What typical daylight activities have you tried after dark? Swimming? Running? Cross-country skiing? Eating breakfast? This week I took a night hike with a group at the Blue Horizon Preserve, a new Maine Coast Heritage Trust property off Indian Point Road on Mount Desert Island. The weather was too cold for any wood frogs to be singing, but under the illumination of a nearly full moon, our group enjoyed a one-mile round trip to the edge of Western Bay.
The buzz when I arrived was about a cattle egret. Various group members had seen one—hundreds of miles farther north than usual—the day before at the Babson Creek preserve a few miles away. Cattle egrets often hang around herds eating insects that would otherwise pester steers and cows. They're a cool-looking type of heron.
As we began our walk, we talked about vernal pools and woodcocks (didn't see one) and studied the remnants of a bigtooth aspen that pileated woodpeckers had been dismantling. Humans have evolved to be extra alert—if not outright terrified—when exploring in the dark, but with 19 people in the group, this was a wonderfully relaxed stroll, with participants ranging in age from roughly five to eighty-five.
After lingering on the shore of Western Bay, where we checked out the entrance to a fox den and watched stars come out, we headed back. We stopped to look at the moon through a spotting scope that made the crater-pocked surface especially dramatic. There was time to think about the vastness of the universe or the tininess of the spotted salamander eggs in a nearby water hole. Or just to let creative thoughts swirl through your head like a breeze through the trees. As Mad-Eye Moody growls in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, "Nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas."
Cars and Stars
Lots of people in Maine drive Subarus. They're good in the snow. Maybe we'll buy one ourselves someday when one of our clunkers (currently ages 15 and 11), gives out. As our group looked up at the stars during our walk, someone mentioned that the Subaru logo is based on the Pleiades star cluster, which is part of the constellation Taurus. I'd never heard that. I looked it up and found that Subaru is in fact the Japanese word for the Pleiades cluster. The logo has six stars, which represent the merging of five smaller companies to create a large one, Fuji Heavy Industries, which manufactures Subarus. Seemingly every major culture since the Greeks has attached symbolic meaning to the Pleiades cluster, because it's so prominent in the sky. Here's a look:
A hermit thrush has been singing to us lately. Have a look and a listen:
Answers to Last Puzzlers:
a) shark (khars)
b) jaguar (guraja)
c) mushroom (hommsour)
d) mosquito (oomuitsq)
e) wetland (lawnted)
1) Riddle: What comes once in a minute, twice in a moment but never in a thousand years?
2) Another riddle: What holds water yet is full of holes?
3) Below is a photo of a common tree that (at least when young) holds onto its dead leaves through the winter. We saw one in the dark, and its leaves almost glowed. Do you know what type of tree it is?
John Muir, the Scottish-born naturalist, would have turned 173 years old on Thursday. He didn't do much in his wilderness-loving life, other than inspire millions with his nature writings, save the Yosemite Valley and the great sequoias, earn the nickname "the Father of the National Parks" and co-found the Sierra Club. He summed up a lot in one of his most famous quotes: "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."
Glenn Seaborg, the Michigan-born nuclear chemist who won the 1951 Nobel Prize for discovering or co-discovering 10 elements, including seaborgium, would have been 99 on Tuesday. Seaborg was the first person to produce the elements plutonium, americium, curium, berkelium and californium—most of which no longer exist on Earth because they have vanished through radioactive decay—in a lab. Even though he made major contributions to developing the atomic bomb, launching nuclear power, furthering the cause of nuclear disarmament and advancing nuclear medicine, he is less well-known to today's general public than a run-of-the-mill jilted celebrity girlfriend.