From the archives: Some things never change! I was reading this the other day and realized things haven’t changed too much. Hope you enjoy this fun piece!
Being an “older” ecologist has its advantages. Years and of experience in the wilds have taught me that every day in the natural world is a new adventure. I know that there are nearly as many mysteries in my backyard as there are thousands of miles away in some exotic environment. I am satisfied to experience mysteries solved long ago in my mind, over and over again. Each time I am surprised, not necessarily from the outcome, but by what I notice now that I did not notice before. Or what I have forgotten that I already discovered.
Recently I have begun to understand that there are even more benefits for the mature naturalist than I realized. About three weeks ago I found the time to take a little jaunt in the woods. Nothing spectacular, mind you, perhaps just a few hours in the field to get a few ideas about what might be happening in the wilds this spring. I left my house and started walking on a path that leads me in a southerly direction. I thought I might stay on this path for a bit, veer to the east and head towards some ledges that were south facing in hopes of seeing some bobcat sign. I wandered up the path for about 15 minutes when I realized that I had forgotten my binoculars. No big deal, I walked back to the house to get them since I was not that far away. When I got to the house the phone was ringing and I answered it. An old friend wanted to chit chat for a little bit, and I wasn’t in a particular hurry, so we started talking about our adult children and 45 minutes later we ended the conversation over agreement that politicians were responsible for everything since the fall of Rome. I looked at the clock, realized I should probably eat a snack, and cooked a hard boiled egg. Then I remembered that I hadn’t taken my vitamins, so I took those. Actually I was surprised that I remembered my vitamins and supplements given one of my supplements was Ginkgo biloba, which is supposed to help my memory. You get the drift, one of those Catch 22 situations.
By the time my snack was finished I realized I really had gotten off track and headed back out the door to the trail that led south. I had traveled about ten minutes at a pretty good clip and I remembered the reason that I went back to the house was that I forgot my binoculars. Noticing they still weren’t hanging around my neck, I turned around to go back to the house to retrieve them. They were essential if I was going to the ledges.
This time when I got back to the house I put the binoculars strap around my neck immediately. The phone was ringing again but this time I decided to let the answering machine pick up the message. The phone stopped ringing and I heard a familiar voice on the answering machine-my wife. Okay, Okay, I had to give her the courtesy of seeing what she needed or wanted. Who knows it might be something important. She wanted to know if I had remembered to feed the dogs. Uh, yes, I fibbed, I was just getting to that. I felt bad that I had forgotten to feed the dogs and decided to give them an extra treat by frying up some eggs to add to their kibble. As I was adding oil to the frying pan the binoculars were swinging around on my neck. It seemed pretty dangerous cooking eggs with binoculars flying all over the place, so I took them off and put them on the kitchen table. I know what you’re thinking! He’s going to forget those darned things again. Don’t be silly.
After adding the cooked eggs to the kibble I watched the dogs gulp the food down. Why you’d think it had been twelve hours since they last ate. I looked at the clock and it actually had been about 15 hours since they last ate. Okay, Okay, they’ll live. Now what was I doing?
I remembered the walk to the ledges and started out the door. This time I only went about a minute before I remembered the binoculars and turned to get them off the kitchen table. The dogs were at the door howling like I had been gone for a week. I knew the rascals were trying to make me feel guilty for going without them but how was I going to see a bobcat with dogs running around the woods out in front of me. The dogs continued to howl and I realized that I should take them for a short walk.
The two 130 pound bloodhounds pulled me up the hill about a mile to a place where we often turn around. I gave them a tug to let them know that it was time to head back. The look they gave me upon my signal made me feel like I had just insulted their mother. My goodness, these guys are so demanding. Despite my insults we headed home. The hounds pulled me down the hill and stopped here and there, along the way, to investigate scents left behind the previous night. When we got home I put them in the house. I was ready to head back out to the trail. I glanced at the clock and it was noon. Time for lunch I thought, no sense in voyaging on an empty stomach.
As I fixed lunch I noticed the binoculars on the kitchen table. I quickly put the straps over my head so that I would not forget them when I hit the trail after my noon meal. Opening the refrigerator the binoculars flew forward, bounced off the metal door and hit me in the face. Man, that really hurt. I thought, this is stupid, took them off and went about preparing my lunch. I decided to eat quickly so I could salvage the day. That led to a little heart burn so I found it necessary to take an antacid. I thought about how I just hate those chalky things, chewed one up, and chased it with a glass of water. While drinking the water I remembered that I had not refilled the dog’s water bowl so I went about doing that. Those stainless steel pans that we put the water in are slippery; very slippery. So slippery, in fact, that after I had put a half a gallon of cold tap water in the stainless steel water dish it fell right out of my had splashing water all over the kitchen floor. Geez, that wasn’t too swift. Still in a hurry I took out a mop, and started mopping up the mess. The mop chased the water around the floor spreading more than it absorbed. Thank god for the concept of evaporation. That didn’t take too long. I looked at the clock and now it was one thirty!
Okay, okay, relax Bill, I thought out loud, I can still salvage the day. Put the mop away, put on those darned binoculars, and get out into the woods.
Finally, I am on the trail again. It is so peaceful and so beautiful. A nice early spring afternoon in the forest, what could be better? Birds sang above my head high in the hemlocks, I didn’t recognize the call and looked up with the binoculars to see if I could identify the bird. One glance into the specs showed a great big spider web. Not the kind of web created by an arachnid, but the kind created when you slam the glass of your binoculars into a refrigerator and the lens cracks! Egads, what next!
I walked slowly back to the house, where I had a spare pair of binoculars hanging in the mud room. It felt like I had walked about five miles and had gone nowhere. It could be worse, I thought, I could be back at the house mopping up spilled dog water.
After about fifteen more minutes of climbing the forested hill I tripped over the branch of an old log lying on the forest floor. I fell flat on my face. I rolled over and tried to unhook my boot lace from the branch on the over-turned log. Naturally, it wouldn’t come off easily. As I reached out to I noticed hundreds of little creatures scurrying about where the log had been prior to being turned over. Now this was something worth investigating, I thought, and went about cataloging the many different life forms found beneath the decaying log.
I told you there were advantages to being an aging ecologist! Wait, I can hear hounds baying in the distance!