If a tree falls in the woods…

If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is there to hear it, does it make noise?  I have no idea, but it does make a mess!

I took my camera running with me on Tuesday, so I could take pictures of the aftermath of “Superstorm Sandy”. The first surprise was how much water there was in and around the river.  I expected the Corps of Engineers to hold a pond above the dam, that’s what it’s there for, but the water below the dam was high, too.  The outlet pipes in the pond below the dam were completely under water.  We didn’t have much rain with the storm, mostly just wind, so the water seemed high to me.

All summer, and thru the fall, the water level going through the dam has stayed at about 3 feet.  Two days after the storm, there was 7 feet of water going thru.  This is still pretty low, 10 or 12 feet isn’t unusual after a huge storm.  (The highest water level recorded at the dam was 27 feet high on the tower in April of 1987.  So 7 feet is no big deal). These are the fishing steps near the bridge.  They have all been out of the water for months, and now the three bottom ones are in the water.

There is way more water at the beaver dam than a couple of weeks ago. That was then:

This is now. I wonder if the beavers are still in the lodge, or if the water is too high for them.

There were a few trees down, but less than I expected with all the wind. This is another view of the big pine tree from the beginning of this post.









The new bridge didn’t float away! There was no way to cross it without getting your feet wet, but it didn’t go anywhere.











(By Wednesday, the bridge was accessible again.) It’s always interesting to see how the weather affects the landscape.  The water rises very quickly, but goes down even more surprisingly fast! Can’t wait to see what next week will bring.  Go play outside!  Do it now, before the snow.


Gaggles, Herds, and Skeins

I’ve noticed a lot of geese lately, flying in the air, and hanging out in the river.  So I decided to google geese, and see what was interesting about them  Well, the collective nouns for them are just weird!  We all know about gaggles, and while herd brings to mind  hooved animals, at least it’s about animals.  But, skeins?!  That’s how you buy yarn, nothing to do with geese.  So now, my interest is caught, and I have to see what other strange animal words I can find.

So, I  think about what sort of critters I see when running in the woods. Beavers live in colonies or families, ok.  Butterflies are part of a flight or a flutter.  That makes sense, too.  I’ve seen turkey buzzards, and buzzards collect in wakes.  That really makes me think that they are sitting around waiting for us to die and provide lunch!  Caterpillars are part of an army, that’s one slow moving military.  And the crows flying along  the  railbed would be part of a murder, horde, parcel or storytelling(?).  Doves are even worse:  a dule, bevy, cote, dole, paddling, pitying, or piteousness.  English is surely a strange language.

Like the caterpillars, frogs are part of an army, colony, or knot.  And hawks can be part of a kettle, cast, or boil.

Who thinks these up??  The collective noun for lizards is lounge…we know where that one goes! The cute little mice are part of a mischief and mosquitoes are a scourge (got that one right). Salamanders are part of a congress (that one really makes you think). Squirrels are part of a dray, or a scurry.  And starlings belong to a murmuration, or a chattering.I often see wild turkeys in the woods, and they are part of a rafter, gang, or posse. Snakes can be part of  a den, nest, pit, bed, or knot.  Although I’ve never seen snakes in groups, only basking alone in the sun.

Now I’m on a mission.  I want to see a flange of baboons, a sute of bloodhounds, a convocation of eagles,  a memory of elephants, and an implausibility of gnus.  Probably not going to see any of those at the dam, though.  This is why some days I can’t even answer a question about forms or weapons for my students:  my brain is too full of this other clutter.  I guess that’s what happens when you run alone without an ipod or GPS to entertain you!!

Wooly Bears and Winter

I’m not a huge fan of bugs.  I don’t want to touch them, or step on them in bare feet, or get them stuck in my hair.  I even check the walls and ceiling for bugs every night before going to bed, to be sure none sneak up on me while sleeping.  But running in the woods during the summer, I really enjoy seeing the different colors and shapes of butterflies, moths, grasshoppers and dragonflies.  As long as I don’t touch them, it’s easy to forget  that they are bugs, and just enjoy seeing some cool little critters.

The butterflies and moths are really a wonder.  Their wings look so fragile, like they can’t possibly survive a breeze, never mind actually fly. But they are best viewed from a distance.  If you get too close, you don’t just see the pretty wings, but also the body.  And then there is no denying what they are …BUGS! Yuck!!

The moth at the top of the page is called an Isabella Tiger Moth.  It has pretty orangy – yellowy wings, and flutters around in the breeze.  This time of year though, there are fewer tiger moths, and more of their precursors, wooly bear caterpillars. Wooly bears are another one of those things that are cutest at a distance.  They are classified as “bristled” according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, and their fuzz is actually more bristly than wooly.  (I’ll take the almanac’s word for it, cause I’m NOT touching one!)

