Saturday, March 31, 2007

Overload and Paralysis

I left home Saturday morning at about 9:15. It was clear, sunny, calm, about 45 degrees and warming rapidly in the spring sun. I decided to walk to Moose Hill rather than taking the bike because, I thought, a brisk walk up the hill would be more exercise. This is where my troubles began.

To make things more interesting, I took as many trails as I could, staying off the road as much as possible. I took a shortcut through the train station parking lot that leads down a dirt road, past some little-known tennis courts and eventually to the dam that forms the cedar swamp where the redwings were back and calling and the geese and mallards were pairing up. As soon as I left the parking lot, I started to see birds. I’d walk for a minute or two, see a bird flash by and have to pause to see what it was. Naturally, where there is one, there may be a half dozen or more. Sure, they were mostly the usual suspects – a small flock of chickadees with the titmouse, nuthatch and downy woodpecker hangers-on – but I have little trouble finding joy in watching even these common denizens of these woods. Also, I am often rewarded with a glimpse of something special among these little troops of small birds.

About half way up the hill along the Ovenbird Trail, I stopped for a minute to watch a pair of titmice – clearly with spring on their minds – exploring a hole in an oak branch. Suddenly, a red squirrel in a big white pine overhead started scolding me. Eventually, she was so overcome with anger or curiosity, she had to climb down to get a closer look and tell me to keep moving. Just then, there was a clattering of hooves on rocks as four deer - unseen until they moved – vacated the area. I wondered if they were the same four I saw sitting and watching me a couple of months ago. Then, too, they got up and moved only after I stopped walking.

It seems some creatures react when confronted with silence, the way some people can’t stand a pause in conversation. I remember a time in Maine when smallmouth bass would hit a plug only when it was floating still and never when it was swimming. I recall grouse busting out of cover only when the hunter stopped walking. The animals on Moose Hill may be accustomed to walkers moving steadily along well-used paths, but get nervous then the regular rhythm of footsteps stops.

A little further along, I stopped and looked up through the leafless trees as a great blue heron – my first of the year - flew by overhead. He was rowing lazily through the clear air, and in the bright light I could see him flying straight but turning his long-beaked head from side to side on his long neck as if sightseeing while driving down the interstate.

By the time I stopped a few minutes later to watch and listen as a Carolina wren made a ruckus, I acknowledged that I wasn’t going to get a great workout on this day. It’s hard to keep the heart rate up when every turn in the path reveals a new treat to savor; a new bird or mammal to study.

At the top of the hill, I broke out of the woods and into the big field where – in season -the tree swallows and monarchs fly. I heard a junco trilling in a way that made me think a chipping sparrow had made an early return. A small flock of robins seemed happy to be hopping around on the snow-matted grass. Blue jays worked along the edges of the field. I scanned the nesting boxes with my binoculars to find my first two tree swallows of the year! I was happy to see their crisp white bellies and glistening blue-purple backs. I wondered if they were tired after a long journey. I was thrilled to hear their twinkling calls as I left the field.

Out on the road, I heard the loud trilling and heavy machine gun of a red-bellied woodpecker. This was no tapping for breakfast. He was making a vernal statement.

I left the street again and turned down the dirt road that leads to the old Billings farm where I planned to sit in my favorite field for breakfast. There was still some snow in the piney areas or in the shadow of a stone wall, but it was rapidly melting. There were still chunks of ice in the swamp, but I knew the peepers would soon be singing. A few galvanized buckets still hung from taps in the sugar maples. I tasted sweet drops of sap, but the season was all but over.

I finally made it to my spot in the sun where I could sit with my back to the stone wall and look out over the small meadow with its bird houses and bee hives. It had already reached the time when I said I would be home and I just sat down to my coffee and sandwich. Spring is a time when there can be too much to see. From the bluebird eyeing the nest box to the chipmunk rising from her winter sleep, there is always something to arrest the attention. Sometimes, I’m not sure where to look first. It is a happy overload; a pleasant paralysis.

What wonderful drugs were coursing through my veins! I sat in the warm sun after an hour and a half of springtime walking and discovery, and let the coffee bathe my brain. It felt great to be back on the hill, knowing that a new season was about to unfold. There was no green yet other than the pines and moss, but I heard my first chipmunk cluck and a big, sleepy-looking fly landed on my backpack.

After breakfast, I headed for home. Before I left the woods, I saw my first butterfly of the season. It was large and brown with blue spots and a creamy fringe on its wings. It’s called a mourning cloak, but I saw only joy in its springtime flight.


At 12:43 AM, Blogger Larry said...

I enjoy seeing common birds as well.I don't have the money and time it would take to see new species every day anyway.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

Spring has been slow to arrive this year, but the migrators have begun showing up. We had our first hummingbirds and tree swallows in the last week. White-crowned sparrows yesterday at the ground-scattered seed. There is so much to see. It's still the very best kind of sensory overload. Enjoy!

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Julie Zickefoose said...

Dear Mojo,

I had just this kind of walk yesterday--the first tiger swallowtails (now freezing their abdomens off, no doubt); the first Henry's elfins, the first rue anemones and dentaria and spring beauties. When I went out on the hike I was an emotional mess. When I got back, I was relaxed and refilled. I thought as I walked that I feel as if I have this great hole in my soul that needs to be filled up with butterflies and wildflowers. You've described it perfectly. Keep going to Moose Hill and taking us all with you.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Deb said...

Great post. I fully understand what you mean about spring overload. Sometimes it seems I can't even turn around without seeing or hearing something new this time of year, and it's all wonderful.


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