I was walking a trail in Rhode Island this week, parallel to an old stone wall.
What was that strange noise? Could it be an immature mockingbird?
No, there was something a little too loud, not sneaky enough in the sound.
Moving closer to the continuous call and peering through the leaves revealed two blue jays, spinning, landing and taking off around a fluffy baby jay that had fallen from its nest. The baby jay gave a funny, meowing, undulating, plaintive cry, and mom and dad encouraged him to take off.
Placing the small bundle of feathered fluff on the highest limb possible had the brilliant blue and white crested parents frantically, dipping and snapping their beaks at me. But as I was leaving, they calmed down and even surrounded me calling softly as if to say thank you.
What a great experience.
Walking on a cultivated path recently, the evening shadows stretched out as the daytime heat waned. Rounding a sharp bend, I was startled by a tennis-ball-sized bird bursting out of the grassy ditch, the roar of its short, stubby wings clearly heard.
Those little wings flapped for all they were worth, the lesser grouse seeming to float in slow motion. Three more miniature grouse suddenly burst out of the same general area, struggling to an elevation of five or six feet, then sliding, disappearing into the shady woods.
Another step and the mother springs from the grass, her mighty wings making the surprisingly explosive sounding grouse that is known for. I quickly hurried, eager to let the little family get back together.
The other day a good friend nearly stepped on a cute little late born fawn hiding in a little depression. The spotted fawn leapt to its feet just a step or two away, scaring him half dead, and rushed forward, zigzagging across the bottom of the stream, its little white tail raised in alarm.
As he watched it disappear from sight, he heard the mother sniffling, tapping her foot in an effort to divert her attention from her baby.
We are very lucky to live in a beautiful area, and summer is the perfect time to be in the field. This year’s young birds and animals are exploring their new world and the opportunities to observe them up close are excellent. Yes, it’s time for a hike.
The best part of the hike is how little planning it requires. Any wooded hill is home to a plethora of life, and a pair of hiking boots, a camera, and a pair of binoculars are enough for an enjoyable outing.
Open forest and an old road, skid trail, or stream are all you need to follow, and you literally never know what might appear at any moment if you’re careful and quiet.
I always wear a hat and boots, bring water and a snack, and wear natural colored clothes. Bug spray is always a good idea, and if you plan on hiking any distance off road or trail, I highly suggest a compass or GPS as well. When you leave the car, check your compass to make sure you know the correct direction to return.
A bird identification book also recommended a small notebook. The ability to identify and name the different types of birds you will see is important.
Record your activities, where you hiked, weather, animals and any impressions or feelings you have. It is fascinating to read these entries in the dead of winter, when the snow is blowing outside, and to hear the family relive that special day.
Listening to your children, what they remembered and thought was special may surprise you.
It is important to acclimatize to the forest, to slow down, to stop often, to look, to listen and to smell. Go deep within yourself and try to feel the area around you.
Each valley and hillside is unique in its own way. Radios, cell phones, iPods or any other “noise” of the civilized world should be left in the car or turned off.
Each forest area you visit will have its own particular spirit that the seeker can adapt to. I think it is important, even critical, that one does not go through life insensitive, without hearing and without seeing without attempting to commune with the wondrous environment around us, discovering its wonders and mysteries.
By sitting quietly, observing the world around us, and reaching out with all the senses, it is possible to discover a spiritually significant world that you never knew existed.
There is also a huge range of butterflies, beetles, dragonflies, moths and countless insects. Again, an identification book opens up another world of interest, even fascination.
Wildflowers are common and beautiful. Small puddles and ponds are often home to frogs and salamanders.
Depending on the time of year, you may also come across wild strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, tea berries and other wild fruits. You never really know what nature can reveal to fascinate and amaze you.
Nature is wonderfully peaceful, restorative and educational. Taking the time to learn about its creatures, hear its many voices, recognize its trees and wildlife is an endless and magical experience.
So make time for a hike – it will be worth it and give you a crucial time with your family.