Legend says that these caterpillars can forecast the severity of the coming winter.  Supposedly, the more brown on the body, the milder the winter will be.  Like the tick and acorn correlation, there is probably a bit of truth to this, lost in a bunch of folk lore.  The amount of brown fuzz is actually an indicator of the age of the caterpillar: the older it is, the more brown fuzz there is, and the less black.  So the fact that last winter was mild means the wooly bears came out earlier in the spring, and had more time to eat and grow brown fuzz.

The caterpillars move incredibly slowly, so when you spot one on the trail, there’s plenty of time to get a good look at it.   And for now, I will be telling myself that the wide brown bands on all the wooly bears, are not a sign that last winter was mild, but rather that this one will be.

Get outside, and find some caterpillars to see, or some other critters before they all hide away for the winter!

River Rodents

Was running along a low bit of trail this week, and noticed water creeping up the trail. I think we have a new beaver dam.  There used to be a beaver dam just south of Greenbrier, and for a couple of years, the trail leading south from the little bridge below Greenbrier was often knee deep in water.  (Not a problem when the water is clear, but I’m always a little wary of stepping into water when I can’t see what’s sitting on the bottom.  Yuck.)  A pipe was installed under the bridge, and whether due to the pipe or beaver death or relocation, the water is pretty low there, now.  As a matter of fact, this spring the water was so low south of Greenbrier, that the canoe launch was unusable. Slogging thru deep mud isn’t a great way to start a paddling trip! A couple of days of rain temporarily raised the level, but it didn’t last.

I knew that beavers are rodents, but never gave it too much thought.  So are they cute overgrown hamsters, or gross rats in the river?  I think I like the hamster idea better.  I found some interesting info about beavers at Mass Wildlife.  They were hunted to extinction in Massachusetts in 1750, and didn’t appear in the state again until 1928 when they were spotted in West Stockbridge. They are North America’s largest native rodents and can be 2 – 3 feet in length with an additional 12 – 18 inches of tail.  They can live for up to 20 years, and are herbivores.  In 1996, voters in Massachusetts passed a referendum restricting beaver trapping, and since then, the state beaver population has at least tripled.

Well, back to the creeping water.  On the west side of the French River, just south of the gas line, is a low section of trail.  The river here is usually low, and some summers it’s been possible to cross here walking on the rocks.  The first year of The Dam Trail race, the runners crossed the river here.  (That was before either of the Rocky Hill bridges was built).  This picture was taken this  spring, around the same time as the canoe launch picture above.  Back in June, Seth and I went almost into the river here to see the other side of a sign that we thought was facing the water.  Turned out it was an empty sign, on the edge of the river, with no words on either side.  Why?  Well, the sign is gone now, but the spot where it was sitting is currently a couple of feet from the edge of the river.

The water level has been creeping up the last couple of months, and some days now isn’t much lower than the trail. There seems to be a beaver dam now , and a lodge.  The water is high enough that you could probably paddle a kayak right around behind the lodge.  On this side of picture, the water is trickling through a small opening, and running around the dam.  The Mass Wildlife site says that the sound of trickling water makes the beavers rebuild or re-enforce the dam.  I’m curious to see how big this gets.  But I won’t be too happy if we lose this section of trail.  Unless a new trail was cut there, we would have to detour out to the railbed.  The railbed is better than pavement, but not as good as trails.  I guess this isn’t a bad place for a beaver dam, as nobody’s property is being damaged.  But I find myself wishing them to go away, and not mess with my trails.  Oh, well.  Let’s see what the next few months brings!

New Bridge!!

Saturday was public Lands Day (I couldn’t take the day off work because we had demo team tryouts).  Sunday I had to go right out and check the new bridge.  It’s really nice but I didn’t have a camera, so I went back today with my phone.  (iPhone:  multipurpose gadget).  It was chilly, and damp today, so I didn’t wear bug spray.  I’m not sure it would have helped against the really teeny bugs anyway.  And there was a LOT of spider-dancing going on today, not that bug spray would have helped with webs anyway.  








Here is the old bridge, last spring, floated out of place by high water. There was a rope tying it to the trees on both sides, but obviously that wasn’t enough.  And on the right is the start of the new bridge.









Here is the new bridge!! :- )  It’s built on a frame of guardrails and anchored at both ends by what looks like concrete curbstones (3 or 4 on each side).  There are metal cables attached to screws in the concrete, through holes in the bridge, and then tied around trees.

Lets hope the new  bridge is safe from this guy!!!!!