Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Slow, Abbreviated Walk

I was recovered enough from a very nasty stomach bug to try my usual walk this morning. We went to my niece, Susy’s, graduation from Connecticut College on Sunday and had a splendid family time. But midway through the lovely luncheon in Mystic, my daughter Spring and her boyfriend were struck simultaneously, necessitating that I drive Spring back to Northampton in her car, while Fred did the honors for Chris in our car. It was long and miserable drive. My time came during the night, and luckily Fred was able to drive me back to Rexville (another long and miserable drive) before he too was felled by the relentless germ. Not fun. At last, I was able to keep down a few crackers and some chicken broth.

But after a long sleep, I awoke to a misty, green morning full of birdsong. A bath and a very easy yoga session on the deck eased the aches. It felt wonderful to be interested in life again. Still, leaning over to tie my sneakers made me dizzy. I sat out in the yard and slowly ate a little yogurt and granola which tasted so good it almost made me shiver. The avian voices around me were like the layered fragments of conversation at a cocktail party. I could hear a tanager in the treetops across the road, the yard residents: yellow warblers, yellow throats, song sparrows, and redwings. Of course the oriole couple flashed about like flying orange slices. The male seems to have composed a new melody since Friday. It sounds like the opening of a Mozart minuet. I wish I was savvy enough to identify it. Maybe I can hum it for my sister Cathy and, with her perfect pitch and memory for things like that, she’ll recognize it.

Entering the woods, strands of tent caterpillar webbing clogged with tatters of wasted new foliage made it impossible to walk without trying to wipe the sticky threads and the creepy crawlies away from face and hair and neck and arms. Ick. I vacillate between crushing every caterpillar I encounter in an effort to do my part, and just picking them off and tossing them. Unlike the cuckoos, who are thriving on this second year of infestation, I do not find them in the least bit appetizing. Did I hear that bears eat them? But nothing seems to be able to keep up with all these busy larvae. They love the sweet maple leaves and many are denuded even as they try to leaf out after the winter. It is a sad sight after months of looking forward to the green woods of summer. Now it’s the chewed and chomped woods. The forest floor is covered with an unnatural litter—not the richly colored litter of mature leaves that have ceased photosynthesizing as the planet travels on its yearly passage—but a layer of tissue-thin crumbs of faded spring green. I stand motionless and can hear the activity. Is it tiny larval jaws chomping, or merely the rustle of leaf debris falling?

Suddenly, a streak of blue. An indigo bunting dives into a rosebush, another unwelcome invasive. An elegant mistake. He/she knows just how to get through the thorny mass at blinding speed, but somehow didn’t notice me. I look for the nest and find it, an untidy platform of twigs when viewed from underneath and as close as I can get without threatening myself or the safety of its contents.

There is plenty of foliage on the poplars to hide the tanager. While I listen and search for a glimpse of scarlet, his raspy notes are intersected by the more melodious notes of a rose breasted grosbeak. He doesn’t seem to mind being seen, but at last I give up on the tanager.

I am slow, but George-Jack-Russell is her usual energetic self. In the hedgerow stone-rubble wall, she suddenly encounters Mr. Skunk. I see the scuffle out of the corner of my eye, the dancing black and white derriere just before the skunk disappears into its den, and then George is rolling and running, scrubbing her face into the grass. She’s too frightened and miserable to go on with the walk, so there’s nothing for it but to go home and mix up some skunk recipe: peroxide, baking soda, and a few drops of dish liquid. Now she’s really a dog . . . except that she hasn’t met Mr. Porcupine yet . . .

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