Thoughts&Insights


At 6:30 a.m., it’s only 52 degrees. I spotted a small RABBIT in the extra parking space across the road and a ROBIN perched on the wire to the right of the mailbox. It’s actually chilly this morning for a change. I hear a BLUE JAY fussing somewhere nearby. Walking up the middle path through the field I heard a PHOEBE, NUTHATCH, and HOUSE WREN. Noticed BINDWEED in bloom. Also MEADOWSWEET and GOLDENROD. Heard a WINTER WREN singing from the woods near Bob’s Pond again this morning. I flushed FOUR DUCKS when I got to the pond. Ducks always see me before I see them….

Sitting on the Eagle Scout’s Bench at 6:40 a.m., I heard a GOLDFINCH and realized that I’m having a MAJOR MELTDOWN. I’ve been taking long walks — many of them early in the morning — for over 30 years, and I’ve also been taking notes in my little pocket notebooks. Now that I’m trying to type them all up to create a blog-as-searchable-archive of my many years of observation, I’m feeling overwhelmed. I don’t even feel like taking walks anymore because I’ll just have to type up more of what right now feels like trivia. The WALKS themselves are important because they are my PRACTICE, my HOMEWORK FOR A VISION, and the notebooks are part of it all too. They keep me moving, they keep me writing, they keep me paying attention, they help me remember, and they used to provide me with the raw material to work with when I was writing. ( JUST HEARD AND SAW A PILEATED WOODPECKER. IT FLEW INTO THE TOP OF A TALL TREE AT THE OTHER END OF THE POND.) But as I’m typing up my current entries plus the old ones, I’m losing energy, losing confidence, questioning whether it’s worth it. The notebooks exist. The records — such as they are — are there in my own handwriting. Maybe all I need is an INDEX?

I’m just remembering the year I spent writing a monthly column for a friend who was editing a new outdoor magazine. I worked through all my old notebooks searching for details that would help me create the feeling of the month, the key events that mark that particular time of year. Then I wrote up a little introductory essay and offered dated references — notes from my notebooks — of what I had observed one year or another. To put it all together, I took notes on my notes, creating a rough index to key observations, and by the end of my year of columns had come up with what could be a small book entitled A NATURALIST’S YEAR — or maybe A NATURALIST’S CALENDAR? I’m just remembering that my friend told me that his readers were telling him that they always turned to my column first. Since they were mostly hunters and fishermen, I was pleased to know that they found my observations interesting.

Maybe I should rethink what I’m doing? Maybe this NATURALIST’S JOURNAL blog should be my thoughts and meditations, plus just enough surrounding detail to establish where I was, the mood I was in, etc. Maybe I should also include key sightings — FIRST OF SEASONS and other SEASONAL INDICATORS? Or should all those go into my INDEX, which I can call my NATURALIST’S ARCHIVE?

My huge stack of notebooks are all just raw material. I need to CREATE something — or maybe several things — out of them to make all the typing feel worthwhile. If I just type and type and type them, I’m just a drone, a clerk/typist.

So now I’ve got THREE PROJECTS instead of just this one long endless one: (1) A NATURALIST’S ARCHIVE (an index, an annotated index, a skeletal reference system to help me find things in my pocket notebooks) (2) A NATURALIST’S YEAR — or CALENDAR (the columns I wrote for my friend’s short-lived outdoor magazine) (3) A NATURALIST’S JOURNAL (my moods and moments, my thoughts, and just enough fact and detail to create the time and place, the context).

So now I’m not depressed anymore, but I’m not quite sure where to begin. Heard a CHICKADEE while I was writing. The BLACKBERRIES are turning red and some are already black.

At the Thinking Bench at 7:15 a.m., I just noticed that someone scratched what looks like a big spider where I usually sit. It’s not carved into the wood, just scratched into the dark discoloring that will eventually decompose this whole bench. I wonder who did it and when? Ah, the mysteries happening all around me while I’m thinking about things….

