Monday, November 06, 2006


Now that November has arrived, I was thinking of deer hunting. Except for a few harmless trips with my father when I was little, I’ve never hunted deer. I don’t have anything against legal deer hunting and those who hunt legally and respect the ethics and traditions of the sport. It’s just not for me. I can, however, imagine the thrill of the hunt and when I noticed some buck sign on Hobbs Hill a few weeks ago, I thought it would be fun to go back and see if I could spot the perpetrator.

It was yet another cool, clear, bright day on Moose Hill with a blue sky and gentle breezes. Naturally, I understand it’s not always this way, but it may seem this way because of my bias in choosing the good days to visit. I promise myself to venture out in some extreme weather, but it’s so much easier to travel through and sit in the forest when the skies are clear. We had some frosty mornings this week, but the earth was still soft underfoot even if the crunchy leaves made silent walking impossible for this paleface. Although the oaks are reluctant to surrender their tattered brown jackets, most of the leaves are down and views through the forest went on a long way in the good light.

I crossed the boardwalk over the swamp, and at the tee in the Hobbs Hill Loop, rather than going right and up the trail to the top of the hill as I usually do, I went left, thinking I would craftily approach from downwind. I was soon stopped in my tracks by some bird activity. I quickly spotted the usual chickadees and titmice (titmouses?) but knew that other birds often joined these little avian clubs.

Sure enough, I caught a glimpse of what may have been a kinglet, and then, a thrush! Not being up to speed on my thrush field marks, I didn’t pay attention to the distribution of redness on its back, and I didn’t get a look at its front. I wasn’t ready to believe the wood thrush that was singing to me all summer was still here, so I thought it might be one of the other eastern thrush species. A little later, as I approached my favorite rock perch on the edge of the hill, I saw another thrush land in a flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), perhaps attracted by the bright red fruits this pretty little tree offered. This bird seemed to have a breast that was more streaked than spotted, making me think it was a hermit thrush.

I suppose I should carry my bird guide, just for situations like this. I don’t expect to see a great variety of birds on these walks on Moose Hill and I am happy to visit with a small collection of regulars, but many walks produce glimpses of something new. I try to make mental notes of field marks, but usually wind up check-marking the wrong details.

Even though it was November, there were plenty of birds around on this day for those ambitious enough to chase them. An excited gaggle of blue jays blundered through the neighborhood, their striking blue and white magnified by the bright sun, and their rather straight flight patterns contrasting with the busy flitting of the smaller birds. Crows cawed in the distance. A tiny kinglet worked in a redcedar, reminding me of one I saw on Bluffs Head hunting within the foliage of the same tree species and making me wonder if they particularly like this juniper. An unseen woodpecker was heard tapping away. A small flock of robins was clucking among the oaks.

After the thrush left the dogwood, I settled down for breakfast on the rock. (Note to self: The rocks are getting cold. Bring something to sit on.) I didn’t see any deer, but didn’t really expect to. I’m sure any buck that may have been tending to his territory on the hilltop heard me coming long before I arrived. I was simply enjoying my breakfast, the scenery, the beautiful day and wondering where my thoughts would take me.

I noticed a small hickory growing out of the hillside. It was tall and straight but no more than three inches in diameter. About 10 feet above the ground it had been decapitated, probably by a falling oak limb or a near-by fallen ash. From the ugly and rotting stub, the hickory had put forth a new shoot that bent upward to continue the climb to the sky. This new sprout looked younger, more vigorous and stronger than the old base that carried it.

I thought about how people are sometimes like that little hickory. One day while they’re going about their business, some unseen tragedy hits or some unanticipated disruption in their plans strikes. Life goes on and the wound heals. Will the wounded one persist and start anew and grow for the sky with more energy than before? Or, will the break be terminal, ending all growth? Will they continue on the same path, or branch off in a new direction? There will always be a scar where the break occurred. Would that scar become a hard knot that would lend greater strength, or become a weak point ready to snap in the next big wind? I counted my blessings that I have been spared major tragedies, and I like to think that any scars I may carry will act as reminders that make me stronger and wiser.

