Tag Archives: nature photography

Sunday morning-Rachel Carson park

 

With my afternoon to be filled with lifting, digging, and hauling plants for the local parks, I found myself hesitant this morning to work on my own garden, though the salvia, rosemary, lavendar, and sage were ready and much needed to be done before I could plant them.

But, I knew better.

Far more frequently now, I pay the price for wanting to stay at the same speed and intensity of  my twenties and early thirties when I could run before breakfast, deconstruct a deck by lunch, and bike with my kids before dinner.

With hands aching as I type, I know better than to work in the garden all morning with what is to come this afternoon. And I have a half marathon to begin planning for. I ran some good miles last night. Though I would love another fast three or four miles, I know I need to wait until tomorrow. The race is in the fall but avoiding injury is as much a part of my training as proper nutrition or increasing the time allotted for stretching as I go longer distances.

Somehow time wins no matter how fast you think you can go. Funny how that works.

So, in my restless frame of mind, I wandered up to Hawlings River, the Rachel Carson Park, where I have done a great deal of winter photography.

Arriving later than my usual dawn hour, my choice of trails was dictated by the presence of groups in the park. I guess there was a guided hike or two going on this morning. Having no desire to negotiate other dogs, as mine was with me, or any desire for pleasantries quite yet, I took whichever direction was quieter. Sometimes silence is golden while company is brass. This morning was one of those times.

Down by the river, the native azaleas were in full bloom, beating out the mountain laurel which will bloom in June.  I would have wandered and taken more photographs but that would have meant letting the dog off leash, and, with other dogs around, too much trouble for a mind already seeking a little less of that.

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Continuing along the trail, heading away from the parking lot and the more traveled parts of the park, the wide trail, used by horses, is lined with ferns. The woods are so dense here that you can sense the urgency of of all this life pushing down into the soil and up to the sun, crowding and jostling. Thousands of tulip poplar saplings push up through the understory in this park, so much competition in this rich habitat.

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Unfortunately not flying, (was it gleaning moisture from the mud?) this black swallowtail was in the middle of the trail. I helped it off, not wanting it to be crushed by the horses or other trail users.  I left it among the mayapple and fern.

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The park system mows  every few years or so up by the parking lot to provide invaluable meadow habitat. Swallows, bluebirds, and butterflies can be seen quite frequently here. If nothing else, the meadow is simply a beautiful landscape. I enjoy taking photographs here.

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Not succumbing-Reddy Branch

I went to the woods today for the same reason I often do. To clear my mind, to be alone, to be free, for a moment or two, from the politics of work and the need to be something for others. My son did not join me today, and for today at least, I was thankful. For today I needed to be alone as I had just made a work related decision that had me choose pragmatism over idealism. It was a difficult decision and one that does not sit well. As these blogs are about the woods, I will not pollute them by bringing up this compromise that will likely send me there even more.

Today, the woods presented, at first, little solace. Lush with new growth of bittersweet, ivy, honeysuckle, and rose, my work from two weeks ago seemed to be for naught. More tilting at windmills and, today, I did not have my Sancho at my side.

Below is the picture I took on April 17, ten days ago, after clearing this patch which is in front of the big maple and the line of hollies. Hopefully you see how the right is cleared and the left is still cluttered with invasives.

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The photo below  is what greeted me today, April 27. Lush and full. There was some difference between the right and left. I have to admit that I stood for a minute, surveying the scene, asking myself what I was hoping to accomplish. Acres of rose and other invasives greeted my gaze. But, how could I quit? Walk away? I had started this mad quest-if I quit now, it will all be in vain. At least here, I could lay better claim to be the master of my fate and the captain of my soul

I lost myself for an hour clearing this spot, again. What is possessing me to do this work? How am I ever going to get these woods to where they need to be, I have no idea. This ground possesses me now. I am too stubborn to give up. So, I worked. First, I pulled all the bittersweet-little vines of little more than a foot or two in length. Hundreds of little honeysuckle shoots, already climbing up the saplings, each other, and anything else that is vertical. Pure grip. No Pulaskis, no loppers. Just pulling. My fingers are raw and swollen now as I type. Next, the rose. Little more than stumps and scraggly bushes, I finish what I had started last time-digging with the Pulaski. I checked several times. I hope that I got them all.

Before:

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After:

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After:

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I know I am not done. But two the photos that follow are my hope that this work is not in vain. There are other saplings. I am working to identify them. I do think that they are blackhaw and ash.

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If I am correct, this is a young dogwood; there is a larger specimen nearby and several smaller ones of this size. With most of the ivy pulled (you can see some on the left) and most of the honeysuckle (you can see some next to the ivy in the upper right corner) this sapling may just have a chance.

