The old stone quarry has changed a lot over 150 years, from not being there at all to a horse-drawn limestone operation, from spring-fed fishing hole to wetland. Black willows and other water-loving trees and plants grow there now. Wood ducks, wild turkeys, owls, squirrels, tree frogs and herons roost high above the banks. They see you before you even know they are there, falling silent or bursting from the branches in a great show of chatter or feathers.
One tree leaned at the northwest shore for as long as I can remember. My Gran said she used to make a blanket nest for Uncle Keith in its roots while the family fished for bluegill. The tree lived its life, watching two- and four-leggers wear a path below.
Last weekend the dogs and I found the tree in pieces. The path is strangely open now. Stick-tights thrive in the open sunlight, laying waste to another pair of shorts and leaving the future of my t-shirt in doubt as well. Thankfully, jewelweed grows nearby to stop the burr itch. I wonder if the wild ginger will move to shade further along the bank.
The tree’s fall was a long time coming. Not long after the tree died over a decade ago, its bark weathered away. Dad parked his ATV next to the tree to take photographs of the butterflies, dragonflies and other insects that perched on the smooth trunk. Walking the path sent wildlife running in every direction. The putt-putt of the ATV didn’t. From the driver’s seat, Dad filmed an ichneumon wasp, its long ovipositor extended into a woodpecker’s drill work.
We still have the photos, as well as Dad’s drawings of the wasp. The sketch was one of several used on a poster about beneficial insects. The illustrations are a reminder how nature and art are linked. Here on these 50 acres and beyond invisible parcel lines, the native arts must be nurtured as much as the first grasses and plants that secure this watershed.
Click, look and listen.
In between cookie batches for Saturday’s annual music Jam, the call of the nature preserve was answered. So were Lolly and Cady, both of whom stared out toward the tree line, rolling their big brown eyes soulfully and wagging their tails each time someone with opposable thumbs walked in the direction of the front door.
Sunday, the door was opened. Summer drought and temperatures in the upper 80s laid mosquitoes to rest; no repellent was pocketed along the way.
I always forget what late summer does to the natives. Minnows, small bass and other fishes circle in the pools that are Cranberry Run during much of the year. This year there are clots of decaying algae to suck the oxygen from their gills. The bed has been dry for so long that purple ironweed grows below the waterline. The old quarry is diminished to a green duckweed center.
I pulled a muskrat trap from the bed of the stream. Its wire frame lifted with a strong coating of fertilized creekbed. Neither traps nor fertilizer are welcome in this waterway. One is easily removed, though, and went the way of garbage pick-up.
Leaves hang dull green and brown-edged from the trees. Twigs–whole limbs, sometimes–drop with the hot wind that puffs down the bluff into the floodplain. A willow that, even though it died some years back still hosted ichneumon wasps and other helpful predators, leaned its last before our arrival. A chunk of trunk crumbles over the path. A new bracket grows on what still stands.
The back field is golden under heated air open to sunshine but little current. Few insects sift through the artichokes and bullthistles. There should be so many this time of year. Their absence is sobering. It’s a relief to see a bumblebee and sulphur butterfly. I tried to take the bees photo, but all but his back legs and a bit of yellow fluff are caught in the frame to the left of a cluster of yellow flowers.
Flattened grasses indicate that somethings do rest and feed here. We get a whiff of proof when both dogs roll in scat and carry it with them back through the upper woods toward home and baths.