Salt Creek Prairie 8:15/60°/Wind-East

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Sitting still in the middle of the field.  One tree South of me making a racket, letting the world know that there’s a breeze blowing.  A million leaves flapping in unison.  The grasses and flowers are going to seed, covered in dew, sparkling and billowing.  What few clouds move quickly along and the sun shines down.  Behind me a sudden cascade of dried leaves, birdsong and flight.  A cricket, a steady and sustained chirping.  The leaves falling herald the breeze, which is seen and heard before you feel it.  A small flock of finches dip and veer, chirps and cheeps, whistles and trills.  Alight briefly on the branches and then they’re gone.  Down low in the grasses and seedstalks.  A goose passes overhead, alone, calling out.

on dragonflies, a carcass, and beavers

There be beavers in Salt Creek.  He found evidence as he was ambling along this past Saturday.  Downed trees and stumps chewed to a fine and tapered point.  Another tree, still standing, which was a work in progress.  Where they make their home is anybody’s guess.  He didn’t see a lodge, but he didn’t spend a lot of time looking.  He was in a hurry to check up on the carcass of a deer he’d found lying by the edge of a small, green pond a couple weeks back.  When he’d first seen the animal it was still barely alive, though obviously down and not getting back up.  He had returned the next day to see if there were any buzzards, which there were not.

Returning after two weeks, he could smell the subtle undertones of rot as he neared.  Not too strong, and maybe even imperceptible if he hadn’t already known what was there.  There was a small trail that broke between the thick shrubs and brambles that surrounded the water hole, and the smell was there too, stronger, but not overwhelming.  He stood on the muddy bank where the receding water revealed the prints of the other deer and wildlife that drank there.  He stood, looked across, maybe 8 to 10 yards, and could see what was left.  not much.  The bones had been picked clean.  Funny, he thought, how bones don’t look like bones.  They were a reddish brown color, largely indistinguishable from the ground where they lay, scattered.  Again, if he hadn’t known they were there, he likely wouldn’t have seen them at all.

As he walked out of the woods, the sun was soon to set over the field, sinking behind the trees.  The field was filled with blooming yellow sunflowers and the sun shining through their petals.  Small insects and dragonflies were ascending, silhouettes and specks of light both cascading upwards to loop and hover, sway up and downwards again.  The dragonflies were feasting on the smaller, slower insects, dipping in rapid fire arcs, rising again to meet one another in midair for the briefest moment before resuming their flight.

The smaller insects’ wings were illuminated by the sun so that they appeared almost as glowing specks of dust, or fluff.  One rose up before him just as the dragonfly swooped in from somewhere off to the side, paused, with its back to the sun, four wings and segmented body framed and held static in the light, before continuing on, leaving only emptiness.

Notes from the Porkies: Part 1

To Deet, or not to Deet…is not really the question, but to suffer the nuisance of roving bands of mosquitoes, or dowse yourself in chemical repellants, is at least a matter for consideration.  Actually, it’s an absolute imperative, and walking into the first leg of our three day adventure into Michigan’s Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, my philosophical musings as to the nature of this trip evaporate, and I am immediately reminded of the fact that philosophy is a leisurely sport, and that all this nature business is maybe not all it’s cracked up to be.

We envision, some of us anyways, a return to nature; or nature as a place of refuge, a place for solace, away from the frenetic pace and the technocratic grind.  Away from the traffic, smart phones, passwords, slow servers, political newsfeeds – somewhere off the grid, if only for a short while.  Natural settings relax us, they say, make us feel better about things; less hyperactive, more focused.  And though that may be the case, and indeed I believe it to be true, never do you hear mention of the mosquitoes.

So yes, my wife and I, with our tiny, yet capable, rat terrier Lucy, enter Deetless into the woods, and the mosquitoes are relentless.  Within seconds, a cohort of representatives from each of the 60 different species residing in Michigan announce themselves, in unison, to our eyes, ears, arms, and through our clothing.  Needless to say: Deet application promptly ensues, and it then goes like this: hiking along, watching your step, pack on your back, incessant whine in your ears – swat! – and then, silence.

The high pitched scree of mosquito wings beating 400 to 600 times per second in my ears is maddening.  I have learned that male and female mosquitoes modulate their wingbeats to create in-flight harmonies during copulation, which is mysterious and wild, but I can not abide by the music of mosquito love.  This being said, what happens when you swat them away creates a contrast of experience that seems significant, yet unnameable.

The silence opens, and there is the sound of the forest.  The rustle of chipmunks and small red squirrels as they scurry about the forest floor; what is perhaps a Fowlers toad hopping through the leaves; thrushes, warblers, cardinals, and the occasional knock and rhythm of maybe a Pileated woodpecker, pounding upon a bleached and hollowed oak, flow into the auditory space once occupied by the mosquitoes.

It doesn’t take long for the whining to begin again, gradually at first, building towards another exasperating crescendo, but during this brief reprieve, the purpose of this excursion begins to reveal itself.

finding time at Willow Springs Woods

8/21

Into the woods with the family.  Willow Springs Woods in South Cook County.  First time here, and I’m learning that it’s important to go and scope these places out ahead of time, or else you find yourself wandering aimlessly trying to decide on a place to sit.

Which was what happened my first morning at Salt Creek Woods.  I had parked the car at Bemis Woods, pulled the bike off the rack, and after riding about 7 minutes West on the paved trail, pulled off onto an unpaved path that I had seen a few days earlier.  On that morning, I rode a short ways farther before tethering my bike to a tree and continuing on foot.  All told, I probably spent a good hour tripping over hidden branches and pushing through briars, sitting here and there, before finally walking out in a field and coming across the small cluster of oak trees where I have spent several mornings since.

So, this initial reconnaissance tends to increase the “demands” of the project somewhat, in that there are now pre-excursions before the actual “sitting”.  This sounds absurd, and whether sitting, standing, or hiking, there shouldn’t be anything complicated about spending some time in the woods.  And, when it comes down to it, this is just another great reason to get the wife and kids out there with me to see something new.

Finding where the trail actually begins at these places can be a challenge. Willow Springs is no exception; and, once underway, I have to admit that I was initially underwhelmed.  The path was lined with buckthorn, which I really wish I didn’t know anything about, as it invades everywhere, chokes out the understory, and it’s about all you can see once you know what you’re looking at.

But you can’t be discouraged on the few first steps, and we ended up making some great discoveries.

After about fifteen minutes, the narrow trail from the parking area through the woods opened up to a wider, gravel path.  Walking along we come to a small, L-shaped, marshy lake. With grasses and reeds lining the muddy banks, the first bird we encountered was a Greater Egret, standing white and poised, filching fish from the shallows.  Hiding behind some brush, we passed the binoculars and saw the silver flash and spasm of a minnow in the egret’s beak just before disappearing down into his gullet.  It took flight once we appeared and flew croaking to another visible section of the lake and landed a short ways from a Great Blue Heron.

We continued to pass the binoculars, watching the two birds wade slowly along when suddenly the shoreline erupted in a multitude of small explosions as frogs fled the bank into deeper water.  At least we think it was frogs..could’ve been minnows, but pretty sure it was frogs.  Regardless, it was impressive, watching these small creatures flee the banks, and something none of us had ever seen before.  We hung around long enough to see another wading bird, what may have been a Green Heron, make his way up the opposite side of the bank and take up position equidistant from the other two.  We never got a close enough look at this one to tell for sure, but it was pretty cool nonetheless watching them stand spaced along the edge of the water.

As we departed I heard the call of a what may have been a Red Shouldered Hawk somewhere over the water.  As we moved away from the water and back into the woods, I heard her again somewhere in the trees, hidden deep and invisible.

Later, we took a small trail off the main path through the woods and into a field filled with grasses, wildflowers, and a smattering of trees placed in small clusters here and there throughout.

A closer examination of the black specks in an Ironweed’s fuchsia blooms revealed an abundance of shiny beetles. The lighter purple florets of a Rough Blazing Star served as a frilled suite for two yellow soldier beetles as they mingled their genes to form yet another generation in an ancient lineage.

We looked up and noticed how, when we’d stop moving for a moment, the one dragonfly hovering above would suddenly be joined by a host of others, materializing out of the blue sky.