The rain started early this morning and was still going lightly when I left the house. A robin was singing at our corner, and on the ride toward the high school I could hear another robin, solitary, to the north of Grant Street. The rain thrown from my front tire made a perfect disk in the headlight. I heard another robin or two, but nothing at the corner of Grant and Finley. The week after daylight savings time kicked in, I had begun to suspect that there was something special about that corner for the robins, but I don’t suspect that’s the case. Robins are widespread in our neighborhood, and whom you hear is probably a function of what time you’re out and what their mood is. Rain was hissing on the high tension lines when I arrived at the east edge of the Arboretum.
I biked counterclockwise around the road. By the ravine that crosses the road uphill from the big pond at the east end of the East Woods, I got a whiff of smoke from the last woodland burn. A few seconds later, an orange light downslope caught my eye. It looked more like a tail-light than a fire. I parked my bike and walked toward it. The woods were mostly blackened underfoot, some patches unburned. The light it turns out was the lit end of a fallen tree, which had burned through the middle, leaving a shadow of ash where that section of trunk had been. The fire burned from the underside of the log, just at the end, eating its way slowly toward the top of the tree that had fallen downward toward the pond. Flames licked over the edge of the trunk and receded again to the glowing interior. A flurry of sparks emerged and were extinguished in the damp air. My legs were wet, and the warmth was nice. A colossal bur oak stood nearby, and beneath it lay a deer-sized nest of mosses growing on cinders, littered with bur oak acorn caps. The moss was hairy with slender spore caps atop stalks about an inch high. I walked downslope to visit the frogs. A light from a distant building blinked slowly in reflection in the pond amidst the frogs, cooler than the fire.
I rode on to the Big Rock Visitor Station, locked up and left my backpack to stay dry under the shelter. The rain had picked up a bit and was pattering on the leaves and on me. I walked up the woodland trail to the north. I was antsy now to see what was growing, so I turned on my light. Black cherry buds were open, leaves the size of a pencil tip. Leaves were open on a single multiflora rose. Patches of false mermaid were up, but no flowers yet that I noticed. Toothwort leaves were up, and I found one flower bud. Spring beauty flowers were all closed. Further on I found trout lily leaves about two inches high, foliage of Dutchman’s breeches and Virginia waterleaf just visible above the leaf litter, geranium leaves as big as half-dollars. On the ride out yesterday, I biked past a carpet of false mermaid interspersed with prairie trillium shoots. Hepatica and Enemion (the old Isopyrum, false rue-anemone) are in bloom, Anemone quinquefolia foliage is open, and mayapple shoots are visible. The Carex are all greening up.
I finished the loop and went around once more, this time going off toward Big Rock along the trail overlooking the power lines. I walked up the trail with my eyes closed, opening them ever 30 seconds to make sure I wasn’t running into anything. I’m sure this is a great way to hone your listening skills, but mainly it left me feeling all the more grateful that I have sight. By now I was getting wet and antsy to get back, so I moved along pretty briskly and just listened. It was all frogs this early morning like, and it seemed to me the birds were sleeping in. One bird I did not recognize called with the peepers, almost th same tone. I biked back to my office and talked with Nick, started writing. The rain is still going and the redwing blackbirds are calling. Monday, I felt everything was ready to explode: today, it seems everyone is happy to wait for a warmer day.