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Leaving the house at 5:10 a.m., and it’s already 60 degrees out. From my Stone Wall I can hear a WOOD THRUSH singing down by the Museum. It’s across the road from Bob’s shop. I’m also hearing a CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER, ROBIN, GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, CHICKADEE, OVENBIRD, BLUE JAY, YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, and VEERY. Not a bad way to start the day. There’s a beautiful white mashed-potato cloud overhead with a gray cloud floating in front of it. Who knows what kind of day it’s going to be? Walking up Charlie’s side of the field, again I hear no HOUSE WRENS, not even any scolding, as I walk by where they were nesting. Spoke too soon — I got scolded a short distance up and across from where they were. CATBIRD hanging around in Charlie’s yard. The MOON — a pale white disk slightly past full — just appeared through a break in the gray clouds drifting overhead. At 5:30 a.m., right when I got to Bob’s Pond, a HAWK let out a single high-pitched note and flew from Charlie’s trees to a tall dead one at the far end of the pond. I saw it with my binoculars but couldn’t identify it by sight. Will I ever learn my hawks? Thank goodness it called again, so I could identify it as a BROAD-WINGED HAWK. Also heard a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW near the pond. At the THINKING BENCH, I heard the high-pitched downward whinny of a DOWNY WOODPECKER and saw a strange looking FLICKER — a young one maybe? Also heard a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER and a JUNCO. The birds are really songful and active this morning. Is it the temperature (warm)? the hour (between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m.)? where they are in their nesting cycles? or just the kind of day it is?

At exactly 5:45 a.m. I stepped over the wall into the woods with the intention of walking up to my back corner at a brisk, non-stop pace to see if I could make it in 10 minutes. I did, but I’m hot, sweating, huffing, and puffing. I have to ask myself what I win and what I lose when I push for speed. I think maybe the wandering and wondering is more important than aerobic exercise on these morning walks…. I did manage to hear and remember five species of birds, however: TUFTED TITMOUSE, SCARLET TANAGER, BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER, PEWEE, and RED-EYED VIREO.

Sitting on my Sitting Root to rest, recover, and think a bit: I find myself wondering if ancient human beings, way back when they first went bipedal, ever just wandered and wondered? Did they feel like naming places and creatures and sounds? Or was it all just survival — finding food, watching for predators and enemies, looking for safe places to sleep? I’d like to think that maybe what I’m doing on these walks of mine is some vestige of primitive impulses to “map” territories, to know where things are, to name landscape features to remember not just their locations but everything else that goes with them? And knowing the bird songs adds another layer of information. Their presence one place and not another indicates things about where they are. So maybe my morning walks aren’t just an idle indulgence? Maybe they are both my continuing education and my reaching backward to my evolutionary roots? Darwin, where are you when I need you? Home in my library waiting for me to read more of him when I’m ready…. He’s pretty advanced, though, and I’m still feeling like a primitive nomad, wandering and wondering to save what’s left of my over-civilized soul.

Moving on, I noticed quite a  few WILD LEEKS flowering up here along Cote’s Boundary. I’ve been noticing them for a while but never thought to write this information down. If I were living off the land, it would be important for me to be aware that they’re here and flowering mid-summer, so I’d know they are alive and well and can be counted on as food next spring. It’s now 6:30 a.m., and I’m leaning on my Leaning Rock, which is cool against my back. Just heard a LEAST FLYCATCHER, REDSTART, and BLUE-HEADED VIREO — and also a loud, deep, rolling drum that I’m pretty sure was a PILEATED WOODPECKER. It was just too big a sound to have come from one of the smaller woodpeckers. ROOTS AND ROCKS: They are important to my walks — places to pause, sit, lean, and let my mind wander while my body is resting. STUMPS too, and LOGS.

