friends

Last weekend my partner and I took our first camping trip of the year in Green Ridge State Forest. It was our first time staying at this camping area (we had originally intended to return to the magical Big Run State Park/Savage River State Forest we went to last September, about an hour west of Green Ridge, but it was supposed to be much colder there). Despite cool temperatures and some rain, we were able to enjoy fishing, hiking, a midday hammock nap, off-roading in my tiny but surprisingly adventurous Kia hatchback, and wildlife viewings.

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Polly the Kia got a well-deserved wash and vacuum after this excursion.

We paid for campsite use at the headquarters ($10/night), where two very lovely middle-aged women talked with us and helped us choose a site based on our interests and lack of four-wheel drive. We ended up at campsite #4, the north-most site in the forest and a short drive to some nice fishing spots, although if we ever return, we’ll opt for one of the more remote, forested sites farther south.

The first thing I did after unloading the car and setting up camp was walk the perimeter of the site to observe the nearby land, plants, and small creatures. Under a grove of pine trees, I found an eastern (red-spotted) newt. I had just recalled the other day how my cousins, sister, and I used to find dozens and dozens of eastern newts (although we always called them salamanders) in my grandmother’s yard growing up, until one day we couldn’t find them anymore. I hadn’t seen one in years. But there it was, hanging out in a bed of fallen pine needles, as adorable as ever.

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A small friend

This boded well. The following day, it was sunnier and warmer, so we hiked the Twin Oaks Trail (the purple trail) and looped back around on the Pine Lick Trail (blue), four miles in all. We stopped for lunch where the trail fords a stream, skipped some rocks, and kept going. The loop is described as a moderate hike; there were many ups and downs, but it was never too steep in any one place. At the steepest ascent, my partner saw a small creature scurry across the trail onto a tree. “That was a fast toad.” But it wasn’t a toad – it was a lizard! I’ve never seen a lizard before in the States, having spent the majority of my life in New England. With some research, we determined it to be a female eastern fence lizard and this location to be about the northern-most habitat where you can find them. She was much too quick for us to get her picture.

Here are a couple other small friends I found:

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A gray moth, enjoying the woodland view
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Found this friend drying its wings after some rain
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Whatever the heck these are

We saw many fish swimming in the stocked pond down the road. A whippoorwill sang off and on all night. But the biggest friend of all that we saw that weekend was an American black bear.

It was about 9:00 in the morning, and we were drinking our coffee but hadn’t pulled out the food for breakfast yet – we of course keep all tasty smelling things secured in the car. Suddenly my partner tells me in a serious voice to get to the car. About twenty yards away at the perimeter of our site, a young bear was watching us from the trees. We backed slowly towards the car, talking loudly at the bear (as you’re supposed to do; but it makes you feel like a fool!), hoping it would lose interest. “Hey, bear! Go away, bear! Please leave us alone!” It circled to another part of the site, never getting any closer, just observing our setup. After about five or ten minutes, it lumbered back into the woods.

We didn’t see it again, although we were extra careful with our food and trash for the rest of the time. Both of our phones were dead (and in the tent), so there’s no photographic evidence of our curious Ursus. My hypothesis is that it smelled our coffee and wanted some, too. Coffee is, after all, hard to come by in the forest.

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Needed more tinder… worked on my third attempt
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Fishing spot. If only it was warmer, I would’ve loved to swim!
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Bluets
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Just hangin’ out
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Campsite moonlight
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2017 Camping Trip #1 complete!

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sit under milky way sky
permitting the dark circle
beyond ember glow

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This unseasonably warm weather has been taunting me almost more than I can bear. All I think about is the quiet crackle of firewood, crackle of frying eggs, crackle of leaves being stepped on gently by forest friends. When can I go back?

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Home sweet Camp

rebirth

As he was packing up and moving out last year, my roommate walks up to me, holding the saddest potted plant you ever did see, and says, “Do you want this?”

I have not yet turned down a houseplant that has been offered to me, nor have I left an abandoned one an orphan.

My roommate had been gone for a large part of the year, giving him little chance to water a languishing peace lily. If I had known about it, I would have gladly taken over its care in his absence, but I didn’t get my hands on it until months later. By that point, the lily had survived a severe drought and, later, a flood. Do not expect everyone to know that a houseplant needs drainage holes at the bottom of its pot.

I am happy to say that after immediately repotting it and being a little more temperate with my watering practices, I succeeded in nursing the poor thing back to health. Within several weeks it was growing new leaves. And within six months it started to bloom. I told my roommate and he said, “It’s never done that before!” (Really? You don’t say!)

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Rebirth
I’d always particularly disliked peace lilies. I’m not a fan of really leafy plants, much more preferring plants with lots of blooms. I still don’t like peace lilies, but I’m thrilled every time mine develops a new leaf, and when I saw it unfurl its single pure white flower, I was surprised at how lovely I thought it was.

