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.