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And this is an oak sapling. I believe this is a black oak.

After this work, knowing I would not yet be missed at home, I walked up to the ridge to check on its progress and to tear out two privet bushes I had previously left for another day.

I found this beautiful little sassafras tree growing right next to the privet. Now it has some more room.

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I finished my work tired and with aching hands, ready for dinner and an evening with my books. I had forgotten about my day and its demands. These woods ask nothing of me and, for that, I return to give more. There are no politics here.

Reddy Branch-owls and turtles

I started my work yesterday at the path’s entrance, foregoing my usual preliminary stroll about the woods in order to find some area to begin clearing. It was time to do first things first. Avoiding the necessary work around the entrance to the woods was like having company on the way when I had swept and cleaned the back rooms and bedrooms of my house but left the foyer and parlor undusted and cluttered. Rather haphazard and sloppy;  a bad first impression.

Prior to my work yesterday, rose, honeysuckle, and privet crowded the view of the visitor to these woods. Quite a rude introduction to what should be the beginning of  a lovely springtime conversation between the visitor and the blooms of the dogwood, Cornus florida, and blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium. Rather upsetting to have rose pulling at your pant legs and to see English ivy creeping up the sprawling grey trunk of the maple. Like tripping over the child’s toy left in the middle of the room or seeing the dust on the stairs when entering an otherwise lovely home.

So, I cleared for an hour, toppling several large privet bushes, clearing a dozen or so large rose bushes, and pulling the Japanese honeysuckle. Success measured by absence not presence. Good enough for now; time to move on.

Having cleared my doorstep, if you will, I now felt free to return to the interior, returning to the hill immediately before the holly stand where I had cleared before (the photo from my post Sweeping My Mind of Invasives).  Not a long walk, all of thousand feet or so. In the photo, the holly in the background has more cleared ground in front-more ivy, honeysuckle, and rose removed. I made an all effort to pull even the ivy and honeysuckle that is underneath the leaf litter. Think of a loosely woven mat of crisscrossing threads.

The sun is now able to reach the forest floor that is to the right of the trail. The left side of the trail remains cluttered with rose and honeysuckle. The thin vertical sticks that can be seen are a few dogwood saplings and a dozen or so ash saplings. Out of the photo, to the right, there are a number of blackhaw trees that may also take advantage of this opened ground.

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I was preparing to leave after nearly two hours of hard work when I heard the call of the barred owl, the “who cooks for you” and “who cooks for you all” urging me to do more to clear the way. How could I possibly leave? Not only is the song of this beautiful bird fascinating and beautiful, but the barred owl, Strix varia, lives in older forests among big trees. Hearing one is a positive sign of the health of these woods and of these trees. I imagine the fields nearby provide plenty of mice and other small mammals for this carnivore.

Though I was hot, this being one of those Washington D.C. spring days that serve as a harbinger of summer’s insufferable heat, and ready for a break, I went back up to the ridge to pull more of this year’s rose growth. I did not take any pictures, but I was enthused by the sun pouring onto all of the young ash and maple saplings no longer competing with the sprawling rose. This year’s growth of rose was little more than circles of green on the brown floor of the forest; I removed another dozen or so, using the pulaski. I am heartened by the progress here. Next, I need to pull several large privet bushes.

Having to leave, I made my way back down the hill, but my departure was delayed once again. I had to take some time to sit with (and lie on the ground for some good camera angles) the first box turtle I have seen in these woods. Perhaps, with my clearing of the rose, I had disturbed where it had spent the evening and early morning. I often think about the impact of my actions in these woods-the law of unintended consequences. I have prevented the ivy and bittersweet from creating more berries, slowing the spread of the vine along with freeing the trees of the weight of the vines. Have I also decreased the food supply for the creatures of this forest? There is grape here but I have not seen its fruit. With no license to plant native species, am I sacrificing anything in the short term for long term gain?

Another sign of a healthy ecosystem, box turtles tend to live within a relatively small area so this likely female (lacking the red iris of the male) has possibly lived in these woods for a number of years as box turtles can live to fifty or more years. There are likely predators nearby-muskrats and possums, but this turtle probably has more to fear from the cars on the nearby road than any natural predator.

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As spring break now comes to a close, and as I plan to travel to the mountain bogs of Western Maryland to plant spruce trees, I will likely be taking a week or so away from my woods. I think I will be returning with the larger trees in full leaf and the forest understory in more shade. I look forward to making more discoveries and learning more of the language of these woods.

I hope to be able to post some photos of hope as my son and I work to help restore the spruce forests of far Western Maryland. 99 percent of the state’s spruce forest was logged at the turn of the twentieth century. There is little to no possibility of these forests recovering without planting. We are both excited.

