The chilly February morning air settles over me as I stealthily take my place beneath the towering, moss-covered tulip tree overlooking the lazily winding stream. A truncated wooden stub, the remnant of an ambitious beaver’s travail, provides support for an algae-covered conk. Above the quiet trickling created in the shallows left by the uprooted tree dams comes the soulful call of a lone goose traversing the sky high above. Upon closer observation, the seemingly lifeless brown forest slowly gives way to a diverse palette of green mosses, grasses, lichens, and hollies, euonymus stems seared by the browse of a white-tailed deer, and skunk cabbage pushing their lobster claw-like shoots through the barren earth. The red, swollen flower buds of the red maple trees punctuate the winter scene. A tiny white spider skitters around the flare of my tulip outpost, ignoring the icy air.
Beech leaves cling to their delicate branches in the early morning air, a slight breeze sending them dancing. The colors
seem dull until one wakes up to the deeper hues and tones the wetlands offer up. Surprise! In the clear, tannin-stained standing water, surrounded by the dark, decaying leaves of tulip tree, red oak, and sweet gum, a hardy harbinger of spring is emerging, an unfurling skunk cabbage!
As I settle into my seat among the sleeping grasses and vines, the openness of the meadow fades. I find myself face to face with field birds as they pop up and down looking for food among the freeze-dried seed heads. At my feet, I see green grass covered with ice crystals and above the blue jays sound the alarm of my presence.
Slowly the blue jays accept me as part of the meadow and low clouds of black birds fly overhead, flowing back and forth. I look closely at the burgundy vines lightly touched with frost. I raise my head and peer across the meadow, scanning the horizon. I notice the rise and fall of the forest’s treetops. The trees are grouped together, blending branches into one large shape. One tree stands alone with bare branches breaking up the baby blue winter sky.
I shift in my chair to keep the heavy frozen winter air from settling down on me. I notice spots of white snow nestled in bowls made of tufts of grass. The entire time, more and more birds are calling to spread the morning news.
At 30 degrees and low barometric pressure, all the energy of the ridge is buttoned up tight, with rare, distant bird calls the only obvious signs of life.
But the life inside the giant oaks glows faintly green through the gray-brown bark, and occasional overt greenery can be seen, like this florid lichen.
submitted by Wendy Jacobs
“Experiencing Adkins’ Habitats in Silence” is a project conducted by a team of students in the Maryland Master Naturalist program currently underway at the Arboretum. The team will observe each of these four ecosystems monthly and record what they experience. This post encompasses their observations for February.