Wild leek, Virginia bluebell, spring beauty, false rue anemone, and false mermaid all with visible foliage at Maple Grove Forest Preserve

My family and I arrived home last night from a trip to Washington DC by way of Virginia Beach. On the drive between Dayton and Chillicothe, the snows of the week before were still in the fields. From the ditches and ephemeral ponds along Highway 34 just south of Winfield in Putnam County, West Virginia, an hour past sundown, spring peepers were loud enough to hear at 60 miles per hour with the car windows closed. In Virginia Beach, fish crows were calling from the treetops and sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) fruits were piling up along the curbs. In DC, it was cold, and cherry trees were in partial bloom. While we travelled, I started reading a collection of Jim Holt’s luminous essays on math and physics, and I felt Einstein, Gödel, Riemann, Frenkel, Bertrand Russell, André Weil (brother to Simone Weil — I hadn’t known!), Galton and a whole cast of others were lurking around the bends in the road. “If you want to know the real nature of a mathematical object, don’t look inside it but see how it plays with its peers,” Holt writes of Alexander Grothendieck’s work and, more generally, of category theory. Sentences this good have a way of affecting what and how you see.

This morning in Maple Grove Forest Preserve, the wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) are emerging bright green from their dark sheaths, about six inches tall and an inch broad already. The leaves are still creased but look to be inflating rapidly. I found one patch nine feet in diameter, with last year’s dried infructescences scattered about. False mermaid (Floerkea proserpinacoides) has pierced the leaf litter in the past ten days and is visible everywhere now, crawling up through the dried oak leaves and threatening to sprawl over the top. Bundles of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are three to five inches tall. Pedicels on the spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) have extended to nearly a centimeter. Clusters of reddish Enemion biternatum leaves are ganging up along the trail edges. They should be ready to flower soon.

Biking home, I recalled an afternoon when I was in graduate school and Libby Zimmerman, one of Wisconsin’s great naturalists, took me to a hillside woodland that was about to be razed as part of a highway expansion. We rescued what plants we could fit into the trunk of her car, to replant elsewhere. I’m embarrassed to admit that of that day, I can remember only one species: the wild leek. These things usually stick in my mind, and I don’t know why that afternoon doesn’t. As a botanist and an herbarium curator, and a researcher who works on a group of plants (sedges, Carex) that seem to thrive with a little disturbance, I am perhaps a bit quick at times to collect a specimen, and like most naturalists I enjoy making and keeping lists and recording observations. But spring ephemerals, orchids, lilies, trilliums and a host of other sensitive species I don’t collect. Perhaps for this reason, the leeks on that hillside I have especially remembered, because they are the only ones I have ever tasted. As we were rescuing them, I pulled one from the ground, and I recall it sliding out easily, like a ripe onion (which of course is precisely what it was). Hardly any soil hung on it, and without more than a thought, I wiped it off on my jeans and placed it into my mouth. It was refrigerator-cool, smooth and moist, and it gave just a hair before my teeth pierced the layers of leek one by one. The flavor was the essence of onion, sweet and strong and persistent. I don’t know if Libby saw me: I believe she didn’t, and I suspect I didn’t mention that I’d eaten one. I know there were too many to save, but it was still a guilty pleasure.

The clouds are burning off now and it’s well past mid morning. My boys and I are still on vacation, my wife is back at work but coming home early. I have told the boys I’d play video games with them, and they are making plans with friends. I’ve just gotten news that our prairie experiment may be burned this afternoon. Our rain garden is a tangle and the vegetable beds need to be prepped. There are bills to pay, a number of little chores to do. On the desk beside me, Holt’s book is laid open, and Einstein and Gödel are walking together across the Princeton campus. Gödel is caught mid-sentence, looking dapper in a dark trenchcoat and a tan fedora. Einstein appears to be listening as they walk, knit cap pulled low over his eyebrows, briefcase under his arm. Here are the great physicist and the great mathematician, by now at the margins of their disciplines, immortal nonetheless. A month before he died, Einstein wrote Queen Elisabeth of Belgium that “the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease.” How good to walk at least through part of your life with someone who does not overestimate you and understands what it is that you care about. It is good to be home with my family.

