Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Slow Walk in the Wintry Woods

Some say that there's not much to see on a walk in the woods this time of year. That may be because they have never walked in a winter woods with my friend Sue. Like me, she is perfectly happy to take four hours to cover a half a mile or so, as we did today, hiking up the Red Oak Ridge Trail in Moreau Lake State Park. We went looking for porcupines up there (because we know that that's where they den), but just because we didn't see any, doesn't mean we didn't have fun. When Sue's along, we always find lots of interesting things, thanks to her powers of perception, especially her really good eyesight.

As for me, my eyesight's so bad that even my feet are out of focus, so I would miss all kinds of great stuff if Sue didn't point it out to me. Like this tree stump, for instance, covered with mosses and lichens.

From a standing height, it was just a green blur to me. But down on my knees I discovered a ravishing garden of Powderhorn lichen.

On moss-covered rocks along a stream, I found the spikes and swirls and fronds of the various mosses delightful.

And just look at all the bounty on this square foot of forest floor! I would have walked right on by it if Sue hadn't pointed out the Hepatica leaf. Then a closer look revealed all kinds of good stuff. See how the Blue-Stain Fungus has colored the interior of that White Birch twig while its bark remained unstained. There's a tiny bunch of grapes, shriveled now, but still grapey (if also a little bit winey) to the taste. A dried birch fruit has scattered its seeds, and oh look! there's a single seed pod from the fruit of a Hop Hornbeam tree. Plus various leaves from surrounding trees and seeds and stems of stuff I don't recognize.

Here's something else I would have missed if Sue hadn't seen it first: a little dark spider clinging to the underside of a branch. I wonder what spiders find to eat this time of year, with so few bugs flying around. Maybe they hunt through the cracks and crannies of bark, devouring whatever insects might be wintering over in there.

As I said before, we did not see any porcupines up on the ridge. We did find their trails and tracked them to their dens, and all we had to do was sniff the air to know they had been around. We even found little nubbins of porcupine poo.

We also found several spots where lots of quills were lying around. Do they naturally shed their quills now and then, or do they have to get agitated to release them?

Driving home from Moreau, I stopped at the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton. Since we haven't had much of a winter, I thought, why not start looking for signs of spring? And there they were: fat buds of Skunk Cabbage pushing up through the sheathes that had covered them through the winter.


Anonymous said...

Woo hoo! Thanks for the skunk cabbage.


Ellen Rathbone said...

Oooo - skunk cabbage - I haven't seen that since I left NJ! It's amazing the things we miss. :)

threecollie said...

Just discovered your blog today...delightful!

suep said...

It's always a pleasure rambling with you - I never knew there was so much going on underfoot ! You are teaching me to look more closely at things.
Skunk cabbage and skunks, what a great time of year...

squirrel said...

LOL, "four hours to cover a half a mile", that is about my speed as well. I think you are getting closer to that porky. Each time you come away with a little more. Soon it will have pitty on both of you and show itself. :-) I love to read about your adventures.