On Earth Day weekend, our church’s Eco Team held its sixth nature walk since the fall of 2021, this one led by Maine Master Naturalist Susan Hayward and her husband Tom, a renowned Maine birder. Members of the Eco Team and congregation joined Susan and Tom on a walk through the church portion of Robinson Woods, exploring the early signs of spring, both on the ground and in the canopy above.
Susan and Tom, with binoculars around their necks, were constantly in search of what new growth was popping through the ground covering of fall leaves, what new buds were emerging on the branches of trees, what birds could be seen or heard, and what marvels to expect in the diverse forest in the weeks ahead.
Findings included false lily-of-the valley, star flowers, hobblebush, interrupted or cinnamon fern fronds, a mourning cloak butterfly, a pair of broad-wing hawks — all while listening to the sounds of titmice, chickadees, herring gulls and flickers.
At one point, Susan gave a lesson on determining the age of a young tree. She gently began counting the separated “whorls” of a five-foot white pine from bottom to top and estimated the tree was 31 years old, standing in the shadow of a mature white pine.
Farther down the trail, Susan and Tom scurried into a grove of trees to marvel at a spread of false lily-of-the-valley, which Susan called the “grass of the forest”. She said in a week or so it would be blooming and pleasantly fragrant and invited the group to return and lie down on the flowers (you can’t hurt them, she said), close your eyes, and take in all you can smell, hear and feel.
The group stood still for a while to listen and watch a pair of broad-winged hawks chasing each other, weaving between the tree tops (making it tough to focus for a picture!)
At the end of the walk, Susan pulled out a capped, thumb-sized canister and explained it was her “magic box”. In it, she said, were the four most important things on earth. As she opened the canister, she said two of the four were already gone before she poured out a trickle of water and scraped a finger tip of wet soil. The magic box elements were air, light, water and soil, of which she asked the group to think about whether each was alive and necessary to the health of the forest.
At the end of the walk, Susan asked the group to quietly think about what were the most mind-opening things they had seen over the hour. There was much to ponder!
Thank you to Susan and Tom for a delightful early spring experience in Robinson Woods!