i headed down to the garden when i woke up this morning, to check up on my vegetables and to plant the leftover yellow tomato and basil julie gave me yesterday. when i first received my plot a few years ago i didn't think it was very good, shaded by the nearby mulberry tree and covered with rotting fruit for a few weeks in the early summer. but now i think it's one of the best plots, with an entire day's worth of sun exposure (even since the city pruned the mulberry tree). this year i decided to go with a garden layout of concentric orbits. and in between the rings i could possibly grow some flowers for a touch of color.
while eating a slice of leftover pizza i started to get ready for my day of naturing. i decided last night i'd revisit cedar hill in northborough, roughly 30 miles away but would take me about an hour to ride there. the weather was in the 70's, with a blazing sun into a cloudless sky that made everything feel hotter if you were outside. i was hoping to leave by noon but ended up going close to 1pm. heading east on route 16, then a long stretch of 9, finally 85 north to 30 west until i arrived at the entrance to cedar hill. what used to be the large parking lot of scholastic book fairs is now the large parking lot of a medical supply company. there weren't a lot of cars and i felt a little self-conscious disappearing to the back of the building - where the trail marker and information kiosk was.
i'd been to cedar hill once before, last may as well. i'd remembered there were a lot of mosquitoes (since there's a large swamp nearby) so i came prepared this time, armed with a spray bottle of cutter advanced picaridin. insect repellent alone isn't enough because eventually the hungry mosquitoes will bite through my sweat-soaked t-shirt so i also wore a windbreaker. it can get a bit warm, but i rather be a little bit hot than eaten alive by mosquitoes. i ended up only having to spray my head from my neck up and my hands. it worked pretty well, and despite the mosquito swarms, i never once got bit.
the path to cedar hill involves crossing an active train track, cutting through a tall grass field, walking a boardwalk path over swamp land, across a tannin-red stream, through the undergrowth of a pine forest, beneath the canopy of a mixed deciduous woodland, up some rocky slopes, until then finally arriving at the summit of cedar hill.
by the rocky gravel border of the train track crossing i managed to get my best photos yet of a green six-spotted tiger beetle. i dropped my backpack, put on the macro lens, and got on my hands and knees, stalking the elusive stalker. normally tiger beetles are very skittish, but this particular specimen seemed to have more important things on its mind than fleeing, mainly catching some ants for lunch. i even managed to get some good looks at its formidable head (including those crazy jaws); this rarely happens as tiger beetles seem to dislike the sight of humans.
there were other insects as well, mostly the flying kind. i saw a tiger swallowtail at the entrance and then later a black swallowtail up on cedar hill. on a chance photo of a buttercup flower i saw a white crab spider waiting in ambush. and then, probably as equally exciting as the tiger beetle photos, i saw a hobomok skipper feeding on a wild geranium. i've never seen one of these skippers before, so it's a first. the name is a little weird unless you're a fan of early colonial history: hobomok was a wampanoag indian who befriended the pilgrims, much like squanto.
ladyslippers sprouted from the pine needle floor near the shady stream. jack-in-the-pulpits were also abundant throughout the forest. their 3-leafed stalks made me think they were trilliums before i made the accurate ID. (according to wikipedia), jack-in-the-pulpits take at least 3 years to mature and the plants themselves contain calcium oxalate, which causes a burning sensation if ingested (why you'd ever eat this is beyond me, since it superficially resembles poison ivy).
mosquitoes weren't the only annoyance in cedar hill: there was also a lot of poison ivy. in fact, whenever i strayed off the trail i can expect to find some poison ivy, normally growing on the ground, but occasionally climbing onto a tree.
i spotted some oyster mushrooms growing from a fallen tree trunk. maybe in years past i wouldn't have been sure if they were really oysters, but having grown them indoors for the past 2 winter seasons, i have a good idea what they look like. if i only had a bag, i might've collected them (to eat) but decided to leave them for the woodland critters.
the summit of cedar hill is a good spot for birdwatching. the tree swallows i last time were there again, either perched on one of many nesting boxes or swinging through the air catching flying insects. i saw a baltimore oriole, its unmistakeable bright orange body catching my eye from a far distance. i also saw a pair of bluebirds taking advantage of one of the nesting boxes. one of them kept on shuttling back and forth, each time back holding some insect in its beak to feed the baby birds i assume were inside. the one that was doing the feeding, i almost didn't recognize it as a bluebird because it looked so haggard. maybe once mating season is over, they lose their nice plumage (here's a better looking bluebird from march 2006).
as for flowers, wild geraniums were very common, as well as bluets. being the understory, there were also a lot of canada mayflowers, but their blooming season seems to be nearly over (their flowers aren't very conspicuous either). on the summit of cedar hill were some flowering plants growing from the artificially-created clearing, but none i could identify.
finally, cedar hill is a great place for ferns. with a vast shady understory and moist soil (due to the nearby swamp), conditions are perfect for ferns. the only problem is these are also the same perfect conditions for mosquitoes.
i left cedar hill a little bit after 4pm (any later, i would've hit some rush hour traffic, which i was trying to avoid). coming back, a length of train cars were parked on the railroad and a conductor was out doing an inspection. not sure if being on the tracks is considered illegal, but i quickly ran across to the other side. even though i was sure the conductor saw me, he didn't give chase, so i was in the clear.
the ride from was much faster than the ride to. rush hour started early and i could see the bumper to bumper congestion on the other side of route 9. fortunately i was going against traffic so i had a speedy commute home. since all i had on was a t-shirt, i could feel the skin on my arms baking in the hot sun. by the time i got back into town, i felt and looked like a spent a whole day at the beach.
i stopped off in belmont for dinner since it was along the way. the only person who was home was my father, since my mother and sister were out shopping. we ate some noodles. my mother and sister finally got home just when i was about to leave.