Land Journal: May 2012

Every morning when I am at home I get up shortly before sunrise and spend a little while outside, watching the sun come up and the new day come alive. I walk the 400 feet up to a small pond and go for a swim. When I get back inside I write in what I call my "Pond Journal" a little about what I saw, heard and felt. I decided to put that journal up here to share with a wider world what I have written since I see this, like photograpy, as a way of bringing back a record of my observations of the natural world.

On August 26 I moved from Worthington, Massachusetts to Foster, Rhode Island. I continue to write but my writing has taken a different direction, less condusive to daily posts. So, for now I am closing the Pond Journal, leaving it as a story of my time in Worthington. Stay tuned for new directions in the future.

May 31, 2012: A Glorious Richness

A glorious clear, slightly cool morning. White mist over the fields and the pond turns golden in the sunlight. Everything is drenched and sparkling with rain and dew. The bright, deep green leaves almost seem to vibrate; feeling as rich and dense as a tropical rainforest. A pileated woodpecker flying overhead, black and white with his red crest flashing in the sun, adds to the tropical feel. Bullfrogs all around the pond are in full chorus.

May 30, 2012: Summer Thundestorms

The first of the real summer thunderstorms swept through yesterday evening, with threatening and dramatic clouds and some lightning, but ultimately mostly a lot of rain: almost 1½ inches fell in the space of a few hours. This morning it is still cloudy and very light rain is falling, but the air feels cooler than it has the last few days. There‘s not a hint of wind so the cattails stand still, their tops arcing gracefully, at least until the waves from my swimming set them into motion temporarily.

May 29, 2012: Foggy Summer Morning

Thick fog. Just a slight breeze blowing, enough to stir the spider webs, white with moisture, and set the tall green cattails around the pond into motion. The cattails move in the slightest breeze, making the wind visible as they sway and shake gently; perfectly reflected in the surface of the pond. Yellow pollen floats on the pond like the powdery coating on a bundt cake. Dragonflies hover and dart above the water in their helicopter-like way. The fog has revealed ground spider webs scattered all across the forest floor: white patches the size of an outstretched hand. The “weave” of these webs is very dense: more like fabric than the usual open mesh of other spider webs. The sun is trying to break through: the fog in the east is brighter than elsewhere and the field seems to glow under the soft warm fog-diffused sunlight.

May 28, 2012: Memorial Day

A still, cloudy morning. Industrious bumblebees buzz from flower to flower collecting nectar, languid bullfrogs croak resonantly in the pond. New flowers blooming: Dwarf Cinquefoil, Daisy Fleabane, Common Milkweed (where the bees were buzzing), and others that I have yet to identify. Swimming in the pond, I saw a bullfrog floating amidst the lilypads, eyeing me as I eyed him. As I swam by he slowly sank deeper into the water.

Blooming flowers feel like an appropriate reminder of what this day, Memorial Day, is supposed to be about: remembering those who have died in war. May they rest in peace with flowers on their graves.

May 27, 2012: The Beginning of Summer

There’s a bit of coolness to the air this morning; welcome after yesterday’s heat and humidity. Some thin clouds soften the sun’s light, but there is still plenty of blue to the sky. Areas where just a few weeks ago I was looking at new growth pushing up through dead leaves and plant stalks are now so dense with growing plants, many as much as 2 feet tall, that the ground is quite completely hidden. Bird calls roll back and forth across the field in the still air. Yesterday’s heat and humidity and today’s cool green, quiet morning come together to create a feeling that it truly is the beginning of summer.

May 26, 2012: Hazy Sun

The air is hazy with moisture. A white mist hangs over the field. At first the sky overhead looks cloudy but as sunrise approaches blue starts to appear through the haze. It’s a hazy summer blue, not the clear, sharp blue of winter, but it’s a blue sky after a string of cloudy days. The eastern sky turns a delicate peach before sunrise and the newly risen sun glows orange through the haze. Strands of mist pass in front of the sun. Swallows dart around overhead, feasting on the abundant mosquitoes. The lilacs are blooming, filling the air with their lovely perfume.

May 25, 2012: Moisture

A morning dense with moisture. Even the trees a 500 feet away at the far end of the pond are just vague grey forms in the fog. A sudden rain storm comes and goes in the time it takes me to swim 75 feet down the pond, speckling the surface of the pond and then fading away, leaving the trees even more water-soaked then they were before, if that is possible. Floating on my back looking up at the fog feels like a view into endless space. Bird songs fill the foggy air; too many to count or keep track of.

May 24, 2012: Green!

