Spring flowers
autumn moon
summer breezes
winter snow:

With mind uncluttered
·  this is  ·
the finest season!

-Wúmén Huìkāi

All Hallows’ Eve

“Si da el cántaro en la piedra o la piedra en el cántaro, mal para el cántaro.”
– Sancho Panza

Windows open; no-one home

Farrar Pond and its environs teem with ghosts: Nipmuc, Massachusett and Pawtucket indigenes displaced by settlers or eradicated by imported disease and alcohol, native wolves and turkeys long extinct, departed forests of elm and chestnut, mile-deep ice and perhaps woolly mammoth. More recently, trees well-rooted along Halfway Brook, cut before damming to make an open pond and still showing at low water—or even high, when used as foundations for muskrat push-ups:

On top of all this pre/history are new-minted shades, most in the natural way of life (and death); too many more due to human intervention, deliberate or incidental.

In the latter category, well behind habitat loss and feral cats but more visible than either, are the lethal effects of acres of suburban glass. We draw our favorite avians from high and far

—sometimes very—

to decorate our close yards,

Study in grey and brown

luring them in with food

or (here the illusion of) potable/bathable water:

A few species tire themselves out attacking their own reflections. More see an open cave where a cave is not, or (depending on interior and exterior lighting, pane reflectivity and other cues) a clear passage. Most impacts are simple knock-outs, from which recovery is variably rapid if victims do not first freeze

or make a meal for some raptor or earthbound carnivore:

The mourning dove is not only a devoted family bird, but good on the wing as well as the nest: “their flight is fast and bullet straight.” (Cornell, which also reports it to be “the most frequently hunted species in North America.”) Unlike the peppered moth beloved of biology teachers, or the rather more endangered elephant, it has apparently not yet adapted to this new threat. When the bullet is intercepted by a window,

it is not good for the bullet:

Nor is this the only such encounter, even at this one spot, even recently:

Perhaps a remorseful resident might be allowed the sentimental wish, in this season of respecting the departed, that—as with the Pharaohs of old—whatever plane these spirits have ascended is abundantly provisioned:

There would I find a settled rest
(While others go and come)
No more a Stranger or a Guest,
But like a Child at Home.

             ~ Isaac Watts  1719




Scarlet ribbons

Consistently outstanding autumn color in almost any year is delivered by maples of several species. Virginia creeper is as pretty and widespread, but in its entanglements, not usually so well displayed:

Parthenocissus quinquefolia

And the reds of poison ivy, Toxicodendron/Rhus radicans, are even more intensely saturated, due to shiny waterproofing—but tend not to be available for such large displays due to certain intolerant bipeds and their broad–spectrum herbicides. Native is often best; in fact, the prolonged retention of pallid yellow leaves is an easy way to mark invasive Norway maples, (and glossy buckthorn) at considerable distance.

In a year as ferociously dry as this has been, many examples of the Acer genus not growing in swamps suffer early leaf-drop before the full rainbow sequence has a chance to play out. Fortunately, there are exceptions even in the highlands:

In cool shade, by contrast, the presentation is largely unabated:

Rhododendron carolinianum (?)

And sometimes stress brings out the best…

Where not blasted completely, several of our common oaks can deliver a fair show, more so against a backdrop of green conifer and blue water

or an angry grey sky, especially given the spectral sharpening of a low sunset:

And on the topics of rainbow sequences, spectral sharpening and angry skies, a sub-horizon morning sun here squeezes its Rayleigh-filtered rays high onto an abandoned oriole nest

while a half-mile north, the same lantern elicits from a passing squall just one near-vertical leg of a chromatically attenuated arc:


Mid-drought at the oasis*


And still they camped beside the hole, and still it never rained …

A few days of drizzle refresh the late wildflowers, helping them and their partners


to slake various hungers


and prepare for winter. But absent a hurricane to follow, these meager inches will not soon reach the deeper roots, leaving many woody plants vulnerable to winter’s desiccation. Indeed, much of the current fall will be sponged by tinder-dry duff and humus, neither restoring top- and subsoil nor running down and away to recharge stream, lake and aquifer.

Only recently within the “extreme” zone (and perhaps serving less lawn-intensive consumers), the mighty Quabbin—here from the Goodnough Dike, northward to a hazy Monadnock—


“is currently at 82.5% of its 412 billion-gallon maximum capacity” and within normal operating parameters. Closer to home, the Hobbs Brook basin is more deeply compromised, with consequences for both its late denizens and those of Cambridge:


Here a pair of juvenile double-crested cormorants idles in sluggish mud, disdaining for the moment a deceased koi,


while a great egret (thanks to Gwyn Loud for identifications) spends ten neck-twisting minutes


choking (owing to size or condition?) down some other finned morsel—probably another koi, as few native fish could tolerate this warm mudbath:


Closer still Flint’s (AKA Sandy) Pond, Lincoln’s primary public water supply,


is likewise at uncomfortable and declining levels:


Per a previous post, the situation is alarming but not yet critical, even without considering the Town’s backup well. As this chart shows, the heat and drought of recent seasons have driven withdrawals well below resupply—but not yet to the severity of the mid-1960s. (–Though that was before the rampant spread of large and heavily irrigated lawns…)


Above chart and Sandy Pond photos courtesy of Greg Woods, Water Department superintendent. These and more photos, charts and analysis, plus additional historical, ecological, practical and personal perspective, are available in the recorded discussion “Brown is the New Green.”






In the eye of no storm,


Farrar Pond is likewise ailing. This makes even more vital the availability of alternative drink, larder and home, especially for creatures that are small, water-bound, or otherwise unable to remove themselves to the Sudbury River or another refuge.

