I know it’s getting to be old hat, but last Friday I was lost again at the Navarino Wildlife Area. I was following one of the two parallel trails leading south from Town Line Road. There are a few east – west trails connecting them, so Friday, I thought I’d take one I had never taken before.
The overgrown trail did lead to the parallel trail, which did, at first, look familiar. It took me south for quite a way longer than I had remembered, however. I had remembered the trail heading south a short distance and then turning east and running back to the other trail.
But soon three-foot tall ferns like those in the picture all but erased the trail. And then the trail turned west away from the parallel trail. And finally the trail was completely blocked by the crowns of two, large, fallen birches. As I blundered through them, I took some consolation in that one of the limbs had been severed with a saw. Once upon a time, a human being had been there.
But the cut was not fresh. And none of the limbs actually blocking the trail were cut to clear it. Why would someone drag a saw out in the middle of nowhere and cut a limb that wasn’t obstructing the trail? Past the birch, heading west away from the parallel trail, I had no idea where I was or where I’d end up.
While I was lost, I thought it would be fun to stop for a while to spend some time with a moth I’ve never seen before. He’s more of a nocturnal moth (I later learned), so I suppose his disheveled appearance was due to the fact that I woke him up after a night of flying at light bulbs and other forms of questionable behavior. It is the time of year when butterflies and moths are mating, after all. Hours later, in fact, on the way home, I saw a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly struggling to carry through the air what appeared to be a dead spangled fritillary. I have never seen anything like that before either, despite the fact that, if there had been a Butterfly and Moth merit badge, I would have earned it. When I was a kid, I raised caterpillars, read books about raising caterpillars, rinsed every mayonnaise jar available so I could raise caterpillars, and requested tuna fish sandwiches, so there would be more mayo jars available, so I could raise caterpillars.
Woolly bears. Gypsy moths. Monarchs.
So I followed the butterfly who was bearing the corpse of another into a shadowy ditch at the edge of the trail. After a gentle landing on a wide frond among a forest of ferns, suddenly, the wings of both butterflies opened and then closed.
There were both very much alive, clinging abdomen to abdomen. The only conclusion I could hazard was that they were engaged in a romantic moment.
I’m ashamed to say I took pictures. But this is a family show, so I’m not sharing them.
Back to my moment with the moth. The moth’s wings looked as fragile as tissue. Flighty and anxious as a bee, it took a while to get a picture. After a little research at home, I learned that this moth is a Crocus Geometer Moth. Just the kind of weird name that a moth would have who lived on a trail that was bending off somewhere unknown. Crocus Geometer caterpillars are one of the kinds of caterpillars who we call “inch worms.” Who, at certain picnics, I remember would fall from trees into the potato salad. Who we celebrated by singing the song “Yellow Worm, You Live in My Stomach Now.” The lyrics for which are the one thing you can’t find on the internet. But we sang it. In another world.
Suffering from directional vertigo, I did not notice that the trail bent south again, and it ended at a tire-rutted, muddy thoroughfare that did lead me to the parallel southbound trail at the end of which light glowed from the clearing for the railroad right-of-way I knew was there.
In the shadows along a pond in the nearby meadow, a young bullfrog patiently posed for a close-up. Further south off a trail so infested with ferns I have had trouble finding it twice now, I found a yellow salsify flower, a flower our historian daughter Katie has been trying to teach us about for years. Its small root is edible, apparently tasting like oysters, giving the plant its other name oyster root. According to Allrecipes, this nineteenth century favorite is a superfood and is making a Culinary Comeback and is “rich in fiber as well as nutrients like iron, vitamin C, thiamin, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous.” I only saw one, so the Culinary Comeback might be a long time coming up here.
Katie, however, grows salsify on the nineteenth century, history site farm for which she is the education and volunteer director. I let her know she’s on the cusp of a Culinary Comeback, a grand opportunity, I’m sure, to cash in on a newfound old thing long hidden from the glare of media hype.
Every week I seem to meet a lot of long-lost creatures and plants out at Navarino. It’s a great pleasure to be one of them from time to time. It’s another world. Like the world you wonder about when you see a field full of a thousand deer tracks in the snow, even though you haven’t seen a deer all day.