Spring break brought me back home, and back to my lovely hemlock stand by the river. In the beginning of the week I took a walk down the river to scope out the site, and made many observations, which will be included in the following. I planned on a second visit to take pictures, but a nasty case of the flu knocked me out and I didn’t make it back down. So apologies for the lack of pictures, hope you enjoy!
Much has changed since my last visit! Last time I was here, late fall, there had not been a snowfall and many things were still green. Now, after a fresh foot of spring snow, everything looks different. Where a green carpet of princess pine had been, now a white carpet covers everything. I imagine the princess pines are still green under all that snow, their waxy coating keeping evergreen leaves protected. I read that princess pine also has a special anti-freeze chemical that helps the plant survive freezing conditions, it’s definitely coming in hand now!
Looking up, the towering hemlocks dwarf the tiny forest of princess pines below. Little has changed at first glance, but a closer look reveals some visitors other than myself! The squirrels and chipmunks made the first appearance, jumping from branch to branch and scurrying around. The squirrels have been around all winter, but the chipmunks are just emerging from their winter tunnels. Then I became aware of a noise at my ears. Birds! How I missed hearing the many songs and calls, finally spring has sprung and the chorus of voices have returned to the woods! During my last visit in the fall, some birds were here, but over the long winter the woods very quiet as many species had migrated south. Now I see new species, many returning from long migrations to warmer climates. In the thick hemlock canopy, it was difficult to make out the birds, and I wasn’t able to identify many by site or call. One call I found familiar was the peter-peter-peter of the tufted titmouse. I heard the titmouse’s tittering call and looked for the dark little bird above. I have included an audio clip of the song and a picture below, please check it out! The titmouse was the only bird I was able to identify while in the hemlock forest, however, I saw robins looking for berries near the sumac on my walk out to my spot. I also caught sight of two cardinals perched in a rhododendron bush in my yard, both were flashy red males. I looked for their mates but didn’t see the more subdued tones of the females.
The river made sure its presence was known during my visit, calling attention to itself with a constant dull roar that could be heard from a surprising distance. The waters were moving fast with snow melt, and had risen quite a bit since the fall. Evidence of past freezes was still present, where ice had formed in quiet coves or had been push and pilled up on the bank in places. The water was flowing much too fast now for ice to form, but perhaps in a few days if the water level drops and so do temperatures, the river could freeze again. Even though it has been five years since hurricane Irene, every time I look at the river I think back to the storm. The path of the storm is still clearly shown on the banks where massive erosion has dug back the land, and trees and debris are still piled, laying tangled far up above the current water level. It amazes me how the ecosystem was able to recover from such a huge disturbance so quickly. Though the path of the river is changed, and therefore some of its processes as well, I’m sure that the organisms that call the river and its banks home have found a way to continue on.
After a quiet moment of reflection standing on the banks, I turned back and returned up the path that had brought me to my place. With lingering eyes and a final deep breath of the thick hemlock scented air, I bid this place a mental farewell. “Until next time,” I thought, feeling thankful to have such a marvelous place so close to my house.