A blog focused on nature, science, environmental topics, and happenings at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident 

I think this is the most artistic photograph of a slug I have ever seen, if I do say so myself. This one was found on the second step of our deck, shimmering in contrast to the lichen or mold that perhaps attracted it. 

Almost three inches long, it might be the biggest slug I’ve ever seen. This shows that any kind of weather will be advantageous to some life form. Our soggy spring apparently is a boon to giant slugs. 

The little horn-like things in the lower right are optical tentacles, sort of eyes, that withdraw if the slug is scared, which is probably often, as they are on the food chain of a great many species. They are also occasional pests to humans, when they gather in numbers so large as to threaten crops. They survive by being able to eat almost anything, and occasionally become predators. They are capable of behaving aggressively if challenged in times of food scarcity, though I have a hard time imagining an aggressive slug. 

I can, however, imagine an aspirational one. In fact, I think I have found one. This slug was on the second step of our deck, boldly going where no slug had gone before. That means that it ascended to this position from whatever moist, gooey place it lives, by traveling over a sidewalk and a step. It had to travel vertically and avoid predators.  It risked that there would be sufficient moisture when arriving that it would survive to enjoy the green mold and return to its family to brag forever about the time it traveled high and far from home. It helps that it can travel as easily vertically as horizontally. Slugs are also hermaphrodites, which may or may not be a factor in either their aggressions or aspirations. 

What we will never know is if this journey was intentional or, like so many human adventures, just happened, a consequence of wandering too far from home and luckily returning. A slug’s foot should exceed its slime trail, or what’s a deck step for?

 

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident 

My wife brought home a huge hanging Oxalis to replace our winter bird feeder. It attracted a couple of robins. 

“What are they so interested in?” I asked. 

“There must be some insects on the plant,” she guessed. 

“That is one big robin,” 

“Maybe she’s pregnant.” 

The next few days brought as various and contrary weather has we have had since the last not quite spring. Some days were sunny. Most were gray and damp. Two were balmy and we could sit on our deck. One night there was what everyone hoped was the season’s final frost. 

I hadn’t seen the robins in a few days. I looked to discover what had been so interesting to them.  It was a nest, far from finished. They had not returned. 

Robins don’t migrate, exactly, but they will travel south as food becomes scarce. They build their nests almost anywhere, altitude and material being less important than peace, quiet and security. 

The couple must have started their nest when our deck seemed perfect. Then, there goes the neighborhood! We started hanging out right next to them. There was even a dog.   

Robins will abandon a nest if it is discovered or disturbed. They will seldom return to a nest that has been moved, regardless of how carefully. They navigate back and forth, and feel secure, not merely from the nest itself, but from the whole nest setting. Our couple might have reconsidered whether our deck was sufficiently secluded and secure, as well they might. It is also possible that the copious amount of mud available this season tricked the robins into nesting before her ovulation. 

They may return, as there is plenty of time to complete the five or six days necessary for construction, before it would be needed. As interesting as this would be to observe, it’s not something that should be observed. It would be better for the robins to find a more secluded location to enjoy the peace and quiet that their instinct seeks . I live very peacefully, but to a newly hatched robin, I’m Godzilla.

 

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

I ask too much of spring.  “Please, no more snow,” I ask in March. After this is granted, there are always a couple of final, last, heavy, wet flakes that barely survive their landings. Then I ask for temperatures high enough not to have to use our wood-burning stove. 

Next I ask for the ground to dry, so I can put aside snow boots for hiking boots. When the crocuses and daffodils and hellebores appear, I confess the joy they give me is less than they deserve, because they sneak up on me before spring has truly arrived. I think of them as I do spring training baseball games, to be appreciated more for what they anticipate than for what they are. 

Then that “April showers” thing sets in. I get it. It rains a lot. We need the rain. The rain is good. Could we get even one day with a bit of sun? Apparently not. 

Even after the rains thin a bit, I’m still not happy.  No leaves. As long as the branches are bare, winter lingers, day after day. Waiting for spring around here can be more depressing than enduring winter. When can we sit on our deck in the early evening? 

