I needed a little exercise and couldn’t bring myself to walk the sunny trails of our neighborhood – it’s just too hot outside. Nor could I bear to sweat in place for an hour in the black and grey, aggressively air conditioned neighborhood gym.
The answer presented itself in the Ellett Valley Recreational Area. A shady, one mile loop trail only 10 minutes away from home? Yes, please!
I figured I’d have time to do two laps. Obviously I had momentarily forgotten that my hiking speed is permanently set to 30 seconds (maximum) of fast walking followed by complete stop for a minute (minimum) to take a picture/study a plant/listen to birds/try to find the animal that just scurried through my peripheral vision.
An hour later I had made one lap of the loop trail (plus two tenths for round-trip leg to the parking lot, of course, give me some credit). Along the way, I stopped for . . .
I should have known when I wrote that snarky comment about spider web ninjas in my Weavers’ World post that it would come back to bite me in the butt. Or, rather, to smack me in the face, as the many, many spiderwebs across this trail did.
Even my slow pace wasn’t enough to keep me looking ahead properly to avoid running into and destroying webs. However, I did make two interesting observations:
- Almost all of the webs across this trail were inhabited by young micrathena spiders. Perhaps the young haven’t yet learned that when you build your web across the trail, big, clumsy humans will just wreck it over and over again. Live and learn, little spiders.
- Though I must have walked through at least a dozen webs, and micrathenas tend to sit in the middle of their webs (and once I walked through and could see that the micrathena was trapped on my face by her web) the little spiders fled each and every time and I didn’t get bitten once. To a spider the size of half your pinkie nail, you are basically a moving tree. No point in biting a tree – it’s not a threat, it’s a force of nature.
One of the things that really impressed me was that this is more than a trail – the interpretive signs alone make it a true learning experience. The signs are really well done, too; easy enough for a grade-schooler to read, but with information interesting to all ages and graphics that make it easy to understand.
Virginia Creeper’s Red Leaves
Fall really is on its way.
One of the first plants to turn is Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), which goes from green to stunning scarlet seemingly in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, as you look up in the woods, you see trees festooned with red streamers that put party decorations to shame. That’s Virginia creeper.
Look before you touch, though; poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also turns red, so remember “leaves of three, let it be”. Virginia creeper’s leaves are in groups of five. (It also has blue/black berries where poison ivy’s tiny berries are white.
Holy Mackerel, a Salamander!
My daughter is the Queen of Salamanders. She can find them anywhere. I’m merely the fool in her court . . . but even a fool can get lucky! An ephemeral mountain stream crosses the trail and it was mostly dry when I visited – down to wet soil without any mud puddles even. There was one rock that looked easy to turn over, and it was just barely off the trail, and salamanders need somewhere cool and wet to hide (they breathe through their wet skin), so I decided to give it a shot. Success!!
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a bright yellow northern two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata) curled up under that rock! He held very still, which could have been a technique to avoid the giant predator who just lifted his precious rock, or it could have been because they’re only active on nights and wet days. I held the rock up just long enough to get a picture of my little citrine treasure and then put it ever so gingerly back down. Good luck till it rains again, little guy.
A hole in a tree is habitat for some little body, guaranteed.
Some holes are relatively dry, made high on the trunk by woodpeckers drilling through bark to get at bugs.
Others are low, a rotted out spot where a diseased branch or trunk used to be. Either way, check them out and you’ll be happily surprised at all of the life inside.
There are a thousand treasures, small and large, to be found on any trail. That’s why it takes me so long to walk them – it’s hard to be a treasure hunter disguised as an exerciser. (Exercist?)