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The Holiday Weekend

CRUD! Nothing like getting midway through typing a long post and then hitting some mysterious key and making it all disappear!


When you have a naturalist as a guest, you get to experience a lot of Nature. This pretty much sums up my weekend.

My old friend Smitty was visiting this weekend, over from London, stopping in Boston on her way to Washington DC, there for the express purpose of seeing/hearing the Great 17-Year Cicada Swarm for her birthday. This makes slightly more sense as a birthday-quest when you realize that Smitty is a naturalist and an entomologist. Her idea of a fulfilling work experience is collecting mosquitoe larvae in a place like Romania. I think her last contract job was with the Natural History Museum in London, pinning dung beetles to cards or something.

Instead of sitting around on our butts all weekend watching TV (which both of us are perfectly capable of doing), we decided to Get Out and Do Things, in honor of her actually being over here at a nice time of year. It was especially nice, since we had absolutely beautiful weather all weekend, sandwiched between a dreary preceding week, and what looks like it is shaping up to be a dreary following week.

So on Saturday, we went and rented a 2-person kayak, and took it out on the Charles River near where I live. We quite enjoyed it, even though, having sat in the back, I now know why kayaks have splash-skirts (ours did not). We paddled for about 4 miles, which made us impressed with ourselves, since it's not like we were in condition for it or anything, especially considering there was quite a stiff wind that we were battling off and on. The Nature portion of the outing consisted of spotting a Great Blue Heron, trying to get in for a closer look, and getting to see it mobbed by red-winged blackbirds, which species Smitty had never actually seen before. (We came close to getting mobbed ourselves when we rounded a headland and came within about 2 feet of one perched in the lower branches of a bush.)

Afterwards, we went back to my place, changed out of all our sopping-wet clothing, and then drove out to Walden Pond. We've been telling Smitty about Walden for years, but she always seemed to visit when it was winter and the weather was crappy, so we never made it out there with her. Despite the fact that the water was 61 degrees, the air temp a bit cooler, and it was quite windy, there were actually a lot of people sunbathing on the beaches and going into the water, which I thought was insane. Yes, it's a holiday weekend, and yes, the sun is out, but c'mon. Smitty was a bit surprised at the size of Walden, because "pond" was conjuring up an image of a much smaller body of water to her, and I explained that I think the pond designation has to do with the body of water having no inlet or outlet, and being spring-fed. Or something.

It's a nearly 2-mile hike around the edge of the pond, which was quite nice. Along the way, we stopped at a marshy meadow (Smitty is completely unable to pass these without checking for larvae, apparently), where we found no mosquitoe larvae (shucky-darn), but did find about a skillion tadpoles, which was neat, as I have never seen them in the wild. Also never seen in the wild before this trip: a full-grown garter snake basking on a log. Very cute. (And we kept a number of small boys from trying to catch it, which was our good deed for the day. Although I think that the snake was actually too alert to have been caught.)

The rest of our Nature Experience at Walden pretty much involved chipmunks -- for some reason, either because we weren't being very loud and would stand still once in a while, or else because Smitty has a heretofore unknown talent as a Chipmunk Whisperer, we actually got to see quite a few of them from up close, as they'd be sitting by the path eating something and they'd keep sitting there for a bit when we would stop. We also spotted a mole darting across the path and trying quickly to burrow into the other side, which is pretty unusual, as you don't see moles above-ground very much, particularly during the day.

On Sunday, in an effort to show Smitty the Atlantic ocean from this side, we drove up to Gloucester. There's a nice little park there at the end of the harbor with big jumbled granite boulders to clamber all over, and we ended up getting up close and personal with some tidal pools. I again came to admire Smitty's observational skills, because I wouldn't on my own have noticed half the stuff we eventually found.

At first glance the pool had a lot of snails, seaweed, and barnacles. After a lot of staring, we eventually realized that the barnacles were moving. Well, not moving, as such -- but sticking out their little fan-shaped legs to grab at particles, which is chiefly what barnacles do, but neither of us had ever actually managed to *see* them doing this in the wild, so it was very exciting, and extremely cute. We then found a number of very tiny crabs, of about three species, ranging from an inch across to no bigger than my littlest fingernail. Adorable. Managed to pick up a little green one, who wasn't amused.

I also spotted one shell moving along at a clip much too fast for a snail, and that turned out to be the smallest hermit crab we had ever seen, let alone seen in the wild. It crawled around in a tickly way on our palms for a bit. Precious. Even the miniscule sea anenomes that Smitty eventually spotted were fairly adorable, as they tried in their minute and futile but plucky way to sting us when we poked at them (it was about as noticeable as tiny, gentle pinpricks). Everything was JUST TOO CUTE.

And then Smitty discovered that a Palm Pilot doesn't like being dumped into a tidal pool. Well, she really was meaning to take advantage of the exchange rate to buy a new one anyway.

Then we found a restaurant in Gloucester and stuffed ourselves on good seafood.

On Monday, we went down to take advantage of the MFA's free day, where we got to see some of the women from my hula halau in a Tahitian dance performance (connected with the MFA's special exhibit of the moment, Gaugin's Tahiti). Then we went to the free showing of "Whale Rider", which neither of us had managed to see before -- and it is as excellent a movie as everybody says it is, and if you haven't seen it, you should. All of the free passes for the Gaugins exhibit were gone, though, so we just wandered around the museum for a bit.

Have just seen Smitty off on the T, to go get a train to D.C., there to frolic amongst the cicadas.

And, while I admit that I'm curious enough that I would like to see/hear them for about 10 minutes, I still say you couldn't get me down there for any length of time, unless a big pile of money was involved.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 1st, 2004 09:48 am (UTC)
See, now mosquito larvae just make me twitch, overturn whatever vessel they are in if possible, and run away, because mosquito larvae say to me "Soon there will be mosquitoes."

And I. hate. mosquitoes.
Jun. 1st, 2004 10:48 am (UTC)
Oh, how nice! Thank your for sharing your little outing. I miss the east coast, and it was so nice to see into a tide pool again. Barnacles are definitely cute. (Probably because I've never had to scrape them from the bottom of a boat).

So, what did you have for dinner? Come on, I want to live vicariously through you.
Jun. 1st, 2004 05:41 pm (UTC)
We decided to go for the participatory, food-as-entertainment, no-distractions meal: some New England clam chowder (apparently it's very rare in Britain, who knew?), steamed clams and mussels, and cold steamed lobster claws and knuckles (the breaking open of which was the entertainment portion of the meal). Seafood, seafood, and nothing but. Except beer. (Or in Smitty's case, hard cider.)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )