Something New

I wanted a challenge the other day when I decided to take my walk. The weather was gorgeous, 45 degrees. I know, warm for winter in Minnesota, but then again, it’s all relative. Rather than walking my usual trail, I opted for one of the county parks and rather than my usual 3.5 miles, I was going to walk 6.3 miles.

Snow was still going to be an issue, so I took the bike trail which offered an asphalt surface. This trail goes through some marvelous landscape of rolling hills and prairie. No one else was on the trail. I like that best about walking especially though today because I considered this walk to be something of a walking retreat. My pace was just going to be moderate. My focus was going to be just on the here and now. As I walked farther on the trail, the road noises began to fade. My retreat had begun.

I hadn’t gone too far on the trail when I noticed something odd to the side. Some animal had found its demise in this beautiful landscape. Upon closer inspection I saw what was left of an immature bald eagle. Up close one can see how large these birds are. The power lines overhead were probably the cause of this eagle’s death. It saddened me to see its beautiful feathers blowing in the wind.

Patches of forest flanked the next parts of the trail. The birds were in great song that day. Overhead I saw a sharp-shinned hawk fly by, or sparrow hawk as it has been known. The hawk headed straight for that bit of woods. It wasn’t long afterwards that I heard the alarm call raised among the forest songbirds. The hawk had found its prey. Such is the cycle of life and death in Nature.

A feeling of euphoria came over me as I continued along the trail. I felt so strong. I was far enough away from the road now where only the sounds of Nature filled the air. It was truly a splendid experience on this most pleasant of days. I soon found myself taking off my shell. The sunny day and gentle breezes held a promise of spring. Though I’ve relished immersing myself in the winter and enjoying its special pleasures, I was looking forward to spring and the parade of spring wildflowers and return of wintering birds.

This trail gets much use during the spring and summer. It was nice to be able to enjoy it in solitude. Tracks flanked and crossed the trail everywhere. As I struggled through the few snowy patches, I noticed the sprawling tracks of a larger deer also probably struggling too through this wet snow. There was a lot of coyote sign as well. Looking around me I couldn’t help but think what perfect coyote habitat this was. The nights must be filled with their howling.

Finally I came to the return stretch back on the trail. After over 2 hours walking I felt great. I was proud of my accomplishment, thankful for this wonderful experience of Nature and solitude. The greatest gift I’ve gained by taking up walking is my time to connect with Nature. I’d return again soon to this trail and to this serene experience.

Something in the Air

I first noticed it last weekend. Yesterday on the trail it was very obvious. Today it’s here in the backyard. The geese have returned. I hadn’t realized how much I missed their honking and carrying on. My cat, Sophie, welcomes them back too, sitting in the window crouched down, gibbering away in some mysterious cat language. A few mallards have returned as well. The lake is still ice covered, but now there are pools of water forming on top of the ice. I can here the water from the creek rushing down under the ice to meet the water’s edge. No doubt about it; spring is definitely in the air.

The birds are vocal as ever on the trail. The juncos are still around, but they should be leaving soon. The warm weather has melted most of the snow and ice on the trail, exposing a soft, muddy surface. The challenges of spring walking. The only green visible are the rosettes of garlic mustard due up this spring. There’s a lot of them. Unfortunately, this trail has seen its share of invasive plants. Rails now trails like the one I walk are often havens for native plant populations, spared the plough and development. I’ll keep an eye out as the spring progresses to see what native flora appears.

This garlic mustard is a tenacious invader. The spring is typically a time for many delicate, low-lying wildflowers like bloodroot and hepatica here in the North Country. At 2 to 3 1/2 feet tall, garlic mustard outcompetes them for sunlight, nutrients, and space. The fauna that depends on the native flora is also put at risk. A single plant can produce thousands of seeds and distribute them several feet away from the source. The seeds are also easily transported by humans and wildlife.

Garlic mustard was first recorded in the U.S. in New York in 1868, having been brought over for its culinary and/or medicinal value. It has now spread to 30 states and Canada. The plant itself is appropriately named. It has a mildly foul, garlic-like odor. Deer do not like it. The plant appears to have no natural enemies. It can be easily weeded out of an area, provided it is done before the mature plants have flowered and spread more seed. Unfortunately, such methods are merely a drop in the bucket when it comes to massive invasions. Prescribed burning tends to exacerbate the problem by opening up ground for invasions. Biological control methods such as the introduction of garlic mustard-loving beetles, have shown some success.

I hope the garlic mustard is controlled on the trail. I for one would certainly miss the lovely parade of spring wildflowers. The trail would not be nearly as lovely without violets and spring beauties.

A Different View

I took a different trail today. This trail offers a unique experience. It’s an eclectic mix of small (thank goodness) pockets of development and farms. The trailhead abuts a golf course, but these trappings of development are soon gone as farms take over the landscape. There’s a sheep farm not too far down the trail. Most days you can hear the sheep bleating and carrying on. Today was no exception. They stared intently at me as I walked by. Their actions must have attracted the notice of their guardian, a brown and white llama. She came darting out of the barn to the edge of the fence, glaring unblinkingly at me. It was quite obvious by her stare that she meant business and nothing, nothing would harm her charges.

A handwritten sign at the edge of the farm says “Lamb For Sale”. Not lambs, but lamb. I’ll admit certain city girl ignorance here. For the longest time growing up, I believed the piggy going to market was going shopping. I’m reminded about that now as I watch the lambs frolic and play amongst the hay bales and water troughs.

Next to the sheep barn is a horse farm that sprawls out over hills and dales. Horses are boarded there apparently. They are always curious whenever I walk by. Sometimes they’re really skittish and gallop off, but this day the horses nearest the trail stared at me, chewing away on their hay. I must be the entertainment for today. In the next field two colts are feeling their oats and sparing and kicking. As I pass them, I provide the necessary distraction to stop the quarreling. The two gaze intently at me and promptly go back to grazing.

Last spring walking this trail I beheld an astonishing sight. I witnessed a foal being born. It was so touching to watch the nervous mare tread carefully so as not to trample her newborn. Exhausted after its ordeal, the foal sat on the ground, consenting most willingly to being cleaned up its mother. Afterwards, it attempted a few wobbly steps before plopping down again, exhausted.

It’s a great day on the trail. The warmish temperatures have melted the ice and it’s easy walking. I am alone as I walk, passing no one. I prefer it that way, having the trail to myself and my thoughts. What freedom it is to totally let one’s guard down! As I finish my walk and head to the trailhead, I spy something gray dash across the path. A farm cat, one of three that I see snuggled in the hay in a small horse barn. What a great day to be a cat and what a great place to call home.