so after an entire season of searching, i finally found my elusive eft. it wasn't in massachusetts but rather the forests of vermont that nature revealed one of her best kept secrets. i wasn't up in vermont this weekend trying to score phish tickets (as some would have you believe). my parents have been on a camping kick all summer (before this season, they've never been camping together, now they're on their 7th trip), and i figured i'd join them, get my nature on. we stopped once at the french king bridge in erving, the one that crosses the conneticut river, to take some photos. speedboats, jetskis, and canoes could be seen down below. we drove by the infamous bar-b-que bar, a pitstop i once made with some squid folks one night enroute to vermont, where we called it the "bar-b-one" because we couldn't read the sign clearly. my parents had picked the molly stark state park in wilmington (southern vermont) for our campsite. compared to the bradbury mountain state park in maine that i went to last month, this was a much better setup. clean bathrooms with flush toilets and free hot showers. they sell a bundle of firewood for $3 and ice as well. according to the ranger, there was only one spot left, a leanto ("birch") near the contact station. surrounding the site were jewelweed plants and wild raspberries. large marbled orb weaver spiders spun cobwebs which caught the japanese beetles feeding on the foliage. the first thing we did was to eat lunch, my parents cooking up some dumplings in a pot of water over a coleman tabletop stove. fed, we decided to hit the nearby trail while the weather was still good (there was no evidence of the approaching southern hurricane remnants).
the trail out of molly stark state park is a 1.7 mile loop that goes to the top of mount olga (elevation 2415 feet), where you can climb a fire tower for a panoramic view of southern vermont. i was determined not to cover myself up with bug spray unless it was absolutely necessary, and i ended up going without it the whole time i was in vermont, only received a few mosquito bites. inside the forest it was damp and cool, and at times it reminded me of being back in costa rica (more so than any other forests i've visited this summer). i think it had something to do with the moisture as well as the smell. unlike costa rica though, the forest was surprisingly silent. no birds singing, no chipmunks chirping. after a while, i figured i wouldn't see a lot of nature on this trip, and would just enjoy the forest for what it is. there were no birds, no frogs, no toads, not even a squirrel (although we did see an angry red squirrel back at the camp later, when we started a fire) or a chipmunk. the only thing interesting were the occasional flashes of color from recently emerged mushrooms, and there were enough different varieties for a fairly successful mushroom hunting expedition if nothing else.
on the trail coming back down was when i spotted the eft. it was just standing there in the middle of the path, like a plastic toy, completely motionless. it didn't seem real, like this was a dream. i've been searching all spring and all summer, and now here in the woods of vermont, i've finally come face to face with the red eft! i shouted at my parents, "hey, i found it! come here!" they turned around. my father hid behind a tree, not wanting to scare away the eft (i didn't think they could run, and i was prepared to chase it through the woods if i had to if it tried to make a fast getaway), calling my mother to stay back. i immediately whipped out my camera and began taking photos, eventually down to all fours, inching the camera closer and closer to get a better macro shot. it's a miracle that neither of my parents stepped on it when they walked by. when i told my mother that efts are poisonous, she of course wanted to kill it. later, she stood off to the side, clapping her hands to try and scare the eft away (do efts even have ears?). the world disappeared, my entire attention was focused on the eft. mosquitoes were buzzing around me but i could care less. it looked like a tiny red lizard, and had the characteristic sour expression common with amphibians (versus the unfeeling blank stares of most reptiles). it made no movement to leave, and only began to stir when the vibrations of my camera lens zooming in and out traveled into the ground. after i finished taking the photos (i was surprised afterwards how little i took, despite having waited so long for this day), i figured it'd look nicer if the eft was some how on a carpet of green moss. ethical questions aside (like, is it right to fluff with nature in order to get a better photo?), we found some moss and we tried to coax the eft onto the green. finally i just decided to pick it up (my hands were "clean," i hadn't touched any bug spray all day), which scared the crap out of my parents, because earlier i had said efts were poisonous (only if you eat them, and not deadly poisonous). the eft would have nothing to do with the moss, immediately trying to crawl off in its funny way of walking. i took a few quick photos and let the eft go, filled with an intense sense of happiness and accomplishment over finally have seen a real live eft for the very first time. i still didn't believe it happened, like having a wish being granted, it just seemed too magical to be true.
coming back out of the mountain, we came across a tree that had been struck by lightning. a rock underneath the tree with the words "lightning strike 2003" alerted us to this fact. the tree was fine, except for several strips of bark peeling off and a little charriness at the base.
when we got back to the camp, we drove out looking for fresh vegetables at the farmer's market. we didn't find any markets, but we did visit a roadside ice cream parlor selling local homemade ice cream. i paid $4 for a double scoop of maple walnut. those are city prices! or maybe they're tourist prices. there was also a maple syrup museum, which wasn't a museum at all but just a place that sold souvenirs. not even very good souvenirs at that, books by the windows were dusty and sun-bleached. we bought a small container of real maple syrup nonetheless, for tomorrow's breakfast. coming back, we passed by the scenic roadside vista, but after having seen the view from on top of mount olga, this wasn't particularly exciting.
returning to the camp once more, my father started the fire so we could cook dinner. he had leftover wood from their previous camping trip, but we also had to buy some more because we didn't have enough ($3 a bundle). he had a portable water pump which when he ran dry acted like a high-powered blowdryer, feeding the flames, accelerating the fire. while we waited for the fire to get going, my parents pitched the tent inside the leanto. we cooked some chinese sausages (over tinfoil) and some ears of corn. at one point the ranger came by and told us that there'd be a maple syruping demonstration at 7pm. we ate quickly and headed over to see one of the things vermont is famous for. turns out it was just a video, including a woman singing a song about maple syrup. i was so embarassed i couldn't even look at the screen. the only good thing that came out of it was the free maple syrup samples served in small dixie cups. i choked on my first sip, completely caught off guard as to how sweet and delicious natural maple syrup can be.
once the sun goes down, there's really nothing to do but to stare at the fire, watch the embers trace lines in the darkness, listening to the pieces of wood crackling. flames can be mesmerising, and i wasn't satisfied with the fire that we had, i wanted a bigger fire. my parents had bought a big cooking pot so they could heat water to soak their feet. a piece of glowing ember fell into my shoe as i quickly tried to take it off before i got burned. later in the evening, i went to go take a shower. the facilities are amazingly clean, although the showers operate by push button and every 30 seconds i had to push otherwise the water would turn off.
when i came back i wore my headlamp and went around our campsite looking for some night time photo opportunities. the great thing about taking photos at night is the lack of distracting backgrounds. it's usually just the subject in front of nothing but blackness. i saw a marbled orb weaver spider busy wrapping her latest catch, a japanese beetle. jewelweed leaves, because of their shape, had droplets of condensation around their edges. i'd love to do more night photography, and the headlamp in combination with the swivel design of my camera really helps, as i can take a photo from below while lighting it up from the top.
around midnight i finally went to bed, a smile on my face, still thinking about the eft i saw earlier.