Chorus frogs, woodcock dancing, first floral buds on spring beauty

I arrived at the Arboretum at about 5:30 this morning and locked up at Parking Lot 10. The sky was a bit overcast, the temperature just above freezing. For the first 20 minutes I walked in silence, watching the buildings across the interstate. As I reached the oak collection around 5:45, the horizon was just starting to light up. The marcescent oaks I was watching last year have far fewer leaves on them this year. Have they started to drop already? or did the trees simply not hold as many leaves over this winter as they did last year?

The smell of burned woods reached me near the edge of the maple collection. The forest floor just east of Bur Reed Marsh was blackened, mottled with patches of leaves and grasses that hadn’t burned. At 5:55, the birds in the pond south of me started squeaking and riling each other up. I walked through Bur Reed Marsh, which was also burned, stopping to listen for what I thought was the spitting sound of a junco… it didn’t return and may well have been my imagination.

At 6:05 a woodcock peented from alongside the road leading north past Crowley Marsh. It was just light enough now that I could see outlines against the grasses, and I liked the prospects of finding a woodcock on the road, where I might see him dancing. I confess that in 25 years of casual woodcock-stalking, I’ve never succeeded in watching a woodcock do his ground show. I’ve approached close enough to see where he must be standing, to watch him fly up, to run over to where he’d been dancing and wait silently for him to drop back down… but always they seem drop down somewhere else. Today, though, I was emboldened and perhaps just lucky to have found a woodcock inured to people, living in such an urban area (most of my woodcock stalking has been in Madison, Wisconsin, not the Wild Western Suburbs). I followed the sound and found that he wasn’t on the road, but in the flattened marsh on the south side of the trail. I closed in on him and he stopped peenting, but I did get close enough to watch him. He stood stock still for a half a minute as I watched. I’d expected him to scurry into the shrubs, but he seemed relatively unafraid, if perhaps wary. The woodcock flew suddenly into the air and began cycling upward. I figured that was all I’d get: I’d had my moment. But I tried my luck all the same and moved in close to where he’d been, hoping he’d land again right there.

He circled overhead, whistling and kissing, then dropped down and started peenting again, this time 20 feet to my left. I followed him with the flashlight on, and this time I got the view I’d been hoping for. I had expected to see the woodcock’s head jerk upward with each peent, prehensile bill aimed to the sky, but I’d had it wrong. Audubon writes: “On observing the Woodcock while in the act of emitting these notes, you would imagine he exerted himself to the utmost to produce them, its head and bill being inclined towards the ground, and a strong forward movement of the body taking place at the moment the kwauk reaches your ear. This over, the bird jerks its half-spread tail, then erects itself, and stands as if listening for a few moments, when, if the cry is not answered, it repeats it.” This is not altogether unlike what I was seeing, though perhaps more dramatic. The woodcock I was watching seemed only to lift his chin a bit as he called. He then paused and did a strange head-nodding shuffle forward and then backward before calling again. After each call, he seemed to wait for a response, shuffling as though in anticipation of the next call, a restless suitor. He called about five times before growing silent and then abruptly flying off to circle overhead.

I would have enjoyed staying longer, but I was somewhat worried I’d reduce this gentleman’s chances with the ladies if I were to keep watching him. By now it was 6:15 — only 10 minutes had passed! one of the 10 minute periods you carry with you for your entire life — and the day was lighting up. The robins had started up in earnest. By 6:30 I could see well, though not quite well enough to botanize. Cardinals were going full tilt. At the pond along the service road just north of Parking Lot 14, wood ducks were busying themselves about the morning. A rufous-sided towhee was calling “schwink” from the shrubs (John Burroughs, in the essay “April”, refers to this bird as the chewink, though I don’t know if this name is or was widely used), along with song sparrows and white throated sparrows. I walked up the service road to the heritage trail and headed eastward along the moraine there. I was mulling over an eggshell at the base of a white oak when, from the pond to the north, a solitary chorus frog called slowly. It was 6:45.

By 6:50 the chickadees and nuthatches were calling all over the place. I turned onto the southern stretch of the Woodland Trail, where I was looking at the false mermaid last week. Now the plant is more abundant and a few millimeters taller, leaflets perhaps a half-millimeter longer each, and some of the larger plants are beginning to branch. A Claytonia exhibited its first floral buds, packed into the axils of the straplike leaves. I headed south across the ravine toward the main trail at the east edge of the East Woods. An owl (barred, I think, though I didn’t see well enough to be sure) flew off ahead of me.

