Creatures Great and Small

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My first moose sighting occurred in Glacier National Park a few years ago. For several evenings, we walked from our campsite to a nearby lake to watch for moose. You can imagine my delight when, in the waning light of day, one appeared at the edge of the water, then walked into the middle of it. It wasn’t the only moose sighting during that trip, but the novelty and proximity made it the most exciting.

Closer to home, the smaller things tend to get more attention. There is an anecdote (possibly apocryphal) about Vladimir Nabokov chiding a college student for not knowing the types of trees on campus. True or not, it speaks to the tendency to go about one’s daily life without noticing the details. We can’t notice them all, of course; to do so would be overwhelming. Still, it’s worth taking a closer look at what’s around you in the spaces you usually inhabit, rather than just on walks to “Moose Lake” while on vacation.

A few weekends ago, when it was supposed to rain but didn’t, we ended up doing house and yard work in the absence of other plans. In the midst of it, we encountered these three.

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Visiting the U.S. National Arboretum

Blue bells at the National Arboretum

We visited the U.S. National Arboretum in northeast DC last weekend on a gloriously sunny day. It had been at least eight years or so since we’d been there, and it was refreshing to see it again. Living in the suburbs sometimes makes me feel as though everything in the city is light years away. Every time we’re in DC, though, I remember that it’s not, which makes me inclined to head in on a whim more often.

The Arboretum is a good place for whims. First, it’s free. Then, if you walk in any direction once you’re there, you’ll find a great view, regardless of whether it’s the blossoming tree just before you, or a vista spanning a section of the Anacostia River. I highly recommend it as a day trip for those in the DMV region, or as an add-on to any out-of-towner’s schedule during a visit. The Arboretum is hilly, so walking it serves as a decent workout as long as you don’t drive from one spot to the next (and if you don’t need to, you shouldn’t!). Although visitors could previously take a tram tour, the website indicates that they have been suspended for the 2018 season.

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Bird Brain

The first time I was ever intrigued by a bird while walking was when I saw this guy, an indigo bunting, at the end of a trail along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

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Indigo bunting, Shenandoah National Park, late summer 2013

We’d just finished a 10-mile hike that we’d thought would be 8, and while it was a good hike, those last two miles dragged. Whether it was the effect of having wearily slogged through the last two miles, sweatily and steadily uphill, or simply the bright blue color, the sight of this bird perked me up and captured my attention. This, after I’d always thought that bird watchers were a bit…. well, loony, if you’ll excuse the pun.

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When Nature Looks Back

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You looking at me? A squirrel on the Scenic Point trail, Glacier National Park, July 2014.

Sometimes, no walking is needed to become more aware of the world around you. All it takes is keen observation. And sometimes, this observation goes both ways. In his book Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon says, “It’s a curious sensation when nature looks back.”

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