Friday, February 27, 2009

Rusting Relics of a Bygone Era

Whenever I can spare an hour or two from life's chores I steal away to explore the seldom traveled lanes and forgotten byways of upstate New York. As I drive at a leisurely pace past frozen fields of corn stubble and fine rural homesteads I scan the far corners for large half hidden immobile mounds.

I'm on the hunt for rusting relics of a bygone era. When I spot my prey my pulse quickens with excitement. I find a safe place to pull off the lane, grab my camera bag and I'm off to track my quarry. They are as large as buffalo but much slower moving. In fact, they never move at all anymore. But once a long time ago they flew down dirt county roads like terrestrial rocket ships.

Vintage tin that was put out to pasture decades ago litters the backwoods landscape of upstate New York. I am not totally sure where my fascination with these long slumbering fossils of the American auto culture comes from. But, it probably has something to do with growing up in America in the 1960's and 70's when car culture was king and the t.v. was filled with images people cruising in gleaming autos or trucks at work and play.

After securing permission to visit the resting piles of rusty tin and chrome from the property owner I gingerly make my way through the frozen snow. I walk slowly around each vehicle and admire the curves and faded paint from every angle. I study the play of light and shadow which forms a collage of color and texture on the cold metal surfaces.

I take a few photo's and move on to the next specimen a few yards away. I come to a cluster of several cars and spend a good long time in their company. Sometimes if I stand perfectly still in their herd I imagine I can hear them reminiscing amongst themselves about their heydays back in the day.

“Marge Simpson had nothing on my first owner's wife.” quips a faded black 1958 Plymouth. That gal had a beehive hairdo that was so high it rubbed a bald spot into the headliner over the front passenger seat! I sure miss those lazy summer days when they piled in with the kids and we all cooled off down by the lake!"

A massive 1957 powder blue Lincoln Continental who wasn't really listening responds, “When I drove the judge and his family to church on Sunday mornings everybody stopped to stare. They had to shade their eyes from my brilliant glare. I was that shiny.”

The rust encrusted 1948 Studebaker pick-up truck nearby chimes in, “Ah you were a bunch of primadona's! If my pals and I hadn't helped keep the Applegate farm going strong for 20 years you'll never could've lived in these parts anyways.”

Okay, I can't stand here daydreaming all day. I have to make hay while the light is good and than meander back home to download my images of these rare endangered creatures. Someday they will be no more. They will return to the earth from whence they came, rust to rust, ashtrays to ashes.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Following my winter tracks

Once one has embarked upon the journey of nature exploration and study, he or she is beginning a life long adventure of learning new things. Every time you visit wilderness you will be presented with new observations and fresh insights into how nature works.

This morning I went for a walk in the fields and woods that surround my house. I started westward into the very same snowy field that I walked over just a few days ago. Being disposed to economy of effort and maximizing comfort, I stepped gingerly into the footprints that I'd left in the snow on my hike from three days prior, thus avoiding the need to break through the scratchy frozen surface and submerge my feet under a foot of snow with each step.

When I'd made my way about a third of the way to the distant tree line which was my goal, I noticed something surprising. In the center of every single boot print from my earlier hike there was one very clear frozen deer hoof print! And, no other deer prints were to be seen near or around this single row of matched deer in man prints. It was very clear to me that the deer shared my preference of minimizing effort and maximizing comfort when presented with the necessity of crossing a frozen snow covered field.

As was my habit upon making the tree line I crossed to the other side of it and headed northward following a well worn deer trodden pathway. I had made my way about a quarter of a mile when I was presented with yet another novel observation. There in the snow on the deer track was a splash of blue, just a blue snow cone. There were no human track except my own behind me and no other animal tracks whatsoever, just numerous deer tracks and a sprinkle of frozen blue deer pee. Unless whatever caused this blue spot had dropped out of the sky there could be no other explanation. Later on that day I saw two other distinct blue snow cone markings on the deer tracks in the nearby woods. I also came upon a large bush covered with frozen dark blue berries. But not a single berry remained on the bush below 6 feet from the ground. Obviously the fruit within picking had been eagerly munched by the deer. Could this be the cause of the frozen blue snow cone markings?

From my youth I recall a line from a Frank Zappa said which said, "Don't eat the yellow snow, that's where the huskies go.". Now I need to add the following rephrase, "don't eat the blue snow here, that's from our friends the deer".

As I made my way past a frozen meadow and into another frozen field I heard the sharp, crisp tap, tap, tap of a wood pecker hammering on a dead tree trunk not too far off to the east. I left the field and moved into the woods and meandered in a generally eastern direction. I stopped in the middle of a frozen stream just at the elbow where the stream made a sharp turn in direction in order to follow a drop in elevation. I heard a strange gurgling echo which I first thought to be a flock of wild turkeys off somewhere in the field that I had recently left. But I soon realized the strange otherworldly sound was actually coming from under my feet and was the sound of the freezing stream water coursing along the shallow stream bed around the corner beneath me.

Eventually I decided to cross back over the stream and begin heading in the direction of home. But here the stream bed was steeper and so the water moved faster. This prevented the ice from completely freezing and in numerous spots the dancing, leaping stream waters could be seen darkly glistening in contrast to the dull white snow covered ice. I walked along the shore for a few yards looking for a safe place to cross and came upon another well worn, deer trampled highway in the woods which made it's way down the bank and onto the ice and right up the other side of the stream.

This was a spot the deer had determined to be hard and secure for crossing. As I followed the hoof print scarred deer bridge across the stream I noticed that just 6 feet to either side there were holes in the ice. As was there way the deer always found the place where the walking was easiest with the least effort or peril. This is something I've observed countless times before.

I had not walked another 30 yards when I noticed a sprinkling of light tan flecks on the snow at the base of a tree to the right side of the trail. I walked over and found it to be fresh wood chips scattered by the woodpecker that I heard not long ago on my hike. In the tree 12 feet above were 2 freshly drilled holes left by the feathered woodworker.

A few minutes later I emerged into the opposite end of the large field that I had begun my journey in a couple hours earlier. As I trudged through the snow following the hedgerow I noticed a single hole in the field about 10 feet away. There were no other holes or marks in the snow for yards in any direction. This meant it was not a footprint and could only have been excavated from below. Some small furry creature had obviously been burrowing along in a snowy tunnel and had made it's way to the surface to have a look around and decide in what direction to continue it's subterranean journey.

When I first gazed out my window this morning I saw mists rolling across the field. As I made my way about the frozen landscape they played hide and seek with me. As I looked back upon entering my own familiar backyard they seemed to becken me farewall, until next time...