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I’m going to take my imagination on a walk through the summer woods. Would you like to come with me?
The day begins with a cacophony of birdsongs, crashing through my bedroom window. Robins shout “Cheer up, cheerily, cheer up, cheerily” on incessant repeat. Northern parulas buzz up a scale, then alternate with a call that sounds like Porky Pig’s classic “Th-th-th-th-That’s all, Folks!” All the while, the blue-headed vireo announces his presence with short, loud phrases: “See you. Be seeing you. So long.”
Soon, bright sunshine follows the birdsongs into my room. “Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning…and spread it…into the windows of, even, the miserable and crotchety,” muses poet Mary Oliver. Rolling over, I look at my watch: 5:30 a.m. I wipe the sleep out of my eyes and put on shorts, a tank top, and hiking shoes. After all, Henry David Thoreau claims that “An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
Sunshine glows through vibrant green treetops, and dew clings to the grass as we grab our binoculars and head down the driveway. In the big maple tree, we can hear the northern parula buzzing away. First I listen, tilting my head like an owl or a fox for better triangulation. When I think I know where he is, I lift my binoculars to my upturned eyes and search for the little singer.
The sun, rising higher, begins to feel warm. There! A sunbeam catches his gorgeous blue head, yellow throat, and…OW!!! Binocs slam to my chest as I swat three mosquitoes that simultaneously penetrate the skin on my neck, my eyebrow, and my lower lip. Time to get moving.
We cross the road and duck through a gateway of little hemlocks onto the trail. The cool shade feels good since elsewhere sunbeams and dew have combined to raise the heat index. Sun flecks play on the forest floor, highlighting tender green leaves pushing up through last fall’s brown carpet. A patch of bunchberry flowers glows white in the diffuse light, and I hurry toward them for a closer…aaarrrrgh!
My face went right through the sticky net of a spider web. Clinging strands send shivers down my spine, and delicately tickle the nerves of my nose, cheeks, hair, and neck. Not far from my right ear, I notice the web owner herself, looking fairly large and not so happy with me. Every night, orb-weaver spiders like her eat, recycle, and re-spin their webs using only their sense of touch. I just ruined a work of art that took hours to create.
Forgetting the bunchberry, we forge on, still picking spider silk out of our hair, and also swatting mosquitoes. Naturally, they land almost out of reach on the backs of our arms, between our shoulder blades, on ankles and knees. These are female mosquitoes looking for a blood meal. Once satiated, they will rest for a few days to let the blood digest and its nutrients (our nutrients!) develop into eggs. After just two or three days, they will lay those eggs and look for a new blood host. The cycle repeats itself until the female dies. On average, each female lays 200 eggs during her short life.
More spider webs lie in wait across the trail, so I pick up a stick from the moist duff to wave in front of us. The swinging stick keeps most of the webs off my…ewww! Something squishes under my fingers, and I feel sticky slime coat my skin. Turns out, my spider-stick was also the home to a small slug. I rub my hand in the dirt to get rid of the slimy feel.
Soon we emerge from the deep shade of the forest into an emerald green field. Wild roses bramble along the edge between forest and field, the purple canes of blackberries are dusted with five-petaled, snowflake-white flowers. “There were violets as easy in their lives as anything you have ever seen or leaned down to intake the sweet breath of…” (Mary Oliver) They cluster in the grass at the edge of the trail, their purple faces delicately fringed with white beards.
As I rise from smelling the violets, I notice something on my shin. A tiny nymphal black-legged tick (aka deer tick) is crawling up my leg. Actually, two…no, three little ticks had quested right onto my ankle. It is amazing that I even noticed these little disease vectors, since they are just the size of a poppy seed.
Flicking off the ticks, and frantically brushing at any suspicious tickle, we hurry down then trail, suddenly sweating profusely in the sweltry heat. It has become so hot that even the birds have stopped singing.
And here, my friend, is where I will part ways from our imaginary field walk. The grass may be greener in June, but green grass isn’t everything. Right now, today, in March, there is clean, white snow covering the ticks. Some mosquito adults hide out in diapause—a state of suspended animation—while the larvae of other mosquito species are trapped beneath several feet of lake ice. The orb weaver died last fall, after creating a thick, silken sack for her eggs. As for me, it is twenty degrees, the sun is out, the bugs are gone, and I just bought new skis! Carpe diem!
“Now comes the long blue cold. And what shall I say but that some bird in the tree of my heart is singing.” –Mary Oliver
For over 45 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI, at 13470 County Highway M. The current exhibit, “Deer Camp: A Natural and Cultural History of White-tailed Deer,” opened in May 2013 and will remain open until April 2014.
Find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Discover us on Facebook, or at our blogspot, http://cablemuseumnaturalconnections.blogspot.com/.