In the footsteps of Fizz

Lolly There’s a man we admire who lives near the Forest of Dean. We are genuinely fond of him, though I don’t even know his name. I simply know him as The Tramp. He walks about the Forest, taking pictures of whatever catches his eye, turns his feet home and then cracks open his head and spills an absolute treasure trove of knowledge about the world around him into the ether (if you’ve not yet met him, haven’t found him through social media or some obscure search or simply missed him through sheer bad luck, here he is: https://atrampinthewoods.wordpress.com/). We do, however, know the name of his companion, his Sancho Panza. I think it’s probably safe to say that The Tramp would find his wanderings considerably less in so very many ways without her. Her name is Fizz and she’s every bit as curious about the world around her as any tramp.

But, why, you ask, are we bothering to discuss these someones that are half a world away? Well, first and foremost, The Tramp’s musings and observations are all of that and so much more. Read. Look. You’ll thank me for it. Thank me and The Tramp. And Fizz? Fizz is…well…Fizz. Second, it’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and while I’m not above stealing an idea or three if I think it will help move everything along a bit more smoothly, I do draw the line at failing to give credit where credit is due. Having said that…

Here’s Lolly.Lolly crossing

For those of you not near the here we’re at, it’s been cold; so cold that walks to retrieve the mail are arduous undertakings requiring planning, oversight and at least five layers of clothing. Today, however, (and likely tomorrow, if the forecasters read their scattered bones correctly, scried sincerely their battered leaves of tea), it’s been comparatively balmy; nearly 30° F. On Tuesday, though, we’re back into the basement, temperature-wise. So, given that we’ve been cooped up for the better part of a week, we threw open this window of opportunity and bounded back into the woods, Lolly, Anne and I.

DriftsFirst observation of the day: snow is ever so much whiter under the crust. The winds that have battered this area have stripped the topsoil from all of the surrounding fields and tossed it until it couldn’t be tossed any further. Where it falls it lays in blankets, ribbons and bands of varying shades of brown. Sometimes you don’t even notice it until you’ve taken a step or two, all that dirt being evenly distributed so that there’s just no way of knowing. Other times, you just can’t help but see.

That same wind, though, did interesting things to what little snow has fallen, pushing what must have been little more than two inches of overall snow into two- and three-foot deep frozen waves caught in the process of cascading over the lip and down into the stream bed. Cranberry Run itself is frozen along most its sinuous length, with water breaking through the ice only along the most turbulent runs.Creek sculpture

Tracks on QuarryOn the paths we’ve carved through the woods, down on the frozen stream and across the quarry itself were sign after sign after sign of the many and varied creatures that live here. Tracks of rabbit, squirrel and raccoon crisscrossed those of turkey and deer and a host of songbirds. There were even what we suspect were fox tracks and signs that at least one fox was successful at the hunt. Though we’ve not yet managed to photograph any of the foxes that we know live here (we know of two active dens), we hear them at night, interacting with one another in eerie, high-pitched yowls and sharp, barking yips and growls. We’re researching trail cams, at the moment to help us capture visuals and have acquired some sound equipment with which we hope to record the voices of The Quarry, once I’ve figured out how to effectively use it.

Fox SquirrelIn a tree on the spit of land separating Cranberry Run from the old quarry, a fox squirrel sat on a branch and watched us walk on by. He was fat and sassy and at least one of the reasons for Osage scrapshis good health soon became apparent. Scattered here and there were the remnants of osage oranges, the seed fruit of osage trees. The osage tree (Maclura pomifera), also known as the hedge or hedge-apple tree, is one of the most commonly planted trees in the United States and is used as a field hedge, wind break and to stabilize soils. Unlike apples, pears or cherries, the squirrels tear the tree’s green and yellow fruit apart to get at the seeds, not the flesh. Remnants of their feasts are scattered in oval patches here and there along the stream and back in the woods.

DownySparrowThough there’s little doubt that many simply went unobserved, there seem to be fewer birds about than in past years. We did, however, see various sparrow species, juncos, cardinals, bluejays and several downy woodpeckers flitting from and between the trees.

Tomorrow, if the prognosticators are correct in their prognostications, we’ll probably take the time to do this again.

A New Year’s Day walk below the wind

IMG_2737This new year looks bleak, with harsh, cold wind and an absence of snow. Thursday afternoon, I walked down the lane and had to fight to open the gate against bluster, feeling the cold bite of the latch’s surface through my work gloves. No one followed me to the gate in hopes of treats. I’m sure no apple slices could beat shelter on the sunny side of any outbuilding.

I made it just about 50 yards down the road before ducking down into the lowland along Cranberry Run, where the drop behind Red Fox Cabin blocked the wind. So cold were the trees that they hummed, except for Osage orange trees. These woven, thorny trees make sort of a whirring whine in frigid wind chill (truly exhilarating when one is walking on the trail at night…alone.)

IMG_2736Winter came on so suddenly that many of the Osage fruits are green and whole, their sticky white latex ooze flash-frozen to the ground. The fruit is not poisonous to us mammals, but I hear it’s not much to taste. Further on down the creek, on the east side of the footbridge, I saw something, maybe a fox squirrel, made use of an orange as a food source.

The sun is cold and farther away at the start of the year, a white sun in gray blue sky. Even the bane of the understory, bush honeysuckle, is leafless this year without a snow blanket. No green, other than the Osage fruits, was visible on Jan. 1, 2015. This is a good thing, I know; maybe this will give the maples and oak seedlings a chance to fill in the spaces left where the 2012 derecho took out so many mature trees.

IMG_2739IMG_2734The wind was so high and wild above the creek valley that I saw few birds, not even on the old stone quarry. This winter it is full of water, frozen with reflections of rich, ruddy browns, gold, and sky. There are no breaks in the still quarry’s surface, but Cranberry Run’s riffles keep a brisk pace, leaving open holes here and there, especially below the high blue clay banks at the northwest point of the nature preserve. Two birds, so in shadow that I couldn’t identify the species more than to say they are large songbirds, dipped in the water below a bare root hackberry that has held the top of the bank for as long as I can remember.

IMG_2741The camera, a treasured Rebel of my dad’s, said ‘no more’ to the cold, so I tucked it inside my blanket coat and headed back the way I came. At the top of the hill near The Quarry Farm entrance sign, I tucked my chin closer to the camera, wrapped my scarf around my head and ran for the gate.

With my eyes so adjusted to discerning the different hues of browns, the greeting party under the apple tree was a shock to the senses. Wrapped in new thermal coats, Buddy and the boys were like presents under the tree.

What a happy sight to begin a new year. Rain is promised for Saturday. Luckily, these coats of many colors are waterproof. I think I’ll stay inside and watch.

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