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In nature, little things mean a lot

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Dec 17, 2015 at 7:03 PM

It’s amazing how often we go on a walk in the outdoors without seeing anything.

I’m not talking big-ticket items like deer and wild turkeys. I mean the little things – from ferns to fungus, from chittering chipmunks to tiny birds that peck microscopic insects from tree bark.

One of my hunting buddies accuses me of “stopping to smell the poison ivy,” but it’s fun to stay in touch with your inner Thoreau.

It’s especially interesting if you carry a camera and snap shots of some of the fascinating -- and generally overlooked – species of fauna and flora that you come across.

A good example is a photo I took back in the spring of a giant fungus that was growing on a log in the Radnor Lake Natural Area. It’s unique and eye-catching, and makes an interesting addition to my outdoors photo file.

Some great local areas for nature-watching are Long Hunter State Park and Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Both have miles of hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty, including some that are paved.

The Sellars Farm archaeological site located between Lebanon and Watertown is also excellent, with trails running alongside scenic Spring Creek.

Every time you venture into outdoors you’re likely to come across something different, or learn something new about a familiar subject.

Take chipmunks, for example. We’ve all seen them scurrying around, but have you ever sat still and observed them for a period of time? When they’re gathering nuts, berries and seeds, they store them in pouches in their cheeks, and the pouches have a holding capacity approximately the size of the chipmunk’s head.

They eat some of the food items on the spot, but most of the stuff they store in their cheeks is taken back to the den – a hollow tree or hole in the ground – to be stored for later use. It’s the chipmunk version of a saving's account.

That spider web that’s stretched across a branch to catch flies and other insects is made of some of strongest fiber known to man, and the design of the web is an architectural marvel. Stop and study one sometime – every stand is carefully woven and specifically linked to support other strands in a way that adds tensile strength to the total trap. A spider web is nature’s equivalent of the Golden Gate Bridge.

There is also the esthetics of a dew-dropped spider web sparkling and glittering at dawn. It’s a meadowland Picasso.

Did you ever notice those odd, bulging growths on trees called “boles?” Pioneers used to saw them off, scoop them out, and make bowls and other wooden containers from them.

Old-timers also used to scout the woods for tree forks of the right shape and size to be made into yokes and other farm implements.

I don’t know much about mushrooms – some are good to eat and some are poisonous, so to be on the safe side I just observe and don’t pick. But it’s fascinating to study their delicate intricacies, and to see how many different shapes, sizes and colors can be found in a given area.

And how did mushrooms become known as “toad stools?” I’ve never seen a toad sitting on one.

With autumn at hand, it’s time to look for the first faint changing of the leaves – sassafras and black-gums are ready reddening – and to notice how birds are attracted to ripening seeds and berries. Squirrels love ripe dogwood berries, but examine one of the tiny gnawed berries see what a miniscule amount of food it contains. Evidently squirrels consider them a delicacy, and are willing to invest some time and patience for a satisfying reward.

Maybe we could learn from them.

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