Very gradually, almost subliminally, I notice a haze of color on the trees. Light green, or reddish or purple buds seem everywhere, replicating spring’s protracted uncertainty. Some buds open immediately, others take days. This can vary even on the same tree or bush. Since the budding of trees is nothing less than the way they reproduce, little wonder it takes so long, is so uncertain, and doesn’t respond well to being observed. 

Each day the colors are more apparent. I drive down to the valley, on a cat medicine run. Whoa! Spring has already arrived down here! Apple blossoms! Impressionist swatches of color cross the mountain distances. 

I return to our mountain with faith restored. How curious that what we wait so long for, that seems so agonizingly gradual, can appear to us to have arrived all at once.

 

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident 

On the way to the Tumbling Waters and Fossil trails at the Pocono Environmental Education Center are two stone seats with a ring of stone between them. A monument identifies it as The Ring of Aldyth. Honeymoon Haven has placed it there for lovers to seal their relationship, it says. 

Until 1972 Honeymoon Haven occupied the land that became PEEC. It was one of many mountain destinations for couples from the city seeking a romantic retreat for their honeymoon. These were very popular with soldiers returning home after World War II. The Ring of Aldyth was one of several photo ops there. 

This monument is a replica of one found in the courtyard of The Church of the Recession at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. The legend, more fully described in the courtyard, tells of a Saxon lass named Aldyth, and how she waited to see if her true love, a warrior in the Saxon army, would survive the battle of Hastings in 1066. They sealed their troth by holding hands within the stone ring. Though the battle was lost, the warrior returned to Aldyth. 

The Church of the Recession is a replica of the Church of St. Margaret in Rottingdean, Sussex, near the battleground. It was built well before 1066. I was curious if there was an original Ring of Aldyth in their courtyard, or at least a legend. 

I contacted the Vicar of Rottingdean, Rev. Doctor Anthony Moore who replied, “There is certainly no Ring in Rottingdean.” I conclude that this most interesting stone monument in our part of the forest seems to be a replica of a replica of which no original ever existed, to memorialize a legend that was created sometime in the 1930’s in California. Aldyth, was, however, the name of the wife of King Harold of Hastings - make of that what you will. The legend might be fiction, but the love of warriors returning to their true loves is certainly not, whether returning to Sussex after the Battle of Hastings, or returning to the Poconos in 1945.

 

 

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident 

Spring hiking season is upon us. My first experience with real hiking came in 1996 when I trekked the base of Annapurna in Nepal. My prime motivation for this was to be able to say, “When I trekked the base of Annapurna.” I trekked with a small group of moderately fit westerners, led by a Sherpa, a member of the Nepalese ethnic group who for centuries have lead Himalayan ascents. 

Our group gathered the night before we departed to learn the rules and warnings of the trek. Our Sherpa’s final words were, “Tomorrow I will tell you how to trek the base of Annapurna.” 

The next morning he said only, “One step at a time.” 

We all laughed, but I was also disappointed. I felt I needed advice. Soon I understood this was best advice I could have received. 

We spent one entire day walking up. I could see nothing but steps carved out of the mountain for as far as I could see, until the trail disappeared into the clouds. I said to myself, “One step at a time.” Eventually, I reached the clouds. 

Later, when we spent a day walking down, and my knees hurt more with each step, his advice enabled me to endure the pain. When we trekked along the side of a mountain and the steps became distressingly narrow for my size twelve boots, I took each step very carefully, focusing on the current step, looking neither ahead or behind. When we returned to the valley I knew I had been able to complete the trek because I recalled his very good advice again and again. 

One step at a time. Stay focused. Keep in the present. Don’t look back. The clichés of motivation didn’t originate in offices or classrooms or factory floors, but in the mountains and fields and seas where following or not following them had real consequences. Now when I hike through our forest, the altitudes are not as great, nor the paths as narrow, yet I frequently repeat our Sherpa’s still helpful advice.

 

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