Ah, the month of March! Spring is moving full speed ahead now, with crocuses and daffodils blooming, tree buds on the verge of bursting, and wildlife waking from its slumber. Frogs are filling local watering holes with their egg masses and spring chorus, and red-spotted newts, snapping turtles and garter snakes have also made their appearance.
While hiking today at Middle Run Valley, I felt drawn to go off-trail and search for some more signs of spring. Grasses are emerging, chickweed is greening, and there were plenty of pileated woodpecker holes covering dead trees. It’s a little early to search for spring ephemerals (early spring wildflowers found in the forest), but I figured it never hurts to look!
What I did not expect to find today was an encounter with a sleepy-looking critter. As I was heading down a hill, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and initially thought it was a cat. When the creature emerged from behind a tree, sure enough it was a not a cat, but a raccoon, looking like he’d been out on an all-day bender. He was ambling along slowly, sniffing at the ground, pawing a couple of places, then deciding he was just too tired to eat. He never saw me as I stood stark-still, not wanting to startle him.
He wandered closer to me, but then veered toward a tree with a large opening in the bottom. I was surprised to see him decide to dig all four sets of claws into the tree and start deftly climbing a few feet at a time, then pausing to rest, as if he was thinking, “Why did I pick the highest spot in the area for my den?”
He finally made it to the top of the tree, pulling himself into a narrow crevice. It took a few moves to get his whole body in. He apparently decided most of the way in was good enough, and he left his ringed tail hanging out. It’s not a great picture, but you can just see the tail hanging out at the bottom of the crevice.
I continued my walk and discovered what felt to be an ancient tree stump that had decayed in such a way that it looked like a small city full of buildings. As I stood there with the stream bubbling in the background and the wind whispering through the trees, I felt as if I had been transported back through time, privy to the secrets of an earlier era. The earth hummed beneath my feet and I could almost imagine a time when gnomes and fairies walked the woods…
I traversed back up the hill to the trail to make my journey out of the forest. As I crested the hill, I head a sudden “who cooks for you, who cooks for you alllllll” call from across the ravine. A barred owl apparently decided to say goodbye as I left the area, and an echo of the same call was heard from another section of the woods. I thanked the owls for their greeting, returning to the trail and working my way out of the forest, deciding to cast off my shoes and trod barefoot on the earth.
One never knows what you’ll discover on any given day when you go outside. Fifty feet above me and the raccoon clinging to a tree were bikers who never knew we were there. Being still and silent allows you to become part of the landscape, and if you’re patient, wildlife will resume it’s normal activity around you. And then you can witness the treasures of this amazing world we live in, with the sun warming your back, the breeze caressing your skin, and your loads lightened by the sweetness of the day.
Love & Light,