“Refuge” means more than a volume of water. The unique importance of vernal pools to the continuity of numerous amphibians, insects and other life-forms lies not alone in wetness, but in isolation-through-transience. No permanent water means no fish or other predators that require its continuous presence. A river is, to one or another degree, connected to all other rivers, seas, and most lakes. Only a pond with no in- or outflow connection with such is likely to be free of that hazard for enough months each warm season that the regenerative cycles may complete.

This end, however, is easily achieved by artifice. Any depression with an impermeable liner—clay, concrete, fiberglass or rubber—becomes a pond given sufficient rain or hose-time. If much more than a foot deep, it will over-winter insect larvae, tadpoles, even (when they choose are or forced to remain) adult frogs and juvenile turtles. Best for ecology all around is a handy roof downspout, whose supply is more pure, free of chlorine and well-oxygenated:


And the uphill or down-twig instinct rapidly attracts guests (here to ad-hoc poles); whatever the aesthetic shortcomings of bare neoprene, a breeding frog is forgiving,


even (apparently) content:


Without the metabolic and waste-treatment burden of fish, oxygen requirements are normally satisfied by surface exchange, perhaps augmented by pads and filamentous algae


—though the latter is continuously nibbled from every surface but their own by snails of indeterminate origin:


Perhaps this painted turtle could take one aboard for a little hull de-fouling?


An extended hot spell or heavy winter ice-over can apparently leave the depths hypoxic enough to harm tadpoles, but that is not usual, and can be managed with a small aquarium pump. Also perhaps helpful, though mainly added for decoration and to attract hummingbirds, small solar fountains can exchange quite a bit of dissolved gas when most needed,


and with outflow chilled by evaporation, it may convect to where most needed.


So much leaf area on a tree or shrub could quickly send the whole volume skyward via transpiration. But plants here are either submerged or within the stagnant boundary layer, hence remove little water—less, perhaps, than a bare surface would lose to normal evaporation. Instead, it is wicking by plants and bricks that most rapidly depletes a full pond; once down to bare polymer, further reduction is very slow no matter the weather. And poikilothermous animals even seem to prefer the sun-warmed rubber to available rocks:


(The young is resident  from last year’s hatching; the adult might be its mother, resting after laying before the trek home to the lake.)

Prime beneficiaries of a small pond include frogs, perched on (not very) high singly



or collectively



within tongue-lash of food (possibly including smaller cousins);


at rest in or beneath the ripples;




or between worlds:


This pool, rich in fresh and decaying vegetables, invertebrates and other comestibles, provides for tadpoles to finish their pre-terrestrial business:




Members of the other local amphibian family, Salamandridae, also need water in which to breed and ripen. Formerly common hereabouts—turning over almost any large rock or rotting log would reveal a red-back—they are getting ever scarcer due to habitat loss and possibly environmental toxicity, increasing ultraviolet exposure and/or the chytrid fungus. Fortunately for all concerned (except their prey), they thrive in shady woodland with heavy leaf cover, and will breed here:




That tiny-eyed juvenile might even be the offspring of this spectacular adult, rescued half-frozen six years ago from an outbuilding and released to a pond-side thicket:


Semi-aquatic reptiles also abound. Northern water snakes, variously accoutered, spend much time submerged, apparently consuming large numbers of tadpoles,


and also strike picturesque


(and perhaps strike-ready) poses while sunning:


Nominally terrestrial species, mainly garter and eastern ribbon snakes, stalk and sun around the pond’s rim,


but also spend hours cruising (and minutes beneath) the water’s surface:


In accord with allometric power laws, the smaller will always be the more numerous, in both kind and number. Of the largest semi-permanent residents—turtles, snakes, adult frogs—there might on average be a few each of just a few species. Of tadpoles, a half-dozen-plus species, with tens of thousands of hatchlings declining to a hundred or so juveniles and dozens of surviving adults. Under the pads, flatworms, roundworms, rotifers galore,  and on down to trillions (at least) of bacteria, perhaps millions of separate species. Somewhere between are the arthropods, visible in almost every image here as living organism or abandoned husk, prey for many of the fauna, and also (especially as ferocious underwater nymphs or obligate aquatic insects) predators for some.

One of the main intended beneficiaries of this particular pool was the Odonata, dragon- and damselflies. The odd structures in the early image above are maple tripods, each topped with a red dogwood whip. Until living plants took on the role, these provided a perch for fliers, a ladder for pre-adults to climb, an anchor for masses of frog eggs.

On hot bright days, with hawks and occasional eagles spiraling thermals high above, dragonflies are always darting close over the pond, too fast to photograph except when they pause beside


or above the water,



or lower down as may suit, to sit


or lay:


Months or years later, naiad ecdysiasts climb any available mid-pond eminence

to shed, spread, dry and fly:


Other hunters, like this Dolomedes triton, skitter with similar speed and agility across the surface, though most often moving more subtlely or lurking in concealment:


And some come for more peaceful purposes,

including that final rest:


If all the world’s a stage, then these Puddle Players may be most entertaining in their dynamic engagements. Much of the violence happens out of sight: too quick, too dark, too deep for the human eye. And when visible, not easy to photograph. Exceptions are this inter-phylum battle, and this one between similar antagonists, the former a draw. More often, if presenting no direct threat or opportunity, the parties seem to ignore each other,




especially if scaled as mote and mountain,


with an occasional slapstick startlement:












Yet withal, and however temporary, moments of peace in a world of strife…