Sunday, May 29, 2011

The magic of Cranberry

Dawn on this early May morning was chilly. Frost warnings had been issued the night before, and at breakfast we heard about how snow had accumulated overnight in the higher elevations of the West Virginia mountains. Bundled in as many layers as I had packed, I still found myself shivering under the cover of the pavilion where we all gathered to share a hot meal, coffee, and a mutual lack of sleep. Soon we would load up our buses for another day of magnificent birding.

This was the day of the festival that I looked forward to the most. An entire day spent in one location: Cranberry Glades (or just "Cranberry," for short). At an elevation of 3400 feet in the Monongahela National Forest, Cranberry Glades is a cluster of bogs with habitat and boreal conditions akin to what you might find in more northern climes such as New England or Canada. As we drove into the visitor's center, we saw on the ground some of the snow that we had heard about at breakfast. Snow-capped trees were also visible on the mountain tops that formed a ring around us in the bog.

There is a quarter-mile boardwalk that allows for safe passage over the delicate ecosystem of the bog. It took our group 3 hours to cover this short distance. In that time we thoroughly examined every aspect of the bog that caught our attention, and probably could have stayed for many more hours without having even scratched the surface of the abundance of life that could be found there.

Ravens called and played overhead. We were accompanied by the persistent and plaintive YANK YANK YANK calling of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Warblers were abundant, to the point where we were saying, "Oh, it's just another Blackburnian [Warbler]." Rare and intriguing flora surrounded us on all sides. We were in a biologically lush paradise.

Bog Rosemary

Green Hellebore

Bartram's Serviceberry

Lichen dotted tree branches at every turn.

The birds were relatively close, and mostly easy to spot. Swamp Sparrows popped up and sang on the first stretch of the trail. A sassy male Golden-crowned Kinglet flashed his firey head crest at us, incensed that we were intruding on his territory. And those darn Blackburnians were everywhere. I didn't bother keeping a list of the birds that day, though. There were too many strange things underfoot that I had to keep track of, things I'd never seen before.

Corallorhiza trifida - A coralroot orchid, commonly known as Early Coralroot or Yellow Coralroot.

These ferns may look like they are headed for the grave, but they are just emerging.

Others are more obvious in their emergence, looking as if they are dancing or preparing for an embrace.

After lunch, we continued exploring the area, taking part in some roadside birding and botanizing. The pace of the entire day was relaxed and peaceful, but each new plant or bird that we found left me feeling more alive and exhilarated. This, after all, is where the Black-throated Blue Warbler showed himself to us, and made me stop short. There was no denying that this place was magical.

Swamp Saxifrage, with the glittering diamonds of a running creek in the background.

Dwarf Ginseng

I'm guessing that most natural places would reveal themselves to be magical, if we were able to spend enough time getting to know them. It is wonderful to be allowed to take your time with a place, with a plant, with a bird. To move slowly through it, absorbing things at the pace your consciousness deems appropriate - for the consciousness knows that these things are meant to be savored. Walk for a while, and then be still. Walk again, be still again. Internalize all these wondrous items of unique beauty that abound - items to which we have given names, and items which we try to describe in superlative terms, but which, honestly, are beyond any description that we can dream up. Slow your breathing to the rhythm of the breeze, let your eyes glaze over, and begin to blend in and become a part of something beyond yourself.

I know a place has left its mark on me when I find myself not wanting to leave, and after I have left, I continue to think about when I might revisit it. Cranberry, we shall meet again.


John said...

As pictures go, it is spectacular how you drew attention to the texture of the hellebore. I just found your blog and will have to keep visiting!

Caroline said...

Gorgeous photos! I love the "shrouded" fiddleheads and I am always trying to get "that kind" of hellebore shot...just perfect!

dAwN said...

Beautiful post and photos..I too want to return to the Glades...

Meg said...

I think this is my favorite ever post of yours.

Judy said...

So many great macros! I still think my favourite is the bog rosemary, though!!

H S Consultants said...

This is not the first of your posts I've read, and you never cease to amaze me. Thank you, and I look forward to reading more.


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