checking in on my patch

mountainlaurelglow caterpillars moth babyazaleasThe mountain laurel is in full bloom, floating between the pitch pines like tethered clouds catching the sunlight. And if the moths that bob up as I pass aren’t enough evidence, these newly hatched caterpillars devouring a greenbriar leaf prove summer’s arrived with her full appetite. The blueberry clusters weigh heavy on the bushes, and they’re starting to blue up in the most tempting way. And best of all, these swamp azalea buds will open in a matter of days, when I’ll return and cram my nose right into their velvety petals.

Oh summer. Mosquitoes and ticks be damned, you have my heart like no other season.

how-to: believe in spring

iceplates lastyearsleaves moss skunkcabbage wintergreenThe first warm day in March go out into the dry woods. Do not step on the failing ice still floating on the pond. Do not linger too long over the fur-and-feather-and-bone evidences of someone’s meals. Do not listen for what hasn’t yet returned.

Go down through the tangled briars, down to the soggy bottom where the creek carves a narrow way between its banks. Go down on your hands and knees. Don’t mind that your jeans soak up the liquid dampness of the thawing soil, don’t mind that the rotting logs shatter under your weight. Go ahead and stick your nose right into the hesitating green scent of the sun-drenched mosses.

Search out the skunk cabbage spathes, the bold, advance scouts of the green kingdom. Let your eyes map their silhouette, count them by the dozens. Admire those aubergine rockets burning through the forest litter, those first homely, smelly harbingers of spring.


StreamYour paradigm of a duck, if you happen to have one, is likely a large, green-headed, yellow-billed, quacking Mallard drake, according to a statistic I just made up.

But we are, in fact, a continent rich in ducks. There are large ducks and pocket-sized ducks; colorful ducks and camouflaged ducks and midnight black ducks; puddle ducks and bay ducks and ocean-going ducks; arctic ducks and tropical ducks; quacking ducks and peeping ducks and whistling ducks; and… well, very many ducks.

Only a few duck species breed on Long Island, so a lot of the year is a little shy on them. But when the water gets cold, the ducks fly south and take up residence on every body of water on the island, salt and fresh, flowing and still. They are one of my very favorite parts of winter, though it takes a lot of mental fortitude to enjoy them. If you want to be cold, loving ducks is a good way to go about it.

ruddyducksleepducksplashringneckedduckfrom the top: sleeping Ruddy Duck (a small-but-fierce duck); a mixed flock of Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, and Ring-Necked Ducks; and a Ring-Necked Duck in flight.