Moving on, reluctantly. A small bird just flew up from the WILD NETTLES and LEEKS growing in the logging road — an OVENBIRD? I just heard a WOOD THRUSH way up here too, so maybe there are two of them? Or maybe just one moving around a lot? Heard a ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK on my way downhill. STONE CROSSING at 6:52 a.m. The water is audible this morning. I’m hearing a lot of partial bird songs here today — phrases rather than whole songs. I wonder if young males start trying to sing their songs as soon as they leave their nests?

Moving on again. Just heard a WINTER WREN singing his whole elaborate song, MOURNING DOVE (in the distance), GOLDFINCH and SONG SPARROW from Saxtons’ Meadow, and RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD from the wet area across the road. Saw a silent YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER in a tree across from the Museum. I haven’t been seeing any TREE SWALLOWS the past few mornings. I wonder if they’ve left already? GRACKLES in my side yard near the old well. Also a RABBIT, an adult EASTERN COTTONTAIL.  I often see young ones too, so it’s got a family in the area. Bob says he saw TREE SWALLOWS feeding young in their box day before yesterday, so if they’re gone, they just barely left. Saw or heard 32 species of birds this morning — a nice way to start the day.

I’m starting out at 5:15 a.m. this morning. It’s about 38 degrees. From my stone wall I could hear a ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, TUFTED TITMOUSE, CHICKADEE, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, CATBIRD, ROBIN, PHOEBE, LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, and NUTHATCH. When I turned to start down the road, I noticed some dusty red in the sky over where the sun is going to rise. As I walked down the road, I heard and saw 2 GEESE flying over. Also heard a CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER, OVENBIRD, DOWNY WOODPECKER (drumming), and BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER. At Blood’s I heard a SCARLET TANAGER and WINTER WREN from a distance — maybe from the far side of the brook? Near the Brook Trail I heard a SOLITARY (BLUE-HEADED)VIREO. Near the Big Bend I heard a RED-EYED VIREO, HERMIT THRUSH, BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, and BLUE JAY. I noticed that the red sky has now (5:40 a.m.) turned toward pearly white. Got to the Nature Center driveway at 5:45 a.m. and heard a WOOD THRUSH, GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, BROWN CREEPER, and GOLDFINCH. Got to the Lookout at 6:00 a.m. Sun’s just coming up, sky is blue, and clouds are now white. Heard a YELLOWRUMP.

THOUGHTS AND INSIGHTS: It would be really hard to map the territories of all the birds I’m hearing because they’re moving around, there are more than one of most species, and some seem to sing for a while and then go silent. I guess I’m beginning to understand the usefulness of POINT COUNTS. I guess also that the only way to confirm that a bird is nesting in a certain place — not just singing on its way through or around the edges of its territory — is to find the nest itself. Maybe that’s what I had in mind when I suggested that the Field Naturalist’s Master’s Project be a NEST QUEST: a season-long search for nests with lots of field notes, marked trees, shrubs, patches of ground, etc. plus quantification of the attributes of each of the confirmed nesting site. Oh well….

Sun’s up. Time to move on. 6:15 Hires Trail: I’m still hearing what I think might be a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER near the intersection of the Spear Trail. I think I just heard a WILD TURKEY gobble in the distance and definitely heard a BLACK-THROATED GREEN along this trail. Got to Lichen Rock at 6:35 a.m. Sun is well up, but only a little bit of its light is filtering through the trees — just enough to make me glad I’m here. A SOLITARY (BLUE-HEADED) VIREO is serenading me this morning. If I were doing point counts, I’d definitely do one here. It’s a obvious landscape feature — a huge vegetated rock that’s elevated enough to give me a clear 360 degree view- and soundshed. I can definitely hear a SCARLET TANAGER from here and a HERMIT THRUSH and some mornings a WINTER WREN, which in my opinion qualifies Lichen Rock as a very special place. (I almost said “sacred,” but that word has been much used and abused by airheads….) As I was starting downhill at 6:55 a.m., I heard more GEESE flying over, headed the other way, I think. Got back to the road by 7:00 a.m., just in time to wave to the school bus as it headed down the hill. I also got to say good morning to Eli and Casie as they ran by like two healthy young deer. Home at 7:15 a.m. Heard a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW when I stopped to get the newspaper out of its delivery box.

