Friday, February 27, 2015

Seed Pods in the Snow

Wild Asparagus along Munger Trail

These days, my English 12 students are writing papers on Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. They're searching back through the text and through their shared reading journals to find the evidence they need to support their thesis statements. This process (of searching a text you've already read and rereading your notes) reminds me of how I walk the Munger Trail, revisiting my favorite spots. I have used this metaphor (of "reading" the trail) before.

Lady Slipper seed pod, Munger Trail.
Although walking the Trail in the winter isn't nearly as fun as biking it in the summer, I still learn new things and find new plants in the dead of winter. Some plants are even more visible in the winter than they are during the green seasons. For instance, the days just after the first snowfall of the year are the best times to locate wild asparagus. It turns yellow in the fall and is highly visible against the snow. 

I learned this trick of finding Wild Asparagus in the late fall from this article about foraging, which is something many animals and hipster humans do. I know there's lots of asparagus along the Munger Trail, because I've seen folks gathering it in the early spring, but I've never been sure exactly where to look, and now I know! I found several patches. I've used the voice recorder on my phone to describe, for future reference, all the places along the trail where I've found it. (Note-taking is always a good idea!)

In the winter, I keep an eye on the Lady Slipper seed pods along the Trail. Sometimes, I can find new patches of Slippers by looking for the pods. This year, the snow hasn't been very deep, so I've been able to see lots of pods. They have a fairly distinctive shape, so they stand out against all the other stalks and branches.
Wild Clematis seed pod
Many Wildflowers have interesting seed pods. Another that I keep an eye out for is Wild Clematis. I've been watching a particular specimen for several years now, without ever having spotted it anywhere else along the Trail. This winter, while searching for Slipper seed pods, I stumbled upon another patch of Wild Clematis, and I can't wait to see it bloom in the spring. Wild Clematis is a kind of vine, so the plant coils around other plants and climbs up trees. Its seed pod looks like a big gray spider with a thousand legs.

Of course, I always see a lot of Milkweed pods along the Trail, as Munger is infested with Milkweed. There are lots of big patches of this plant that the Monarch butterflies love so much. I also come across many empty bird nests along the Trail. Sometimes, they're high up in the tree-branches; sometimes, they're hanging low, at my eye-level, because the weight of the snow bends the branches down...

Snow-capped nest 
On these winter walks, I've been trying to learn how to use a GPS mapping app that will let me record the exact location of various plants on topographical maps that I download onto my phone. I haven't mastered this app yet, but I've got plenty of time yet to try it out before Orchid-hunting season begins. I want to use the app when I go back into the Pennington Bog, where there are no trails. 

Someday, when my students are all using e-readers and electronic texts, we'll be taking notes electronically, and we'll be able to search the full text for keywords. Finding the perfect quotation to use in that second body-paragraph won't be quite as challenging as it is now. 
Milkweed seed pod

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