5:15 is when the day begins now. The first bird song has been the Eastern phoebe; it’s now being joined by a robin. That’s the early bird who gets the worm- phoebes prefer airborne foodstuff. The morning chorus is being overlaid this dawn with a soundtrack of pattering rain and car tires hissing on wet highway. The coffee is hot. Good morning.
I have a pleasing note of eco-news today. Environmental stories in general have not been a big source of joy lately so I’m happy to pass along this personal observation. There is still a wildness in the world.
Petersham is a lovely New England small town- there’s a country store (with great sandwiches), a post office, a Commons with a pond, meadow, and a bandstand; tall-steepled churches on Main Street ring the hours. It is at the eastern edge of the Quabbin Reservoir, the largest source of fresh water in Massachusetts and the source of what Bostonians can enjoy straight from the tap. The considerable watershed is well-protected and heavily forested, and there are a great deal of fine forests, rivers, lakes and reserves throughout the region. I’ve been tremendously impressed with the farsightedness of public and private conservation organizations which preserve this land and make it so easily accessible to hikers, campers, paddlers, and anyone else who wants to get out of their cars for some low-impact land-use. There are trailheads leading off from roads and highways everywhere. I keep my hiking boots handy.
There’s a nature preserve not five minutes from here, and once you hit the trail, you’re in another world. Cross a little bridge over a wild stream, stroll past the great meadow and the beaver pond, and the trees begin to grow bigger and older and less tame. Moss creeps up and over everything: fallen logs and boulders big as motor homes are softened by deep-pile green carpet. Fiddle-heads (fern sprouts) are rising from the leaf-litter like cobras, dead snags are contorted and patinaed by age, and in the gloomy hush you find yourself looking over your shoulder for bears or leprechauns. There’s enchantment in these woods.
The Northern goshawk is a symbol of wildness and ferocity; Attila the Hun wore the image of a goshawk on his helmet. I’ve been lucky enough to see one maybe three times in my life. And big mustelids are equally fierce and wild. Both species need good habitat, large areas of mature forest and good prey availability.
The mossy glade I chose to draw in last week turned out to be a fine place for goshawks. An adult bird perched in a white pine at the edge of the opening made the forest ring with loud hacking cries. I was properly awed. The glade was also a fine place for other wildlife, as I discovered.
If you sit very quietly sketching or painting, you’d be surprised what doesn’t see you first. A scrabbling sound caused me to look up to see a large, furry black mammal climbing a snag 60 feet away. It had long bushy tail, a wedge-shaped head, large paws and a golden wash across the shoulders. It was on the far side of the trunk and had it’s paws wrapped more than halfway around it (I went back and measured that trunk: it was a good 16″ thick). I reached for my camera when it saw me, wherupon it slid backwards and dropped to the ground, hitting the moss with a muffled thud. It ran like hell and was gone like a ghost. I’d just seen my first Fisher.
How rare are these two creatures of the northern woods? They are not common. Fishers are declining in the Southern and Pacific regions of the United States, mostly due to logging and other habitat loss, but here in the Northeast, they are increasing, as are goshawks. The Northeastern forest is renewing itself; and as forest habitat recovers, so do the goshawk and the fisher. I hope to see them again- yet another incentive for me to go sit quietly in the woods with a sketchbook and a paint kit. Good morning, indeed.