LATER: At 1:10 p.m. I spotted a TIGER SWALLOWTAIL (first of season) at the Huntington end of  Dugway Road.

LATER STILL: Bob says he has a PAIR OF BLUE-WINGED TEAL hanging around his pond. They feed on the corn he scatters at the far end for the neighborhood ducks.

It’s 1:15 p.m., sunny, and 58 degrees. This will be a different kind of walk at a different time of day on some different trails. Walking up through the field across from my house, I heard a HOUSE WREN, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, CHICKADEE, and BLUE JAY. Near Bob’s pond I heard a BROWN CREEPER. From the Thinking Bench, I heard a NASHVILLE WARBLER (I think). I’ve decided to explore the Spear Trail to see what kind of shape it’s in and whether I can get through these days. In the woods, I heard an OVENBIRD, WINTER WREN, and HERMIT THRUSH. On the highest part of the old Den Trees Trail, I heard a ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK singing a lovely solo. It moved around above my head and sang from several directions — just for me, it seemed. The HUGE OLD OAK, which was a great favorite of mine, got thrown in one of the big winds that has blown through these woods recently. My first thought was that this marks the end of an era. The main trunk is tipped at a precarious angle, but it’s not on the ground. I wonder if any limbs have survived? In the old days, as dead as the trunk looked, there were always a few branches producing new green oak leaves. I pushed through the mess to look closely at as much of the tree as I could see. The huge trunk has actually split three ways, and I don’t see any green leaves anywhere, so I guess the whole tree is really dead at this point. But I can see moss and ferns already growing on what’s left of it, so it’s still “alive” in a different way. End of one era and beginning of another? It’s 2:15 p.m., and the wind has come up. It’s welcome because it’s blowing the black flies away. I’ve always loved the sound of wind in the trees — especially a big wind in big trees. I’m glad I hiked all the way up here to enjoy this moment.

When I got down to the Hires Trail, I decided to backtrack over to the Lookout. Heard a BROWN CREEPER on my way. Got to the Lookout at 2:20 p.m. It feels a little strange to be here in the middle of the afternoon, but Camels Hump is bold and beautiful against the cloudless blue sky. No birds singing here at this time of day. The only sound I hear is the wind in the trees, which is almost as pleasing as bird song. Almost. En route from the Lookout to Lichen Rock, I heard a BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER. At Lichen Rock I was beset by bugs, so I headed downhill without standing around. Heard a BLACK-THROATED BLUE on my way to the road. Walking up the road, I heard a RED-EYED VIREO and CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER. Home at 3:00 p.m.

Leaving at 5:00 a.m. It’s 50 degrees out. From my stone wall I can hear a PHOEBE, ROBIN, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, HOUSE WREN, CHICKADEE, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, and BLUE JAY. Near Blood’s I hear a trill that sounds like a CHIPPING SPARROW (but I’m not sure), and a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, OVENBIRD, WINTER WREN, and NUTHATCH. Near the Big Bend I hear a BLACK-THROATED GREEN, HERMIT THRUSH, and BLACK-THROATED BLUE. Got to the Nature Center parking lot at 5:35 and heard a BROWN CREEPER, BLUE-HEADED VIREO, and CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER. Got to the Lookout at 5:50 a.m. It’s a gray day, and I’m feeling a bit gray. Even the HERMIT THRUSH that’s singing here isn’t cheering me up. I find myself wondering why I can’t focus on and prioritize my own life, my own work, my own interests? Why do I spend so much time being mad at the Museum and the people who are running it these days? There’s nothing I can do about anything that’s going on there, and I need to just let it all be. Can I MAKE myself focus on my own life? We’ll see. Maybe I should begin by spending some time TODAY posting my notes on my morning walks to my NATURALIST’S JOURNAL….

