Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mid-November Musings

What a contrast - the blinding sun is shooting shards of light through the window while I sit here bundled up in two blankets and I still have a cold nose! Yes, it is November in the north woods.

Winter seemed to arrive overnight this year. On Saturday after work I had to make a dash to Long Lake in search of club soda (Toby inhaled a whole bag of Glycoflex soft chews - medicine for his stiff joints - and promptly threw them up all over the carpets; I was told club soda was the way to go for removing such stains), and on my way home I glanced at the thermometer on the car's computer and it read almost 60*F at about 6:15 PM!!! The next morning, however, the ground and pavement were dusted with snow. The heart breaker was the worms: hundreds of worms had crawled out onto the pavement during the night to avoid drowning (we had 1.1" of rain between Saturday morning and Sunday morning), and then the temperature plummeted, catching all those worms a long way from home. I was amazed to see that a few were still trying to inch their way across the roads, despite the below-freezing temperatures! By evening the roads were worm-free. Either the birds finally found this frozen feast, or the worms all warmed up enough to make it to safety.

Yesterday morning we had a meeting at the Tupper Lake library (a very nice and cozy library, by the way), and as the meeting wrapped up, I noticed a large, dark bird soaring over the lake just outside the picture windows. When I said "what's that?" the other naturalists rushed to the window to take a look. "Does it have a white tail?" someone asked. And the bird banked, giving us a glimpse of a definitely white tail: a bald eagle! As we continued to admire it, we saw that it had that mottled look of a juvenile just getting it's adult plumage. What a treat for a cold and blustery day!

Later that afternoon, one of the staff from the Ecological Center stopped by to look for signs of beavers. She said that they have documented two colonies on Rich Lake, but this year they hadn't found any signs of food being put up (or I should say "down", since beavers stick their food into the mud under the water) for the winter. Because I have seen lots of recent beaver activity along the Rich Lake Trail, I offered to take her out and show her where cutting was taking place. Sure enough, the shorelines were littered with chewed sticks, and we found at least two trails where the beavers have been harvesting and dragging wood down to the water. Still, no matter how much she looked, she couldn't find a food pile. This could be because the water is quite high, thanks to the rain we had over the weekend. But now that she has an idea of where the beavers are harvesting, she said she would take a kayak out and look in the area for tell-tale larder signs.

Meanwhile, the birds have stripped all the berries off the winterberry bushes now. In the 'burbs of Newcomb they are devouring the mountain ash berries and have started on some of the crabapples.

Newcomb is a town full of apple trees. Old apple trees. Apple trees that were likely planted 50 to 100 years ago. Or more. I'm guessing than a good many of these trees were planted in the days when folks made their own hard cider, or apple jack. Apples used for this stiff drink did not have to be apples of good flavor. Still, some of the trees around here produce apples that are quite edible. I came across one this morning behind the group home that is loaded yellow apples about the size of a child's fist. This makes me wonder if among the many apple trees there might be some cherished heirloom varieties. Maybe I will contact a couple of the folks in the Park who grow heirloom apples and see if they might want to come and take some samples - see what we have. You never know - heritage strains are often found in unlikely and hidden places.

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