s been a long winter so these springtime arrivals are more welcome than usual.

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The Greatest Adventure

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I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from the blog. Mostly because my lens on the world has temporarily narrowed focus. I spend my days and nights with Dylan and I’m absolutely loving it. But I didn’t start this blog to bore people with the minutiae of caring for an infant. I started it to help myself feel less restless now that I travel less, to find adventure in the commonplace and to see new things in the places I return to day in and day out.

Having a baby qualifies, in many ways, as the ultimate adventure. And finding the wonder in repetition, when your child wants the same book read seven times a night, or when you’re changing yet another dirty diaper, can be a challenge, or so I’m told. Perfect for this blog’s mission. But right now I’m filled with constant wonder and emotion. Every yawn, every smile, every hour spent watching his sleeping face feels like a miracle. Just singing him a lullaby, one of the ones my parents sang to me, gets me choked up. And I think it’s newsworthy to report each inch grown or pound gained. (He’s nearly 14 pounds now. See?)

So I have no perspective. Or rather, I have only this one very narrow perspective. So I’m holding back until I reach more equilibrium.

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To that end, though, I do have a couple of bird sightings to report. When it’s warmer than about 20 degrees outside (today doesn’t qualify) I can take Dylan out into the woods. And sometimes I am able to tear myself away from the baby and head into the woods alone with Oliver. The reservoir we walk around is frozen over but there’s still some activity. A hundred or so ducks have been hanging around in the swamp. Their annoyed honking when Ollie gets too close and forces them into the air is worth heading outside for. And the other day I spotted the resident kingfisher perched on the limb of a dead tree. I didn’t realize kingfishers hung around for the winter.

We have a tree next to our house that sprouts bright red berries that last through the winter. I think it’s a hawthorn tree. When we moved in, our neighbors, who actually built the house, told us that once a year a flock of cedar waxwings descends on the tree and strips it bare. It’s so much fun to catch the invasion and this year it happened last week. The waxwings were joined by a gang of robins and together the two groups had all the berries devoured in 36 hours.

And, finally, there have been more snowy owl sightings this year, all up and down the eastern seaboard. One owl has been hanging out at the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison, about twenty or thirty minutes from our house. It seems like everyone I know has gotten a glimpse of this specimen, except me. Adrian and I shoved Oliver and Dylan in the car last week to go have a look but the owl wasn’t in residence. But on Friday I was passing through the area and detoured over to Dead Creek and there it was! There were five or six other cars stopped, and some photographers with very long lenses. I didn’t even have my good camera with me so I just watched it for a while. Magnificent.

This is the tree it was in, right by the road, and conveniently next to the snow goose viewing area, so the cars have a place to park. This bird must like the limelight. Though I wonder if all the attention scares away its prey. I suppose it could always move if it wanted.

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So there you have it, the extent of my adventures in nature. Now I have to go. It’s been an hour since I peeked in on Dylan, and gazed at him sleeping in his bassinet. Practically an eternity.

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