Bicycle Race

I was not planning on writing this morning but saw this morning’s word, Cranky, and I had to respond.

Of course, cranky means to be ornery, difficult, fussy. A descriptor my wife and daughter both use to describe me when I’ve been inside for too long.

But it made me think of getting out on my bike. Working the crank to get rid of the cranky.

Why the title of this post? Among the pleasures of teaching is to be introduced to children who you know will be interesting adults. Years ago, I had a student who loved to sing the lyrics of Queen’s Bicycle Race. He was a fascinating kid-eccentric and always coming up with something thought provoking.  I sometimes find myself humming the tune (off key) of this old song when I am eager to get out on one of my bikes.

After 15 years of hard use, I just had the hybrid rebuilt with new crank shafts.  With the heat and humidity of this area’s summers, riding is the way to go. Running is just punishment. Spring is the sweet spot to get out.

I know I’ve written previously about some biking around here but I get excited and ready to put the bike on the car when I think about the options.

One can ride from Washington D.C., Georgetown to be more specific, to Pittsburgh via the C & O Canal National Park and then, picking up the GAP trail, on to Pittsburgh for a total of about 300 miles-with no need to ride on roads and with little need to cross major roads. For 184 miles, one can ride with the mostly undeveloped Potomac River on one side and the old canal on the other. Almost two hundred miles of old trees, locks, lock houses, and the wildlife that thrives within this corridor. There are myriad places to access the trail with easy parking lots. This photo captures some of the Virginia bluebells found along the trail in April.

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The GAP (Great Allegheny Passage)  trail then climbs from Cumberland, Maryland up to Pittsburgh. I’ve only biked small portions of this trail but it is equal in beauty to the C & O, changing your view from the river to one of the mountains and farms of Western Pennsylvania. This trail takes you through long tunnels cut through the Laurel Highlands and into old railroad towns that will present you with lodging and meal options. You can camp,easily, along the C & O Canal, but I do not think you can do this on the GAP.

There is a simple freedom to riding. I wonder what Thoreau would say about riding’s ability to let you explore; I think there is a meditative element to biking. You can let the rhythm of pedaling help you zone out and the safety of being on a trail prevent you from having to worry about navigating around automobiles.  And you can enjoy the view.

But, enough writing. Time to get the bike on the car. See you on the trail.

 

 

 

 

Reddy Branch-dogwoods

I continue to learn more about these woods as we move deeper into the verdant spring.

My son and I returned to the hill and ridge line by the hollies, seeking to finish what we had started over the winter-clearing the hillside and opening it to native growth.

It was easy to find a focus this morning as the dogwood, Cornus florida, are in full bloom, the white flowers bright against the grays of the larger trees and the green of the rose. It is gratifying to find something native and to clear the invasive plants away from it. After an hour or two of work,

Like with the spicebush, which is now moving from yellow blossom to leaf, the dogwood, a native tree, became the target of our ongoing rescue mission. This simple tree, common throughout the Eastern United States, is, along with the eastern redbud, a harbinger of spring. I have found no redbud in these woods; another hope-perhaps with more clearing, these common trees will find their way here.

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As we worked through another enormous hedge of intertwined rose, we uncovered nearly twenty ash saplings, at this point, little more than three foot long sticks crowned with quarter inch leaves. This evidence of new growth under such battered older growth (as you can see in the pictures, there are many down trees and broken branches) gave us more of a desire to not only cut the rose down but to take the time and energy to pull roots as well. Seeing young ash trees is especially heartening as the county park system has justifiably felt the need to cut down larger specimens due to infestations of the emerald ash borer which is destroying ash trees throughout the Eastern United States, endangering millions of trees and striking yet another blow against the biodiversity and health of the forests. It is imperative that there be a young generation of trees ready to replace the old.

I attempted to take pictures of the young ash leaves but either my skill or my camera does not allow for focused close-ups. I will be working on that this year. There is so much to the minutiae of the forest. I cannot capture adequately the endless details that speak the language of the forest.

Unwilling to leave, I returned to where we had cut over the winter and found the floor of the forest full of regrowing rose that had not been pulled. Alas, this is the consequence for simply cutting and not pulling. I am confident that if I left this rose alone, I would return in the winter to find that it had sent forth three or more feet of growth over the summer. I did not; while my son returned to the car, I swung the Pulaski a few more times, digging out another half dozen roots.

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I am determined to see this quarter acre become the nucleus of the forest reborn, so I will be revisiting it after I work on other areas, giving it at least a few minutes during each of my visits. Many of the small gray saplings in this photo are ash. That is more rose under the broken cherry tree. To the left, on the large oak, is dead English ivy.