I’m back home after a week in the desert in Dinosaur National Monument, in northeast Utah and northwest Colorado. Dinosaur is best known for its “quarry” of fossilized dinosaur bones, but it is also where the Yampa and Green Rivers come together, in beautiful canyons over 2000 feet deep, on their way south to the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. Back home in western Massachusetts it is a misty damp, very un-desert-like morning. Everything has grown while I’ve been away and it feels like a jungle here after the spareness of the desert. Aside from the walnut, which is still just leafing out, the trees are dense with summer foliage. The ground is also thickly covered with green, growing life. Even the surface of the pond is turning green as the lily pads get bigger. My swimming is now limited to the deepest part of the pond, where the lily pads don’t grow. The water provides a welcome escape from the mosquitoes that gather around me in profusion almost as soon as I step out the door.

May 14, 2012: Rain Beginning

Light rain starts falling just before sunrise. The large rock I’m sitting on slowly turns dark around me and starts to glisten with moisture, and as the rain gets stronger I can feel the water running down my back. Neither the bugs nor the swallows darting about picking the bugs out of the air seem to mind the rain, nor do I really on this warm morning. It’s nice to feel nature so directly and since I am about to go swimming getting wet does not really matter. I mind the bugs more, or at least I mind the welts they raise, but I’m sure the bugs mind the swallows quite a bit more.

May 13, 2012: The Return of Bugs, and Bug-Eaters

Yesterday the barn swallows returned. Today there are many more flying insects in the air. I feel certain the two are linked. The swallows, as they move north, do not get out in front of the return of flying insects. So far the insects are mostly something I’d generically call gnats, which don’t seem to be biting much, but I expect mosquitoes will be hatching out soon. The last few days it’s been feeling like there were some new birds calling in the morning; possibly other returning insect-eaters. High above me, the insects, and the birds that eat them, the sky is filled with wispy circus clouds at sunrise, followed by thicker, lower altostratus clouds not long afterwards. There could hardly be a clearer sign of an impending change in the weather. At the pond, as I was getting ready to go for my swim, a female moose walked into the far end of the pond, spent some time sloshing around, head down, eating plants from the pond, and then continued on her way. I wait to swim until she is gone, to avoid startling her.

May 12, 2012: Late Frost

Not a cloud in the sky at sunrise. A light, late frost on the grass despite the low only being 39.4°F (4.1°C). Swallows darting around in the air above the field; clearly there are some bugs about for them to eat despite the cool air. The first sunlight catches the tops of the trees as the earth slowly rotates beneath our feet and brings the sun up over the horizon. A Killdeer comes in low and lands in the field. A small yellow warbler stops by the pond briefly. Winged seeds are hanging down on the red maples; growing until they get large enough, drop off and go whirling down to the ground. A light mist is rising off the pond, visible only where it is caught by the sunlight.

May 11, 2012: The Sun Returns

While rain is good and necessary and even beautiful, it is also nice to see the sun; especially after four days of rain and gray skies. A gentle but cool northwest wind is stirring the leaves this morning as the sun comes up into a clear blue sky. High in the southwest is the half moon. Looking down at the surface of the pond the water looks almost as black as the night sky. Looking out across the pond the water starts to pick up the blue of the sky until it reaches the wonderful reflection of the sunlit green leaves. The pond is now surrounded by walls of green in every direction. The cattails sway in the breeze and pick up the shimmering reflection of the sunlight reflecting off the water.

May 10, 2012: The Woods are Blooming

A steady rain is falling; almost half an inch overnight. The beech leaves, now quite large but not yet full size, shake when they are hit by big drops of rain falling off taller trees. Insects of some variety have already eaten holes in a number of the beech leaves. The Canada Mayflowers I mentioned yesterday are all over under the hemlocks. Their tiny white flowers, clustered on stalks, are smaller than a grain of rice before they open and not much large open. Mixed in amongst the Canada Mayflowers is another flower, large by comparison at a quarter inch across, star-shaped with white petals and yellow in the center. The wild strawberries are blooming too, as are the Golden Alexanders. The Golden Alexanders stand as much as a foot tall and have lots of stalks radiating out to tiny yellow flower clusters. All the other flowers are just inches off the ground, so easy to miss unless you get down close to the ground. The rain continues to fall. The water runs down my back. Somewhere above the clouds the sun has risen. Swimming in the pond I get a close-up view of the rain drops hitting the pond. As each raindrop hits a spurt of water shoots back up from the surface of the pond, like a tiny, momentary flower stalk. Sometimes this creates a large bubble that floats on the surface of the pond until another raindrop pops it.

