Searching for nothing in particular

Bald Eagle on the nest.I met a hiker on the Appalachian Trail Sunday. Actually, he was on the AT. He had been on the trail since Binghamton, NY, heading for a family gathering in Tennessee. I was on a woods road that crossed it.

I did not keep him long; he wanted to make it to the next southbound shelter before turning in for the night. He seemed well equipped for the excursion, though I hope he made it before the snow set in. That was Sunday. This is Wednesday as I write these thoughts, and the white stuff has been falling here in the valley nearly three days. There is only 11 inches to be measured in my back yard, but I’d wager there is more to be measured where Genoa was walking.

Genoa and I met on Ridge Road, above Long Pine Reservoir, on what turned out for me to be a successful hunt for interesting stuff.

A short walk into the woods, far enough to leave sight of the road behind, a young pine had begun to grow straight up, decided to return to its birthplace on the ground, then decided that was a bad plan and bent its way toward the sky. The result was a 360-degree curl in an otherwise ruler-straight trunk. There probably is a logical explanation, but I prefer to think an elven child gave the trunk a twist just because it seemed a fun thing to do, perhaps knowing one day a human would happen by and wonder, “How did that happen?”

Also, I found two other pine trees warped like a set of railroad tracks wending around invisible hills, then hung vertically from hooks somewhere in the clouds. Long smooth curves with no obvious cause.

On a young oak sapling, its buds waiting their spring cue to celebratory explosion, several spherical objects the color and shape of ripened puffball mushrooms, hard shelled and hollow, caught my attention from their random attachments on the branches. They appear to be wasp galls — sometimes called “Oak apples” — the result of a certain breed of wasp planting it’s seed in an oak bud or branch. The planted egg becomes a larva that builds those nifty brown balls.

On the way home, as I looked across pastures and treetops for nothing in particular, there it was, a couple hundred yards away and more than 100 feet up in the crown. From the distance, it could have been a squirrel nest, except it was the only one in sight, and if there is one squirrel nest, there are at least a dozen more. I shot a few frames and zoomed in on the mages to reveal the sticks of a raptor’s nest. I could not tell in the camera’s viewer whether there was a bird, but when I got home and on the larger computer screen, there it was.

Probably it was a red-tailed hawk on the nest. It could have been an eagle; a creek ran nearby and Bald Eagles have been reported downstream. Or it could have been an osprey, of which sightings also have been reported, poking its head barely up from the rim of the nest. But I have seen a Red-tail or two hunting in the area, so I will go back and try to identify the nest owner, and maybe be lucky enough to get a look at the offspring.

Finally, a day in the woods, and a couple of discoveries I’d gone seeking without knowing what they would be. I’ll likely meet more AT hikers, and I’d love to get a peek at those bird progeny.

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