I reached my bike at 10 minutes past sunrise. The sun wasn’t visible yet where I stood, still hidden behind the hills. As I rode into work, the robins were chuckling and cardinals were whistling, and the woodcock I’d been watching was quiet, likely settling into the shrubs to rest through the day. He’ll head back to work himself this evening.

Oaks blooming in Atlanta

“… Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window … ” — R.M. Rilke

Friday morning, my wife Rachel and I awoke in Atlanta, where we’d flown for the National Science Teachers Association meeting. I spent the morning listening to talks and exploring the exhibit hall, which was a sight to behold. I had never seen anything like it. One vendor was leading teachers and students through a frog dissection. Another stood like a bartender behind a counter of vacuum-packed brains and squid, rats with their abdomens sliced open, skin peeled back, viscera in full glory (“Sign up here for a free specimen… we’ll ship it right to your school!”). There were thermal cyclers for a few hundred dollars and pipettes for fifty, a device that amplified electrical signals in your muscles and the action potential in a tickled Venus flytrap, human skeletons, a wall of monitors projecting images from NASA, robots, books and books and books. Outside the exhibit hall was a whiteboard where teachers had responded to the prompt, “I inspire students to…” and I was struck at how many things there are to want for your students. Dream big. Be great. Make a change for the better. Think like a scientist. Make evidence-based decisions. Break it down. Never stay comfortable. Keep going. Teaching methods are like scientific methods: there are as many variations on the same basic themes as there are individuals doing the work.

As I was just starting a session on working with students to think critically about sources of variation in ecological data, Rachel messaged me, “… come to the botanic garden… birds galore… beautiful.” Rachel is always right with recommendations of this type, and I took her at her word. I finished my session and ate lunch, caught the MARTA train to the stop that leaves off near the High Museum. When I stepped out of the station, I was hit with music. Someone was playing a console piano from the sidewalk on the upper level of the train station. The music had a percussiveness to it, an awareness of time that was outside the notes being laid down. The pianist had given up on melody and was just vamping steadily in the mid to lower registers. The clouds moved slowly past the blooms of the tulip trees high over the station. Chords filled the street.

The oaks along 15th Street leading to the garden were in bloom: Quercus acutissima from East Asia, Q. nigra and, I believe, Q. phellos from the American southeast (assuming it was not a cultivated species from elsewhere that I don’t know). Veronica and Houstonia and Viola were blooming in the lawns. At the garden, I asked where I should visit first. The tulips are amazing, I was advised, and the orchid house is thrilling: the native woods off to the right would be calming, good to wash it all down. Between the two, the woods sounded nicer to me, and I headed over the skywalk through the towering tulip trees. A tufted titmouse was calling, Carex plantaginea was in fruit, C. appalachica was greening up. A cascade ran down from a sculpture that looked like a tower yellow neon vermicelli. I would love to have seen it at night. Down trail a couple was reading.

When I returned to the station, I went in search of the piano. It was now occupied by two people talking, smoking, reclining. Their things were spread over the top of the piano. I jumped on the train and headed back downtown, where I found another piano, a blue baby grand being played by a gentleman in a hooded jacket. His playing accompanied me down the steps to my train, which I mounted and returned to the hotel for an award ceremony that evening. Rachel and I dressed in our nicest clothes and sat with scores of other teachers and their families, friends and co-workers, most there in recognition of years or decades of teaching science. All were innovating something, solving some problem in a unique way. Every educational challenge is unique, and the most particular solutions often turn out to be of the broadest interest. How do you introduce evolutionary biology to undergraduates at a strict religious university? How do you increase interest in research conducted at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory? How do you increase research and conservation capacity in the Amazon? How do you increase students’ ability to conduct real research in aquatic ecology? The more particular the response, the broader the interest. This is the paradox of great literature and art, and it rolls over to teaching as well. You don’t have to solve every problem: just solve this one. The general applicability of a solution often arises from the particularity of its implementation.

We returned home yesterday, and I left the house for Maple Grove Forest Preserve just after sunrise this morning. Mourning doves, robins, cardinals, white-breasted nuthatches and red-bellied woodpeckers had been singing for perhaps an hour. Last night’s frost glazed the leaves and lawns, cemented the upper 1/2 inch of soil in place, skinned over the puddles and wet soil. A raccoon had left tracks along a tiny sandbar in one of the creeks through the forest, and it looked dry enough to step on. I put my weight on it and it held, but only for a moment before the crust broke and my foot went in nearly to the top of my boot. It didn’t overspill, but my boot caked with mud.

