Thursday, April 21, 2011

leaf out!

A few years ago I learned that the term for when the leaves start coming out is the "leaf-out." That simple little name tickles me every spring now. If  you want to know more about the leaf-out, check out Signs of the Seasons - they're conducting a leaf-out study and you can participate.

I've been watching this tree outside my bedroom window sprout little green flower-clusters for about four days now. I think it's an oak, but I'm not sure. It was the last tree around our driveway to lose its leaves last year, and now it's the first one to show some spring initiative! A few trees are in flower around here, but most are still ramping up their buds. I saw some honest-to-goodness baby leaves spilling out of their bud-casings today, on a different tree right in my own driveway. Pretty soon we will lose our great view of Boston, but it is totally worth it to see green everywhere for a few months!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Norumbega Park

We've been eager to check out more parks in the area, and Norumbega Park was high on the list due to Chrissy's finding out about the legend of Norumbega from the book Weird New England. Apparently some crazy amateur archaeologist thought (and thought he could prove) that at one point, Vikings lived in Watertown. We had to see for ourselves.

Not a lot of Viking artifacts left in Norumbega Park these days. In fact, there are more artifacts from the time during which it was a popular amusement park, such as lamps growing out of tree-trunks and the foundations of old rides. It's a lovely place to explore, even on such a cold spring day as Saturday was. I enjoyed the chance to witness nature making its progress toward the verdant time of year. Here are some small things I noticed.

 Buds spilling forth into beauty.
 Brown giving way to green.
 An eager tree in bloom.
 An evergreen past its prime.

I mean, look at those folds!
                                                          An obese tree.

 A flower so blue that it's white.

Norumbega Park is a great place to look at stuff. I brought along my binoculars and saw some pretty great things. Here's the day's list:

European starling
American robin
black-capped chickadee
downy woodpecker
red-winged blackbird
wood duck - male and female for the win!
Canada goose
tree swallow
white-throated sparrow
great blue heron - I saw this guy swoop in, snatch a snake or an eel out of the river, and bide its time with the creature in its beak until it was still enough to choke down. Very cool.
mute swan

I also saw some awesome fungi, one of which I really wanted to share with you, but I couldn't get a good photo. What was neat about it was its position: it hung from a nearly-horizontal birch that stretched out over the Charles River. I never saw a mushroom grow down before.

Can't wait to explore more places in the area - got any suggestions?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

winnahs and champeens

Today was the Second Annual Johnston Town Scavenger Hunt, in Johnston, RI, where we lived before we came to Watertown. As we are explorers at heart, and since we won the first hunt, we had to go back and defend our title this year. The weather was great - 60 degrees, sunny, a slight breeze. This year Team 41 consisted of Chris, his mom Joanne, his cousin Eric, and me. A dream team if ever there was one. Flash stayed with Auntie Julie and had a great time, which is good because a toddler would definitely have slowed us down. The first year we played, I was nine months pregnant with Flash and had my pregnant belly on the front page of the Johnston Sunrise, so I think it will be romantic when he can really participate in the hunt with us. He already enjoys hiking and general outdoorsiness, so I think it will be an easy transition. On to the hunt!

I'm not sure I like the look on that frog's face.

Zeppoles, get yer zeppoles!
It's amazing how differently you look at things when you're looking for things. I have driven by this funky mural a hundred times, and never noticed it.

Of course, Johnston is has a strong Italian-American heritage, and the Italian bakeries to prove it.
An honest-to-goodness outhouse. Historic, of course.

Four hours of driving, searching, running, and taking pictures really doesn't leave time for bathroom breaks. Luckily, this was on the list!
Hint: He's wearing a red tie.

We almost went crazy trying to get this ten-point item - a picture of a team member with Johnston's mayor, Joseph Polisena. After a false start and wasted trip to his house, we tracked him down at the grand opening of the new Mohr Library (which I intend to...check the near future - a little librarian humor for you, there).
My favorite flavor - chocomint! Oh, and my favorite man.

This was the pinnacle of a decision we had to make: would we trust my father-in-law's internet search skills to pursue a ten-point Indian soapstone quarry, or pick up five or six 1-2 pointers in the last twenty minutes of the hunt? We opted for the latter, and it paid off. Eric and I hopped out of the car, ran into the bowling alley for a photo of a duckpin bowling ball, got that mural photo, ran to Stop and Shop for a picture of Kenyon's Corn Meal, and hoofed it over to Newport Creamery where Joanne and Chris awaited us with this refreshing Awful-Awful, one of two delicious list items we consumed today. The other, a hot weiner!
I've always wanted to ride one of these! While playing a theremin!

Last year (and I'm talking scavenger-hunt years, not chronological actual years - it got rained out last actual year), we got tricked pretty badly by some list items that were very close to the starting site, so we got back a few minutes early to check out the area. I found this old-timey bicycle inside the Johnston Historical Society building. Apparently, it's called a penny-farthing bicycle.

Eleven teams competed, but only one could win it all. With a total of 223 points, Team 41 walked away with a basket of Italian foods, some gift cards, and a nice coffee-table book about Boston (which no other team would appreciate the way Chrissy will, I'm sure). We only won by 11 points this year, as opposed to the forty or so we won by previously, so either we are slipping or others are upping their games. If we had taken my father-in-law's erroneous advice, we would have tied for first. This must not happen. We'll be back next year, with a renewed drive to win. I hope they update the list with new items, because some were repeats from last (scavenger-hunt) year and we didn't have as many chances to learn weird or new or cool things about local history. But as they say after every Johnston Town Scavenger Hunt (so far): Team 41! Team 41! Team 41!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

signs of spring

A lot has changed since I was a regular updater of this blog. Here's the skinny: I'm in grad school pursuing master's degrees in library and information science and children's literature. I have a toddler. I don't live in Brooklyn anymore and I really miss Prospect Park. Here in Watertown, MA, I find little natural moments to tide me over while I introduce my son to the great big world.

Here are some ways today proved springy:
1. The air that hit me as I left the house this morning was warm and humid.
2. The air smelled of damp earth.
3. I saw my first earthworm of 2011 at the running track this morning. Actually, it was more like my first 75 worms of the year. They were all over the track - I really had to watch my step. But the air was so delicious and fresh, who could blame them for coming out in droves? Not I.
4. When the temperature hit 60 degrees I opened my office window and played audience to a robin's lovely serenade.
5. When the wind picked up and the temperature dropped 15 degrees in as many minutes, I closed that window right back up!

Spring is my favorite season. I love the transitional times. I saw a honeybee about two months ago on a fluke of a warm February day and I started to get excited for spring. About a month after that I heard the first white-throated sparrow announcing spring's impending arrival. I can't wait to be driving on the highway and notice that the grey hillsides look faintly greenish when the trees begin to bud. And then way later, the leaf-out! Don't get me started! I haven't yet experienced spring as both a Boston-area resident and a nature-observer - my earlier Boston days were pre-birding. This year, instead of Green-Wood, I will walk through Mount Auburn Cemetery. Instead of Prospect Park, I'll travel along the Charles when I'm near home and explore the Fens when I'm near school. I don't carry my binoculars everywhere anymore, now that I'm always laden either with books or a diaper bag. But my eyes and ears are always open.