Let me be clear: I do not have a green thumb. I have killed more plants than I have brought back from the brink of death. For all my effort, that mint plant I wrote about months ago has returned to its anemic winter state, though I still can’t bring myself to throw it out. But I find it extremely cathartic to have plants around to care for, and I think that helps me prevail in keeping a few alive at a time.

It’s been about a year since I rescued the peace lily. The once-lovely bloom droops and has turned brown and yellow – a truly hideous remnant of its summer glory.

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A thriving plant with a healthy, dying flower
Like plants, people have parts of them that bloom brightly and shortly die away; but this doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem or a disease. It can be a sign of flourishing to leave a talent or trait behind that had once served you well, making room for a new and different beginning.

A dying lily blossom means the plant was healthy enough to bloom in the first place. May it rest in peace until next summer.

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Mesmerizing charm
The marine hypnotist sails
Jellyfish garden

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My fifth grade class took a trip to the New England Aquarium, a trip I would obsess over for years to come. The part I recall most vividly was a small display with tiny bioluminescent jellyfish, which to my mind looked like small light bulbs with a warm, glowing filament inside. When I finally made it back to that aquarium, about ten years later, the place was sad and rundown, and the display that was so indelible to me was long gone.

One year ago, I made my third voyage to an aquarium – this time to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. After viewing all the sea creatures on the upper and ground floors, my partner and I almost made the horrible mistake of leaving before we discovered the jellyfish room downstairs.

The whole aquarium is impressive, but the jellyfish displays were superb. Hushed awe prevailed in the darkened room as handfuls of enchanted humans gazed at these graceful, alien beings. So many shapes and colors and varieties, silent, fluorescent, and dangerous behind their glass walls.

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supermoon

The event of the supermoon this past month was, I must admit, underwhelming. This is not entirely surprising, considering that widespread popular news tends to blow actual events way out of proportion by highlighting facts whose sole purpose is to raise your expectations unreasonably. Biggest Moon In 68 Years! Never Again!!* (*until 2034.) However, it cannot be denied that the moon was very bright and rather big and reddish at moonrise for almost a week, and where I live was lucky enough to have clear skies at the time.

Something I miss most about living in a rural area is the nighttime sky. Now that I’m surrounded by urban centers, all but a handful of the most prominent stars are allowed through the heavy light pollution, so when I do make it up north, I try to spend some time stargazing.

In winter this is easy because the sky gets dark there by around 4pm. I remember lying on the crusty top layer of snow in my back yard as a kid, staring up at the night sky. I can still feel the sharp air circulating through my nose and mouth and lungs and the chill of the air on my eyeballs with every hard blink. The surrounding woods make a frame around the northern sky, and the Big Dipper spins brightly within that frame throughout the year. The Dipper and Orion were – and are – like old friends, so easily recognizable even to a child, and so very bright when given the chance.

One of the drives between my house and church growing up brought you along a small ridge with an incredible view of the White Mountains. On really clear days you could even make out Mount Washington (especially identifiable if it had just snowed). But my favorite time to drive past that vista was at night. Sometimes in the winter we’d be driving back late from a church event, silently riding together in the car, maybe with Christmas music playing on the radio. I would press my forehead against the cold window so that I could see the huge, black expanse above me, unobscured by trees or streetlights, and scattered with thousands of visible stars. I say thousands – but how could I know? I would like to say a million, but I have no idea what a million of something looks like, so I compare those vivid pinpricks with the half dozen I can normally make out where I live today.

This past summer some friends and I went camping in New Hampshire and spent a long time lying on the beach. The sky was pitch black but for the stars, and we were completely alone, dwarfed by the sheer number of galaxies above us and grains of sand below.

Without looking up the science of it all, I always feel like I can see more stars when it’s cold out. I vaguely remember reading that the northern hemisphere faces more stars, or at least more bright stars, in the winter than it does in the summer. And I imagine there’s less interference from hot, hazy air, too. (I really am being very lazy by not verifying this for you. But you can do a bad google search just as well as I can.)

On the evening of the supermoon, my partner and I walked down to the water, to the end of a pier. The moon was bright and clear (just like most of the adjectives in this post) and cast a long, wavy reflection in the water, like a path across the bay’s surface. We identified Venus and Saturn.

A couple days later we went back again. The moon was still bright but waning at the top, as though it were looking down. Maybe it was the right time of year, or maybe the light pollution was less than usual, or maybe it was just cold, but we could see about a hundred stars – entire constellations – more than I had seen in months. And although I will always want more stars in my sky, it was wonderful to greet once again the Hunter and the Great Bear.