St. Joseph Creek was clear and fast-moving. Centipedes were hunting beneath the leaf litter. A black squirrel was running around the forest floor. Floerkea seedlings have gained a few millimeters since last weekend, and seedlings I did not notice this time last week are clustered near the moist protected bases of tree trunks throughout the woods. Carices in the understory seem not to have grown at all in the past two weeks: they were all putting out new shoots at the beginning of March, but today and last weekend they were frozen in midstride, last season’s evergreen leaves frosted, this year’s new shoots quiescent. Perhaps they are rallying their resources for an April sprint.

In our yard, the daffodils are pushing up through the soil. Leaves of golden Alexanders are unfolding against the mulch. A flock of 25 cranes flew north as I was sitting outside this afternoon, reading these words from Richard Fortey’s The Wood for the Trees: “For me, the poetry of the wood derives from close examination as much as from synthesis and sensibility. But I am aware that description alone does not necessarily lead to understanding.” Perhaps it doesn’t, but what more do we really have? I understand there is more than saying, “look at this.” I am a scientist, after all, and as such I want to go beyond describing to predicting. But then I think of Rilke’s Ninth Duino Elegy:

For when the traveler returns from the mountain-slopes into the valley,
he brings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others, but instead
some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue
gentian. Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window -–
at most: column, tower… But to say them, you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves
ever dreamed of existing.1

There are the piano in the train station, the flowering oaks, the centipedes patrolling beneath the leaf litter, the human skull held aloft in the teacher’s right hand, the chimpanzee skull in the left. What stands between those two but the desire to sit at a piano in a train station and play something beautiful; to name the sedges; to dissect a frog; to peer back into our own past and forward into all the potential futures and describe what you see there, and to give it a name; to help students do the same. Is there more than that?

*** Addendum, 2018-03-19. Who better to ring in on this than John Burroughs? I think he’s on Fortey’s side. From A Sharp Lookout: “We all see about the same; to one it means much, to another little. A fact that has passed through he mind of man, like lime or iron that has passed through his blood, has some quality or property superadded or brought out that it did not possess before. You may go to the fields and the woods, and gather fruit that is ripe for the palate without any aid of yours, but you cannot do this in science or in art… all good observation is more or less a refining and transmuting process, and the secret is to know the crude material when you see it.” And he restates it thus: “Or one may say, it is with the thoughts and half thoughts that the walker gathers in the woods and fields, as with the common weeds and coarser wild flowers which he plucks for a bouquet, — wild carrot, purple aster, moth mullein, sedge, grass, etc.: they look common and uninteresting enough there in the fields, but the moment he separates them from the tangled mass, and brings them indoors, and places them in a vase, say of some choice glass, amid artificial things, — behold, how beautiful!”

1 Translation by Stephen Mitchell.

Snow, tracks, pine siskins

On my bike ride in two days ago, I passed a robin chuckling from beneath our neighbor’s hydrangeas, and a few were calling along Grant Street all the way to Finley. I reached the Arboretum gate at about 6:30 to find Woodcocks displaying in the East Prairie, spinning high above the power lines, dropping down I assume onto the road to call to each other. Song sparrows and red-winged blackbirds were calling. I locked up at the Big Rock Visitor Station and took the walk around the Woodland Trail to the northeast. Onion shoots were as long as my ring finger. Floerkea seedlings were about 1/4″ high under the leaf litter. All the other spindly little seedlings I see in the woods now have just emerged and have cotyledons near the tops of the shoots. But presumably because they emerge in the winter or late fall (I don’t know exactly when — and now I’m eager to see), the false-mermaid seedlings already bear a trio of leaflets at the top, their first true leaves, and a pair of aged cotyledons near the base. I’ve never noticed the seedlings at this stage, but having seen them, on Monday I found them at the base of every oak where I expected to. I’ll be watching them more closely this spring.

