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.