At 6:03 a.m., all of a sudden it’s raining! The wind is coming up and the temperature is dropping. Time to move on. En route to Lichen Rock I heard a HERMIT THRUSH singing a loud song close to the trail. Is he singing for me? I’ll pretend he is and try to feel more cheerful. There’s a BLACKBURNIAN singing along this trail too. How can I stay depressed amidst such beautiful songs? Just picked up the chick-boing of a SCARLET TANAGER in the distance, so now I’ve got three of my favorite birds rooting for me….

Got to Lichen Rock at 6:20. It’s stopped raining, but it’s still cold and gray. No sun to stand in this morning. No winter wren. Just this huge, strong, moss-covered rock, which at least gives me a solid foundation to stand on. The woods are messy here — lots of wind-thrown and down trees — but none of it bothers me. I can still remember the historic turning-point moment over 30 years ago when I suddenly saw the messy, chaotic beaver-pond-in-the-making as beautiful just as it was — and let go of my silly human desire to clean it up and make it a tidy, orderly, manicured pond. From that moment on, the natural world — just as it is — has been my comfort zone. Will I ever be able to let go of my frustrating and exhausting desire to make the human world a better place? If I could manage to let everything be, maybe I could make more space for myself, my deeper self, which doesn’t get much time and attention these days. I’m still at Lichen Rock at 6:30 a.m. The SCARLET TANAGER just sang me a supportive song. How can I care about anything except birds at this time of year? Back to the road at 6:45 a.m. Heard a PARULA WARBLER singing near the entrance to the lower Brook Trail. Also heard a DOWNY WOODPECKER (I think) working on a roadside tree. Home at 7:00 a.m.

It’s 26 degrees at 5:20 a.m. From my stone wall, I heard a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, CARDINAL, CHICKADEE, HOUSE WREN, CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER, PHOEBE, EVENING GROSBEAK, and BLUE JAY. Along the road I heard a trill that I think was a JUNCO, an OVENBIRD, HERMIT THRUSH, BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, WINTER WREN, BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER (I think), BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER, YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, and MOURNING DOVE. Got to the Nature Center at 5:45 a.m. Heard a GOLDFINCH and ROBIN. Frost on the Nature Center’s side lawn again this morning. Heard a NUTHATCH and a song that sounded like a SONG SPARROW. Now I’ve got myself wondering if the song I’ve been calling a NASHVILLE WARBLER is actually a SONG SPARROW? I’m losing my confidence. I wonder what’s going on? Got to the Lookout at 6:00 a.m. I can hear a HERMIT THRUSH from here. Also a BROWN CREEPER. Camel’s Hump is bold and clear this morning. Not a cloud in the sky. Sun is just about to appear above Mayo Mountain. Got to Lichen Rock at 6:20 a.m. Yesterday, during the Nature Conservancy’s field trip, I learned about how long it takes for vegetation to grow on rocks, and I’ve decided I need to be more respectful of the mosses, etc. that are growing on Lichen Rock. So this morning I’m standing in the leaf litter on the back side of the rock. I do want to stand on this huge old rock and feel its solid earth-presence beneath me, but I don’t want to interfere with the natural processes that it supports. Or maybe I should declare myself a natural process, which I am for the most part at this hour of the morning, and include myself among the organisms that grow oh so slowly here. I wonder if there’s any bare rock I could stand on? I found two outcropping of exposed rock, but I had to walk across quite a bit of vegetation to get to them. Both were near the upturned root pancakes of trees (hemlocks?) that had blown over. I think maybe I  should stick to the leaf litter? That way maybe my passing can contribute to the soil formation that will eventually support more vegetation? On my way down to the road at 6:45 a.m. I can hear BLUE JAYS or maybe CROWS (?) mobbing something. I think I hear a BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER. Also a SOLITARY (BLUE-HEADED) VIREO. Home at 7:00 a.m.