This morning, the trails were covered with about 1/3 inch of snow that accumulated yesterday between about 2 and 7 p.m. Temperatures stayed in the low to mid-20s, perfect for capturing footprints. I walked clockwise around the loop from the research building out to the Big Rock Visitor station, east through the spruce plot, then back along the southern edge of the loop trail. Opossum tracks wove along the trail from about Parking Lot 15 to Parking Lot 12. In one spot I saw what appeared to be the tracks of an unnaturally large white-footed mouse galloping across the trail, each bound about 15″ long… is that reasonable for even a large Peromyscus? In other places, there were tracks half this size, perhaps shrews. In several other spots, perfectly preserved vole tracks cut across the trail, bee-lining over the snow across the rail and tunneling under when they returned to the woods. At one point, an entire group, perhaps a family, of white-footed mice had raced back and forth between a fallen trunk that flanked one length of trail, cut on each end. They darted out of the opening in one, across the chipped trail, then up onto the back of the other log, disappearing into the decomposed open stump at the end. Coyote tracks crossed the snow everywhere, and a coyote and I watched each other near the shortcut road. Pine siskins were calling from the treetops at the north edge of the spruce plot.

The walk was bookended by two very nice moments. At the beginning, from within the Korea Collection I believe, I looked east and found the sun blazing orange through holes in the trees across the hills at the far end of the Woods. The trees had split the sun into a half-dozen distinct lights, like lanterns hung around a home on a distant hill. It took me a minute to figure out I was even looking at the sun. Then, at the end of the walk, when I’d become distracted thinking about work to be done, a squirrel raced across the lawn with his mouth packed full of grasses and pine needles, gave me a glance, then headed up a red pine to work on his nest. Back to work, friends.

Ice crystals in the soil, silver maple flowers

Temperatures have dropped over the past week. Silver maples in our neighborhood are flowering, crabapple buds are swelling, but the woodland wildflowers appear to be no further along now than they were last weekend. This morning at about 7:00 (or 6:00 if you prefer; we’ve just turned over to daylight savings time, and at least for today a person ought to be able to be able to choose his or her time if there aren’t church or work schedules to worry about), the red-bellied woodpeckers were drumming and chickadees were singing to one another. Riding over to Maple Grove Forest Preserve, I saw a cooper’s hawk moving around the yards on Gilbert Street, being harassed by a small group of little birds I couldn’t see well, but who seemed not to have gotten enough of a group together to cause the hawk any trouble.

The walking trails at Maple Grove Forest Preserve were frozen. The soil pushed up along the edges of the mountain-bike tracks barely gave underfoot. A little snow persists on the north sides of some of the larger trees. Across the upper surface of a fallen, denuded tree trunk, the damp footprints of a raccoon had frozen to a clear, thin glaze, capturing, I presume, a relatively short period last night when there was water enough to wet the feet and leave such lovely footprints, but cold arrived soon enough to freeze the track in place. I expect it will melt away by lunchtime. Leaves were frosted to their margins, crunchy underfoot. Off-trail, the upper layer of soil wherever it was loose enough had been churned up by ice crystals forming from the rain falling then freezing over the past few weeks. The crystals were a quarter to a half-inch long, heaving clods of soil up in little spires reminiscent of the sandstone formations at les Orgues d’Ille-sur-Têt near the east end of the Pyrenees or southern Utah’s Canyonlands. I confess I’d never seen them closely. The crystals melted slowly in hand, perfectly clear near the top and middle, swimming with soil particles near the base. How odd to have become familiar with these rock formations in the arid southwest and southern France before I knew the ice crystals in my own neighborhood.

But many plants that have emerged are protected by the things that have frozen over the top of them. I ran my fingertips across the top of a ragged crust of soil that had washed downhill, accumulating in a thin loose layer before freezing. It crushed under hand, and I found that the frozen soil was loose and could be swept aside like crumbs off a countertop. Beneath, the soil was flat and moist, with sparse seedlings no more than a 1/4″ in height, their cotyledons smaller than grains of rice. Further uphill, I pulled aside the leaves nestled amongst the roots on the southern side of a medium-sized sugar maple. There some herb that I surely know well as an adult was squeezing out infinitesimal leaves, deeply divided things that I wouldn’t be surprised to see grow into Actaea: could those leaves already be emerging? It seems too early. This plant has flattened, whitish shoots right now that are dart-shaped at the tips, nude except for the tiny green plume at the tip. I’ll keep an eye open for it this spring.