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I do not know if this maple in the picture below was growing last year or if its growth is the result of the rose no longer impeding sunlight and taking nutrients. But this photo captures the hope and promise of our work. This tiny sapling is already in full leaf and will, if the deer do not browse it, have a good chance of growth this year. That is Japanese honeysuckle that will need to be pulled before too much longer. Much of the grey you see is rose cut over the winter.

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I am eager to return.

 

Reddy Branch-spicebush

I have not written in a few weeks as this is the time of year where I must be out and away, especially from things that are inside. Whoever invented backpacks and boots, thank you. Simple, durable and fixable with thread and duct tape. Able to be stored by the door with extras available in the car in case one needs to get out even quicker.

I committed myself, this year at least, to my humble section of Reddy Branch; at least until the summer. I have committed myself to learning the lexicon of these woods-the language of spring more than any other season. Summer, with its infernal heat and humidity, so quickly equating to exhaustion, finds me avoiding the pestilential mosquitoes and other biting insects of the Maryland woods. The season where cycling and its breeze makes so much more sense.

I have wandered the woods for a quarter century now but I have been at best a peripatetic learner of the language of the forest. I was and still am more interested in discovering new places, but my life’s circumstances have encouraged me, for the foreseeable future,  to discover in place.  To shave close to use Thoreau’s words.

What do I mean? Like most hikers and backpackers, I seek all of the usual things when I strap on a backpack at a trailhead, the silence of the woods, the beauty of a creek, a glimpse of a beautiful bird or some other creature. And I’m usually aiming to get somewhere and usually rather quickly. Burnin’ daylight as John Wayne would say. I rarely stop to examine the minutiae of what I see. I see the forest but don’t necessarily focus on the trees. Ask my hiking partners. I’m always ready to move on to something else and with haste.

So, here I am, forcing myself to slow down. At first glance, the understory of Reddy Branch is a mass of rose, honeysuckle, bittersweet,  and fallen branches. I decided to start down by the creek as I had noticed a massive Japanese honeysuckle in the winter that was dominating too large of an area. I pushed myself through the mass of rose to get to the honeysuckle, and, in the midst of being stabbed, I happened upon a small spicebush. It wasn’t much to look at. But, here, where it seems so little actually belongs here, it was a minor victory.

With its ephemeral yellow blossoms which are little more than fuzz sporadically placed on its thin branches, the solitary spicebush is hard to see from a distance. In a healthy forest, it masses and creates a yellow haze in the early spring. The C & O Canal National Park, deserving far more accolades than it receives, is alive with color in early spring. For miles (184 if you are up for it), you can walk or ride with the simple beauty of the spicebush near at hand. And, if you go in April, you will have the spring wildflowers as added companions.  I went for a ride after my work at Reddy Branch and was rewarded with miles of early spring color. I also posted a photo of Virginia Bluebells, a common sight this time of year.

Lindera Benzoin, the American spicebush, is a lowly plant, both in stature (it grows to 15 feet) and in importance. It has little commercial use and can be found in any high quality woods in mesic (moist) soils. Its range extends from the Hudson Bay in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River. So, here in the East, it should be found in any forest near to water-I’m going to work on that. Its primary importance seems to be to the spicebush swallowtail butterfly which I have not seen here. Perhaps not anywhere. I will have do more research and observation.

So, I find myself on another quest-to uncover the spicebush in the hope that it will spread and in the even more ridiculous hope that a butterfly might find its way to these woods.

My work continues.

My photograph does little justice but this is one of the larger specimens I uncovered.

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Virginia Bluebells

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Reddy Branch-a few days after the snow

I got in several days of work on the hillside before the snow came on Tuesday, part of the big Nor’easter. My goal was to continue to knock down the multi-flora rose, open up space for the small hollys, and create a five foot circumference around the bigger trees.

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I went out today, freed from meetings and appointments, looking forward to taking pictures of the snow and ice in the late afternoon sun. And continue to learn to use my borrowed camera.

I was hoping that the snow had knocked down all of the cuttings and remaining pieces of rose, helping me envision what the forest floor might look like in a few years as I continue to clear.

There was too little snow and still too much rose for me to get a shot of a nice, white blank canvas. But the big trees are definitely clear of clutter.

The fields up at the top of the ridge certainly provided wide open clarity.

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I keep trying to capture the immensity of this maple up on top. Still working on that.

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The creek down at the bottom of the trail, on the way to the twin oaks, was frozen over and I had to go cross country as the trail down to the creek was a sheet of ice; being in the shade, it was too hard for me to smash a toehold. Played around with the light on the ice.

 

I’ll continue to  work and enjoy the simple pleasures of Reddy Branch. I am looking forward to the spring to see what delights the forest offers.