the last time i went naturing by motorcycle resulted in an auto accident and a broken foot. that was back in june. it's taken me 4 months and a different season to get back on the motorcycle doing one of the things i love. after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, i rode an hour out to the assabet river national wildlife refuge in maynard. the refuge only opened up 3 years ago, and new trails have been added this year so there's still a lot to explore. i like the place because i rarely see anybody else out there, so it's usually just me and a whole lot of nature. in summers past the assabet river has been a great place to find dragonflies (2005 2006 2006 2007), but with the warm weather days already gone, the only ones i saw were the familiar red meadowhawks and an occasional spreadwing or one of those large darners that never stop long enough for me to get a decent photo.
this late in the year the mosquito population is almost gone but i still brought repellent just in case. it's just these places i visit, often times they're in swampy areas that are breeding ground for our annoying biting friends. because of the occasional chilly weather, i was wearing a hooded sweatshirt anyway, so at least i was covered. after getting up from taking a macro shot of a flower, i noticed something crawling on the leg of my jeans. a tick! i found 2 more. this made me very paranoid the rest of the day and i started to check myself for parasitic hitchhikers every time i wandered off the trail, which was often. any itch i immediately had to check to make sure it wasn't anything alive. by day's end, i found about a dozen ticks. fortunately i managed to remove them when they were just crawling upwards on my jeans, before they managed to get any higher and take hold on my body. of all the bloodsucking critters - mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, leeches - i rank ticks as the second most repulsive. the most repulsive award naturally goes to forest leeches.
approaching the swamp, the thing i notice right away before i even see it is the smell. it's sort of indescribable, almost like a sweet sickening chemical spill. the first time i sniffed this odor i thought it was pretty putrid, but since then, i've come to associate the stench with good naturing. i'm still learning to acquire it though, but at least it doesn't make me want to vomit anymore.
i decided to go deeper in the refuge this time, going as far as marker 20, passing 3 military bunkers along the way. it was only a mile in but took me almost an hour and a half to get there because i tend to walk slow, taking the time to take photos and explore anything that might be remotely interesting. i passed several side trails that looked well-maintained but they were posted with "no pedestrians" signs. i figured maybe they led into areas designated for hunting. i was surprised to discover (from the information kiosk by the entrance) that mid-october is the start of hunting season for several animals into the refuge (some refuge if you ask me!), including woodcocks, grouses (i've never even seen one before), and deer (only with arrows though).
coming into the refuge i ran into a jogger. i didn't see another person until i took a restricted trail along the edge of the main pond. an elderly couple, from a distance i thought maybe they were birdwatchers until i noticed the bags and heard what language they were speaking: russian mushroom foragers! right at that moment, on a parallel trail, a truck came rolling by and stopped. a friendly ranger stepped out and said hello, told us we were on a restricted path. apparently all of assabet used to be a military base, and the army cut many trails into the forest that the park service is now trying to phase them out by letting the forest grow over them. "i see you're taking some photos," the ranger said, noticing my camera equipment. to the russian couple he asked, "did you collect anything while you were in the forest? are there mushrooms in those bags?" the russian couple played dumb, "this is illegal?" they muttered. ranger: "by law you're not allowed to taking anything out of the refuge." the ranger asked them for their id but said i could go.
this time of the year, the thing to see is more landscape and foliage rather than critters, of which there were slim pickings. i found the occasional flower or mushroom, but nothing interesting or anything i haven't seen before. i spotted what could've been a turkey vulture swooping into the swamp behind some trees, but that seemed like uncharacteristic behavior from a vulture, so it could've been a great blue heron instead. i watched a hawk flush out a flock of canada geese but it flew away before i could get a photo. besides the geese, there were also some unidentifiable small ducks that i spotted from a distance. there were some song sparrows, a few downy woodpeckers, and i saw a yellow-rumped warbler catching insects on the wing. other than the numerous meadowhawk dragonflies, there weren't a lot of interesting insects. i found a spotted apatelodes caterpillar (first time), a rather sinister looking things, all hairs and spikes, curled up on a twig, about to change into a moth chrysalis. i poked it with a stick to make sure it was alive. it was located in a particularly swampy area, and i managed to get a mosquito bite on my face and several ticks on my pants in the process.
i left assabet close to 4pm. somewhere in lexington i rode behind a silver dodge neon driven by two guys who looked like they were auditioning for a fred durst lookalike contest. i wouldn't have noticed except for one thing: the strong odor of marijuana smoke coming out from the car. i couldn't tell if the driver was smoking but i kept my distance, in case the car decided to swerve out of control. i was afraid of getting a contact high from inhaling some of the weed smoke. by the way, in case any law enforcement officers are reading this: massachusetts license plate 6020 FL with a cambridge parking sticker and a grey camouflage pattern magnetic ribbon with the caption "home of the free because of the brave."
i stopped by my parents' place, where my mother was already home. my father got back soon afterwards as well. i went with them to the waltham costco. we bought a large supreme pizza for dinner ($10) but waited a long time for it because they were filling a 10-pizza birthday party order. when we got back home hailey was gone (my sister took her out somewhere). after pizza, i returned to cambridge, where my roommate hadn't returned home yet. first thing i did was to hop in the shower and check myself for stray ticks (no surprises). my biggest fear is getting a tick on my head, so even afterwards i kept on running my fingers through my hair, feeling for anything unusual.