It was time for me to go, so I headed back to the trail. Along the way, I examined some more fresh buck sign. Evidently, deer like the feel of redcedar bark against their antlers because every redcedar on the flat hilltop had been scraped. At the base of one of the larger trees was a patch of freshly-disturbed soil where the buck had been pawing the ground. I wished him a good rutting season.

I returned to my bike and rolled it back to the road. As always, I was reluctant to leave and persisted in looking around as I prepared to go. As I paused to put away my gear and don my helmet, I heard more small birds and saw flashes of movement in the trees above and around me. This may have been the same group of birds I always seem to see at this spot. I’ve started calling them the “Upland Guild.” I heard somewhere that these groups of birds of different species are called “guilds,’ and this spot is where Upland Road hits Moose Hill Parkway. Black-capped chickadees and tufted titmice are the majority members, but the patient observer can usually find a white-breasted nuthatch or two and maybe a downy woodpecker. As I learned earlier, there might even be a kinglet or thrush.

Call it persistence, or procrastination, but these moments of reluctant separation often seem to produce the best finds. On this day, my delay was rewarded with a pair of brown creepers. Among all the other busy little birds were these two unusual characters. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen one and I was thrilled to find these two. They are small and mottled brown, blending in well with the tree bark. They fly from tree to tree and, starting near the bottom, work their way upward creeping along the bark with their heads up, unlike the nuthatches, who creep head-down and crane their necks as they look about. The creepers had long curved beaks and pressed their longish tails tight against the trees as they climbed.

I went to the woods hunting for deer. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I saw plenty of deer sign, but, as they say, that makes pretty thin soup. My other discoveries may be even less substantial, but I persist in hunting for them all the same. Each tale told by a tree and each small bird becomes an ingredient in my mental stew that is Moose Hill.


At 9:03 AM, Blogger Lynne said...

It feeds the soul doesn't it?

At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Rhea said...

I was in the Blue Hills yesterday for a hike with a group of friends. When I got separated from the group and was just tromping through the woods I saw a bunch of deer! I noticed their white tails first, as they ran away from me. Very, very cool!

At 6:55 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

We happened upon a very fine young buck yesterday. He was eating fallen apples and was remarkably calm and serene as I snapped a few photos of him. He looked straight at us and shrugged us off. I thought, it's a good thing I only shoot photos.

I love what we see when we're out for one of our walks. There's always something that just pulls us toward it. I appreciate how well you draw Moose Hill for us.

At 9:56 PM, Blogger lené said...

I love your stories, mojoman. You always weave in a few reflective surprises, like the metaphor of the tree/shoots and people. Your description of the landscape sounds very much like our landscape, except that the oaks finally let go of their leaves this week too. Only the beat-up leaves of beech remain rattling in the wind.

I haven't been blogging much lately, other than my obligatory (a happy one) posts at whorled leaves. Thanks for alerting me to your story and for letting me know that the prompts are helpful.

Best wishes,

At 11:27 PM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

Happy hunting, Mojoman!

Moose Hill sounds just beautiful.

At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When do we get to see a picture of the elusive mojoman himself?? I hear he's quite a looker!

At 6:34 AM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Dear Anonymous: I would have many photos of myself on here, but my kids think I look goofey.

At 7:01 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Lynne: These woods are becoming like a sanctuary or chapel for me. I feel more spirituality there than in any edifice of concrete and steel.

Rhea: I love the Blue Hills. It's amazing that such a large and wild park exisits so close to Boston.

Robin Andrea: I am always thrilled to see deer close-up in the wild. It's a strong reminder that we share this world with many other creatures, some of them pretty big!

Lene: We don't have many beech here, but I thought of you as I drove by a clump yesterday with their golden-brown leaves wagging in the breeze.

Laura: Your blog inspires me to search for the beauty in places close to home.


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