I've come to a conclusion: the older you get, the cuter snow ain't.
A 2.5 hour drive home on Wednesday, complete with numerous near-injury (and possible near-death) experiences has biased this viewpoint, and perhaps rightfully so. But even taking that away, there has been little fun about the snow this year.
Until today. I took a walk on one of the well-traveled trails that I tend to hit from March through November with regularity. The trip wasn't terribly hard considering the snow I had to trudge through. The biggest threat was the falling ice that has clung to the trees for four days and was finally pried loose from an afternoon of sun.
That said, the trip was still tiring. Tiring as hell, really. I was panting fairly hard come the last stretch which I accurately predicted was going to be full of deep drops into slushy, cold, snow-covered water. I stopped for a while, hydrated myself for the last stretch, and looked behind me to see this formation of clouds.
Had I not been tired and in need of a break, I certainly would have missed this. We'll see if my pending sore legs tomorrow will be worth it.
We had three unexpected visitors this holiday season.
Coco, our resident goofball cat (even more than most) had spent a number of evenings in the kitchen staring at our range. To know Coco is to know that she will often do odd things, such as stare at an inanimate object for hours. So, we weren't terribly alarmed by this.
But eventually, we started to figure something tangible might be capturing her attention. I spied under the range to find evidence of critters. A few days later, I set a no-kill trap, and within hours we had our first mouse.
Upstairs into a spare terrarium tank he went.
The trap was reset, and within hours, we had a second captive.
For a brief moment, it became less cute when we caught a third.
The third capture appears to be the full collection of the population. For three nights, I set a camera to capture the rodents every ten or fifteen minutes. At some point they must have learned the noise of the powering flash and stared at the camera for straight-on profiles.
Today, a rather warm New Years day, I set the critters free in a wooded area. I've already had to stop myself from visiting them in the now-empty tank three times. While I'm sure they miss the morning presentation of peanut butter, hopefully they are doing well outdoors.
The first thing that happened yesterday was that I saw an otter. It sleeked down a fallen tree and dove into the water, swimming across Cub Run stream apparently oblivious of me (I gathered, as it didn't dive underwater and hide the way they normally do when I'm spotted).
I walked down close to the water to see if I could spy the cute, long swimmer. But after my bumbling down a steep hill, the otter was gone.
And I was left sinking in the mud, trying to figure out how to get back to the trail that was a steep five feet higher than my boots.
As I grasped my hand around a reasonably stable looking tree for support, I began to pull myself upwards when the ground moved. The ground does this a lot when I'm hiking, especially this time of year.
For this particular ground movement, the source was this little guy.
Much to his dismay and grumpy looking face, I couldn't resist picking him up.
I quickly put him down and was careful to not smoosh him as I pulled myself from the depths of the stream bank.
I found this guy while on a walk yesterday.
I routinely stumble across turtles. The interaction follows a predictable pattern: I take a few pictures, it looks at me. Then I can't resist picking it up. Most of the time, it peeks its head out at me, looking as interested in the big doofus that lifted it in the air as I am in it.
Sometimes, however, it will hiss, pull its head inside, and pull its shell shut. Lock the door, throw away the key, and wait for the doofus to leave it alone.
Like this one did.
It did give me a good opportunity to examine its beautiful shell.
Annoyed and photographed at a park near Skyline Drive last weekend.
In the last one, he tried taking shelter under the sleeve of my coat. That probably wouldn't have ended well for anybody.
Nicole's sharp eye saw this little one crossing a path before us.
For all my deep woods wanderings, I never spied a Walkingstick. It was out of its element by a few yards, stuck in the middle of a gravel path and at the mercy of my annoying hand and camera.
Back in the green and brown of the trees, it hung beautifully on a small growth from the ground, blending in to the point where I could barely see it despite never taking my eyes off its location.
After a long walk through the trees, I found this buddy crossing the sidewalk right in the middle of the community. I carried him to a safe garden, snapping a few shots in the process.
The one above is my favorite; I dig the little feet.
As it so happened, Nicole was wearing a bright green shirt she bought at the American Visionary Museum, hence the similar background.
All the critters poo on Nicole; must be nice to be loved so much.
I caught this couple in the act yesterday.
There are so many things to look at on these two that I could spend hours marveling over the complexity of their bodies. First, look at how fragile the leg joint / knee looks:
Going down the tibia, we can see the differences in spines between the two:
I found it interesting that this one is using the tarsus of its leg to balance on the stem:
Finally, I can make out 7 of the 8 segments of the male's abdomen:
Although less naughty for the camera, this guy has some great claws to show:
Look at these on the tip of the middle leg:
And then this spur that appears between the tibia and tarsus.
This neat site from the USDA helped me with a lot of the anatomy.
This guy looked down at me from a tree leaf.
Woohoo! Today is Rock Flipping Day.
A collection of shots from today's participants can be viewed on Wanderin' Weeta's Website.
My favorite rock flipping trail has been closed for most of this year because of a "gravity redistribution" project. The county has restructured the entire stream system for some undisclosed reason. The trail is still closed, but a major portion of where I normally steal away has been finalized and I made my first hike of the summer this morning along its new trial.
Last year, Rock Flipping Day gave me the opportunity to discover millipedes. Since then, I've set up two terrariums with millipedes as the primary tenants. They are remarkable to watch and have been thriving in the environment. I discovered a bunch yesterday when walking and a few more this morning.
I don't normally find these boxelder bugs under rocks, but I guess this one wanted published today.
This pillar seemed unhappy to be disturbed.
I found this scarab beetle grub last week, buried under a small tree branch.
And finally, one of many crickets.
I've seen more grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets this year than I have since I was a child. These have historically been my favorite insects, and it is great to look into a batch of weeds and see them hopping by the dozens.
I seem to be finding conflicting info as to the type of eggs they are, but Stink Bugs seem to be a common guess.
Stinky or not, they sure are pretty.
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