One thing I found today unrelated to the freeze left me with a question I’ll jot down here so I don’t forget it. Near the entrance to the woods, there was a circle of what I took to be sugar maple saplings, perhaps 100 of them forming a patch about 12′ in diameter. I assumed they were all from one batch of maple seeds that had simply done well. Counting growth intervals, they all appeared to be 4 years old, all were about knee-high, and about half of them had been damaged by deer browse. But looking down to the base of one of them to make sure I was catching each year of new growth, I realized these were coming up from rhizomes. I don’t believe maples do this, but this was not a dogwood, nor a viburnum, nor a honeysuckle… no shrub genus I could think of. So what are they? This will bug me. Something to figure out on a later walk, reminding me of what John Burroughs told me last week: “the walk to take to-day is the walk you took yesterday.”

First shoots of mayapple, bottlebrush grass, spring beauty, violet

A week ago, grass was greening up in the lawns adjoining Maple Grove Forest Preserve. The first new shoots of a number of woodland sedges were pushing up 1/2 to 1 inch or more: Carex rosea, C. blanda, C. albursina, C. gracillima. Bud scales were loosening on the bright blue branches of box-elder. The rains had cleared the leaves off the west bank of St. Joseph Creek and up several feet. On the hilltop near the center of the preserve, about 30 feet north of the crest of the hill, a pool of water stood in the hole left when a red oak fell. The slope downhill for about 20 feet was springy, and last year’s stems of Impatiens were trampled all around. Young leaves were 1 1/2 inches long on the bottlebrush grass.

This morning in the East Woods, I found mayapple shoots a half-inch high at the base of an oak tree. The shoot tips are bullet-shaped, clothed in white scales. The leaves inside are folded like hands in prayer, perfect miniatures of the adult leaves. The straplike leaves of Claytonia virginica are a couple of inches long, dark green beneath the leaves. Why aren’t they etiolated? They are limp, perhaps wilted from the frost. Kelly green basal leaves of Epilobium are scattered throughout the woods, along with the first leaves of what seem to be Enemion biternatum, though they seem a bit ill-formed for this species, and perhaps too the first leaves of Virginia waterleaf. I should know the seedlings better; not knowing them makes me doubt that I really know the adults as well as I thought I did. At times like this, I sometimes think of a story I believe Tom Brown told, in which his teacher ordered him to go study the birds. Tom responded, as I recall, that he knew birds about as anyone could, to which his teacher asked him how many spots he might find on a Robin’s back. Which makes me wonder whether I’m remembering the story right… are there any spots on a robin’s back?

Three chipmunks raced into and out of the hollowed base of a sugar maple. The moss is greening up on the cinder piles where the field crew have been burning brush. Cranes flew overhead all day today, flock after flock. Mourning doves and song sparrows have been singing all week. Rains from the past few weeks have eroded a gully of black soil along the edge of the trail leading south from the eastmost bridge in the East Woods. A reticulum of fine roots spreads out across the surface of the soil where the leaves are washed away just downhill from a tree, radiating out from rhizomes of violet and mayapple. Further downhill and uphill further, soil has been deposited in other spots, burying sprouting violets in three to six inches of fresh soil in others.

There was a perfectly freeze-dried white footed mouse this morning along the edge of the trail that looks over I-88 and I-355. The mouse was resting on its side, the front legs curved downward toward the abdomen, the back feet seeming exceptionally long on a desiccated mouse, the tail curled like a corkscrew. It appeared the mouse had not been touched. Why hadn’t it been eaten? I wonder if it died beneath the snow and slowly dried out… but wouldn’t the snow and moisture from the blanketed ground keep it moist and tasty? There was quite a cold spell three weeks ago, and perhaps it was cold enough then. The mouse was rigid enough to turn over by its tail.

This afternoon, I was back at Maple Grove with a friend, taking him over the same trail I walked a week ago and Friday morning and today before going to the Arboretum, and I recalled a passage from John Burroughs’ A Sharp Lookout: “What crop have I sowed in Florida or in California, that I should go there to reap? I should be only a visitor, or formal caller upon nature, the family would all wear masks. No; the place to observe nature is where you are; the walk to take to-day is the walk you took yesterday. You will not find just the same things: both the observed and the observer have changed; the ship is on another tack in both cases.” Friday morning this path was a cake of frozen churned soil, with frozen puddles along the edges of the trails; today, everything is growing. The snow of mid-February is gone for now, and spring wildflowers are close around the corner.