May 9, 2012: Small Plants

Fog has settled over the land. It’s not a really thick fog: I can just make out the trees at the top of the field. It’s almost warm out despite the fog. As the trees have been leafing out in recent weeks, there has also been a transformation down at ground level. An area that was dominated by dead grass, leaves and plant stalks just a few weeks ago is now filled with new growth. Half a dozen or more species are shooting up. Some, like the clover, are small but already nearly full size. Others at nine inches tall already are just the start of plants that will stand three feet tall when they bloom in late summer. It’s a still morning and a robin’s wings sound loud as it takes of from the ground nearby. The fog is getting thicker. Now the trees at the far corner of the field have disappeared into the mist and even closer trees are just vague gray forms. Moving into the edge of the forest, the species growing at ground level slowly change. Here two types of ferns are coming up, already 18 inches tall but still in the early stages of developing fronds. Other plants are just a few inches tall but there is a wonderful diversity of leaf shapes: toothed and smooth, rounded and pointed, small and large, in many shades of green. One has indentations that reach almost to the base of the leaves, creating long finger-like fronds but without the hand at the base of the fingers, just the thin stalk going down to the ground. I can’t name any of these species, but does that matter? Naming helps us keep track of and understand different species but it feels like it can also have the effect of putting things into boxes. On the other hand, if I could name the species I’d probably know more about them: what they will look like later in the summer: which will grow large and develop flowers and which will stay small and hidden. Deeper under the shade of the hemlocks the ground is largely just dead leaves and needles and twigs except for one patch of Canada Mayflowers, already developing their small white flowers. On the pond small lily pads, just a few inches across, are scattered across the smooth surface of the pond: this year’s lily pads have started reaching the surface.

May 8, 2012: Forest Rain

A gray, damp morning. The rain has stopped for the moment out in the open but it continues in the forest as water drips off the trees. Each branch and bough I brush against wets my skin with cool water. Everywhere I look, other than at the gray sky overhead, almost the only color I can see is some shade of green, lush and green from the rain. The clouds are low overhead and there is just enough texture to them to be able to see that they are sliding north with surprising speed. Their apparent speed is probably more due to how close they are than to any real speed since there is only a light wind at ground level and the clouds are just a few hundred feet up at most. Lying on the ground in the forest, the trees are reaching up towards the sky, at times bending and turning to reach an opening to the sunlight. Raindrops come racing down at me. Rolling over and looking down at the ground there are tiny new trees just starting out on the journey towards the sky. One is only an inch tall and has just two leaves, each smaller than my thumbnails. The rain returns, and with it wind that sends mist sliding down the surface of the pond. The pond’s water washes the twigs and leaves off my body.

May 7, 2012: Feeling the Land

Back home in Worthington, Massachusetts. The grass is sparkling with a heavy dew. There are a few small, widely scattered clouds around and one larger band of clouds off to the west, but the sun rises into a nearly clear sky, sending its light streaming across the land. There is just the faintest of breezes blowing; the air moving over my skin feels cool but not cold, as does the wet grass when I lie down in it. Seen up close each blade glass is edged with moisture, and so also outlined in light. The sun feels warm on my skin but walking barefoot the grass and soil feel cold to my feet even as my feet also pick up all the varying textures of the land. In the forest, the leaves and boughs brush against my skin. Moving though a dense stand of young beech trees I have to go slowly to keep from getting scratched by the branches. If my body was covered in clothes I might plunge right through such a place but now I am aware of each branch bending and sliding past me. As I go I knock loose the remnants of the bud casings that were still hanging on at the bases of the leaves. They go fluttering through the air like flower petals and it feels like the last remnant of winter falling away. The forest is dense with green now. A few trees are still leafing out but most now have large leaves and the forest is taking on a more summer-like look. There is more green yet to come as leaves get bigger, flowers come up and the full lushness of summer slowly fills the forest.

May 6, 2012: New Leaves, Melting Frost

Writing again from Terre Nouvelle, Canada. At sunrise the sky overhead is a clear deep blue. Aside from a few thin clouds down near the horizon, the sky is cloudless. The edge of the sun seems to pop up over the distant horizon. Slowly the rest of the sun follows, its light pouring out across the land. A crow circles above me and then flies off to the east. The stripped maples leaves have just pushed open their buds in the last couple of days. Most of the leaves are still folded neatly up into bud-shaped bundles but they have already grown much bigger than the buds that contained them all winter. The smooth outer casing of the buds is still wrapped around the base of the growing leaves. In a few weeks there will be big, floppy, six to eight inch wide leaves. Frost on the grass quickly turns to liquid when the sun’s light reaches it, leaving a tiny droplet of water at the tip of each blade of grass. Each of these droplets sparkles in the sunlight, as if the whole rolling field is lit up with thousands up thousands of tiny lights: the magical kingdom of the morning grassland. Birds are calling all around. Aside from the crows, most are small songbirds, singing and calling gently; that is until the wild gobbling of a turkey explodes out of the forest, followed by a woodpecker’ drumming reverberating through the still air.

