Nature Connection: In A Flash

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond photo

It happens often, especially if you’re looking for it, a flash of movement or color. Perhaps you catch it in your peripheral vision or the blink of an eye. Nature can be tricky like that, a hint here, a clue there.

When I walk to my car in the morning I often see a flash of gray and white as the resident mockingbird lets me know the overgrown, multiflora infested forsythia is his, not mine. Many birds and animals can display a patch of white in a sudden, disruptive manner. This can serve as a warning or a distraction, sometimes both. Rabbits and deer flash the white undersides of their tails when running from danger. For those of us out on a casual stroll, that glimpse of white may be all we see of the tail’s owner.

As a grandmother of two teens who were infants just a few moments ago, I can attest that much of life can seem to pass in a flash as well. This simple thought reminds me to stop and savor each day, regardless of weather or news events.

Recently I was on a walk through the woods with a group of folks who were talking about the history of the place we were exploring. It had once been a thriving cranberry bog bordered on one side by a dairy farm. The bog was left to return to nature after a fungal disease caused a collapse in the cranberry market in the '30s. The farm’s pastures were now forest.

As we continued along the soggy, muddy path we found the first skunk cabbage of the season sprouting along the sides of the boggy wetlands we were passing through. A red squirrel scolded us, and a great blue heron flew over our heads. Other than the occasional, intermittent rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker, the woods were quiet, shrouded in mist and gray.

As others walked farther and farther ahead I stopped to examine a dead vole. It was unmarked, at least on the outside. Had it been caught and dropped; its killer spooked so suddenly it left its treasure behind? I found fox scat and an old catbird nest, and a patch of teaberries with their fat red berries intact.

Lots of holly trees were growing in the woods, no doubt planted by birds as they took their fill of berries from larger, older hollies. None of the trees I saw had many berries, which is not surprising. The area we were in has hosted up to 20,000 robins roosting in some winters, a phenomenon noted and filmed by many birders. Woods like this one full of holly trees, green briar, cedar and privet are a magnet for fruit-eating birds in winter.

As I fell even farther behind I came across one of the largest samples of coyote scat I’d ever seen. Full of fur and bones, the coyote had apparently enjoyed a very good meal. There’s nothing like wild animal scat to remind us how quickly life can change.

When I caught up with the group they were taking in a view of the marsh. On this gloomy, gray day the colors of the marsh were neutral, understated, but still beautiful.

On our return walk, we gave the skunk cabbage another look, and examined a patch of Indian pipes, now brown and black, looking as ghost-like as their other name, ghost flowers.

At one point we came upon a scattering of feathers. While others walked on, I stopped to look more closely. It had been a robin. Its red breast feathers were still floating through the air and one part of a wing remained on the ground, surrounded by other feathers from wing, back and tail. I picked up a few feathers and looked up into the trees around me. The robin had probably been minding its own business, taking its fill of berries or at least hoping to, when, bam, it was nailed by a hawk. Its life was gone in a flash.

From the looks of things remaining, the hawk had enjoyed part of its feast on the ground. It probably heard us coming and carried the rest of its breakfast into a tree out of sight.

I walked the rest of the way thinking how so much happens and changes in a flash. One minute the robin was alive, the next, not. In the time it took us to walk a trail, a life was changed forever. All it took was a flash of energy and power, and boom.

I came out of the woods realizing we all need to remember how quickly things can change. We need to be awake and aware at all times, lest the hawk sneaks in for the kill. And, it’s good to remember, not all predators wear fur or feathers.