The change was so drastic and unexpected, my head still spins. One day I was happily reliving last summer’s Catskills adventures, while dreaming of the approaching spring and all the places I’d go. Jenkins Arboretum and the preserves along the Susquehanna for the spring wildflowers. National wildlife refuges for warblers and nesting shorebirds. The Pine Barrens for – well, just because it’s the Pine Barrens. The White Mountains in May. Texas in June to see Mexican free-tailed bats.
Just as quick as turning out a light, it all went away. Wiped out by a microscopic virus. One day, the world is my oyster; the next, that world has shrunk to a grain of sand. My life, interrupted.
What’s a nature girl to do?
In this day of coronaviruses and quarantines, walking outdoors is still allowed, so I turn to the nearby woods. Fortunately, I have access to a few miles of trails and creeks. For a few trips, this brought some relief. Being April, the wildflowers and trees are blooming, and ferns are unfurling. The flora of the valley changes daily. It was like a new place each visit.
But going to the same place so frequently can get old, even in spring. It was time to look with new eyes. Specifically, the eye of my camera.
And so it was, early on a sunny spring morning, that my camera and I found ourselves heading down the path, into the wooded valley. Past the small redbud trees with their hummingbird flowers. Under the arching branches of taller trees, with tight buds just beginning to hint at the leaves they will become. Past an unknown little blue flower, at the base of a log coated with lichen. Turn right and –
There! Right away I spotted my quarry for the day. A yellow trout lily. Yes!
Trout lilies are one of the many species of spring ephemeral wildflowers that decorate woodlands in the days before the tree canopy leafs out. They have a short window of opportunity to grow, bloom, get pollinated and photosynthesize while the sun still reaches the forest floor.
The widest variety of spring ephemerals can be found at local arboretums (all closed) or the preserves along the Susquehanna River (too far away.) But this place has a few treats. I’d missed the chance to photograph the bloodroots, but the trout lilies were proliferating. Early on a cool morning, one bided its time in the sun, waiting for the right moment to full open.
A little further along the trail a familiar song caught my ear. “Peter! Peter! Peter!” Oh, this is folly – trying to do bird photography with a macro lens. But there on a nearby branch, a tufted titmouse would not be ignored.
These woods are hardly pristine habitat. They’re surrounded by housing developments and recreational fields. The roar of the interstate highway on its border can be heard much of the time. Invasive plants are everywhere.
On the other hand, it’s nature. Woods. Creeks and runs. A meadow. Birds sing joyfully; deer wander warily and frogs rest in quiet pools. I’ve seen box turtles and garter snakes on the trails, and groundhogs and chipmunks in the underbrush. What’s not to like?
April is the season for fiddleheads. The speed with which they appeared rivaled the suddenness of the recent changes in our lives. One day, I saw one Christmas fern fiddlehead, barely out of the ground. A few days later, there were two species to be seen. Then four, and now there are ferns everywhere, fiddleheads unfurling into delicate fronds. At this stage, it’s hard to identify the fern species. Based on what I know of the species in this area, and the red stems, or stipes – I think this is a lady fern.
These woods are bisected by a creek. The path I wandered climbed in and out of the valley several times, sometimes along the creek, sometimes across it, sometimes in the woods high above. In the crook of a tree trunk, a trout lily sheltered in place.
Up the hill, across the road and down to a little seep that feeds the main creek. I used to hear frogs frequently here. Not their songs – the sudden PLOP as they jumped from their shady spot under the skunk cabbage at my approach. I still walk slowly, scanning for our amphibian friends, but have not heard them in some years.
Up the hill a little and to the right is a cluster of flowering trees. Cherry or crabapple? Left to figure it out on my own, I guess: crabapple. Then I think – cherry. No, crabapple. No matter; the blossoms are lovely whatever the tree calls itself.
Back down into the valley to walk along the creek again. Mayapple umbrellas offered shelter from the night’s rain to any passerby shorter than 10 inches. It will be a few weeks before these plants bloom into white blossoms that will dangle below the broad leaves.
On the hilly climb up from the creek, tiny nodding white bells carpeted the forest floor. At first, I did not recognize them and was left wondering what they were. A few days later, I was greeting an old friend. Spring beauties – of course! This delicate white and pink flower had a visitor.
For a while the trail meandered through the forest. There are a lot of old trees on this property, in various stages of decay. Decay is good; old trees provide space and food for mosses, lichens, insects, birds and other critters.
That got me thinking about the name and purpose of this blog. I began it as a way to share my photography with family and friends, in hopes that my words and images would coax folks outside of their houses and their comfort zones, into nature. At the start, I said
“This will be a home for my photos and reflections as I explore pockets of nature in the crowded ‘burbs: the edge habitats where town meets country, forest meets meadow, land meets water, and Man meets Nature – the Wild Edge.”
Over time, as my world widened, so did the blog. Seven years later (wow!) the Wild Edge has come to encompass the Smoky, Catskill and Adirondack Mountains, untamed seashores and salt marshes, the Pine Barrens and Appalachian balds… places more “wild” than “edge.”
But now I’ve been forced to stay close to home, and take a good hard look at what can be found right under my nose. Surrounded by development, this place is the very definition of the Wild Edge. Perhaps a pandemic is a good chance to get back to basics.
It doesn’t get any more basic than a mushroom on a fallen log. I’m reminded of the teachings of a mushroom expert I know, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. What we see is the fruiting body. The fungus’ mycelium, the vegetative body, hides deep within the rotting wood of the log.
Why are they called “trout lilies?” Take a look at the dappled pattern on the leaves. Do they remind you of a trout? The little bug on the flower thought so.
Nearby woodlands offer lessons to those who would pay attention. Beauty comes in small packages. Decay is beneficial. Little delights are often hidden from view, and we must look carefully to find them. All these gifts can be found anywhere, in wilderness and local parks alike.
No matter the troubles, I’ve got enough food and enough money; I have my health, my home, and my woods for solace. Life is good.
Nature goes on, uninterrupted; that’s the wonder of life on the Wild Edge.