When I got to Moreau, I was pleased to see the lake entirely frozen over at last. It's still too thin to walk on, though, so I hiked around the shore to the trail that would take me about half way up the mountain seen here in this photo and then continue along the ridge.
There's enough up and down to this trail to give you a pretty good workout, but the best part about it is how beautiful it is in every season, as it passes through oak/hickory and mixed conifer forest and crosses several pretty tumbling streams.
The streams were rushing full from recent rains, and the frigid night had turned the watercourses into fairy castles of ice.
After leaving the trail to follow a stream up the mountain, I came to an area of hemlocks and huge boulders, perfect habitat for porcupines, who make their dens in a series of caves that run underneath the boulders and who dine each night up high in the surrounding trees. I've yet to see one in the flesh up here, but when there's snow, I have seen their well-trodden trails leading from dens to the trees.
Here's one of the caves where they make their dens, detectable from some distance away by a strong odor like rancid sawdust emanating from the depths. As I crouched in this opening to peer in, I could feel warm humid air wafting upwards and out, which explains the festoons of hoarfrost decorating porky's doorway.
Leaning further into the mouth of the cave, I could see many porcupine quills littering the passageway. I also heard odd sounds coming from deep within, a sort of grunting and muttering with an occasional squeal that let me know that someone was home. I've never heard porcupines make any noises, but I was hoping it was indeed a porcupine (or two!), and not a bear whose sleep I had disturbed. (I did record just a few of these sounds, which you can hear in the post below this one.)
Here are some close-up shots of those frosty festoons.
As I walked around the area among the boulders and caves, I saw several similar accumulations of frost, and when I knelt down to examine them, I felt that similar rush of warm humid air and discovered openings leading deep down into and under the rocks. I wonder just how extensive this cave system is, and if they are all connected. The porcupine caves are big enough that I could crawl into them if I stayed on my hands and knees (and could bear the odor!), but this opening was much smaller.
And this one smaller still. When I lifted that maple leaf, I could feel a draft of that warm humid air and see a small passage leading down until it disappeared in darkness.
I sure had a wonderful time up there, poking about in the woods and the rocks and the water just as I used to do when I was a kid. Pure contentment washes over me, a feeling that I possess everything I could ever need or want, and that all is well. I was reminded of a poem by Mary Oliver that I looked up when I got home, and yes, she says it exactly right:
When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and the discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."
I took the slow road home, stopping by the farm where I used to see two huge and beautiful Belgian horses. In their place today were these two huge and beautiful Paints, who came right up to the fence and let me pet them. I think they could sense my feeling of sweet contentment. They certainly added to it with the gentle gazes from their lovely eyes.