May 5, 2012: Early Spring

Writing from Terre Nouvelle, Stoke, Quebec, Canada. It’s early spring here: the first trees are just leafing out and the forest is still largely in grays, browns, and the deep dark green of the spruces and pines. But scattered across the landscape are glorious patches of bright spring green: the aspen trees are leafing out. Gray clouds fill the sky this morning. A high hill off to the northeast is in the clouds and there’s a cold breeze blowing down from the north. The wind still sounds of winter as it moves through the bare branches overhead. There are no leaves yet for the wind to rustle: the sound of a summer wind. Walking across the field I came over a low rise and surprised a flock of turkeys. Even though they were 500 feet from me and even though only the upper part of my body was visible to them, they clearly saw me as they grouped together and drifted off into the woods. Later I heard a wild gobbling turkey call from deep in the forest. Much more common are the crows, which I hear all across the land. Crows cawing under a gray sky as a cold winter wind blows through bare trees makes the scene sound stark, even bleak, but the green of the aspens screams “spring” loud and clear. This rolling landscape also has a rich beauty to it that would shine through even in the depths of winter.

May 4, 2012: Fog

With each passing day the clouds get thicker. This morning the trees at the top of the field are just barely visible as a slight darkening of the fog. Across the field to the east the trees are not as far away and are a bit more visible, but there’s no depth or texture to them. This leaves just the silhouette: the rising and falling dark line of trees, in a single shade of gray, set against the equally monochromatic, lighter gray fog above and all around. A gentle rain comes down from the fog occasionally, adding more moisture to the already saturated land. Even when it is not raining I can hear everywhere the soft sound of water dripping off wet leaves onto equally wet leaves and ground below. Droplets of water glisten on the green leaves of the bushes and on the needles of a small pine tree near me. Now even the trees across the field are getting lost in the fog. Close by is a large maple, still just leafing out; its trunk and branches are dark against the fog beyond, bringing out the wonderful form of the tree: long, long branches reaching out and up to the light. Somewhere beyond all the clouds the sun is rising.

May 3, 2012: Soft Morning

This morning it’s not the ridge across the valley that’s going in and out of the mist, it’s the trees at the top of the field, a few hundred feet from me. We are in the clouds. The air and everything else is saturated. The trees at the top of the field are a muted, monochromatic gray against the lighter gray of the clouds. The grass and the leaves, when they are not hidden in the mist, are a rich luxuriant green. The morning has a softness to it: soft rain, soft mist, soft light, and soft green vegetation all around. But the big heavy raindrops that blow off the trees when a breeze comes by are little less soft and a woodpecker has hardly been soft on a dead tree by the pond. Wood chips float in the pond below the tree and there are three round holes, each a little over an inch in diameter, near the top of the tree. Along the edges of the pond the new green cattails are one to two feet tall and last year’s dead tan cattail remnants are finally getting lost in this year’s new growth. After months of bring edged in tan, the pond is once again back to being surrounded by green. The air is filled with the sounds of bird calls and spring peepers.

May 2, 2012: Low Clouds

The top of the ridge across the valley is hidden in the clouds and the lower parts come and go, sometimes almost disappearing and then becoming darker and more substantial. Slowly the clouds lift and individual trees become visible; as shreds of mist drift through the trees. The forest still has the lovely color variations of spring. Some new leaves are reddish and others are various shades of bright green. Mixed in are the deep dark greens of the pines and hemlocks. But the forest is getting denser: stands of small trees that I could see right through a few weeks ago are now nearly opaque with green. An occasional breeze stirs the leaves. It’s not raining but there are drops of water everywhere: lined up neatly along the thin blades of grass and arrayed like the spots on a leopard on broader leaves. From the right angle they glisten, silvery and shining in the dull light, reflecting the gray clouds above with more brilliance than the clouds themselves seem to possess. Before diving into the pond I look at where I know the sun must be but it is completely hidden in the clouds. A crow glides down in a beautiful sweeping curve to land near the far edge of the field.

May 1, 2012: Passing Showers

There’s a light mist falling; not really heavy enough to be called rain but the air is laden with moisture. Nearly featureless, low gray clouds fill the sky and the ridge on the other side of the valley is a muted gray. Every once in a while the light wind blowing up from the south gets strong enough to shake big drops of water down from the trees. Then some real rain starts to fall; fine raindrops that make a very different sound from the heavy drops falling off the trees; a sort of gentle sighing sound that fills the air. It’s just a passing shower but more follow. It’s the first day of May today; only 2½ weeks ago the trees were still bare and brown. Now there is green everywhere I look. The rain gets heavier and I head to the pond for my morning swim.

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