We visited Middle Creek yesterday - an annual back-to-school tradition. After a quick bite at the van, we laced up our hiking boots and moved across the parking area toward the meadow.
I was delighted to see a tiny eastern tailed blue (male) grazing among the clover. Swallowtails, monarchs, cabbage whites, sulphurs, and skippers were gaily flitting from goldenrod to aster. The din of honey bees and bumblebees working the fields filled the air.
I couldn't help but smile; the meadow at Middle Creek mirrors our small property. Our own goldenrod is constantly in motion - a variety of pollinators coming and going, animating the deep golden panicles. Dainty cabbage whites and pale yellow sulphurs blanket our aromatic aster, creating a bustling fairyland hidden between its bright purple blossoms. Since planting a variety of milkweeds, goldenrod, aster and coneflowers, our property is every bit as active as the rolling meadows of Middle Creek!
As we walked the upper trail we disturbed one unsteady grasshopper after the next, each flying pell-mell into the undergrowth at the forest's edge. We startled a rat snake as well, he slithered from the sandy red trail into the tall grasses, coiling there and waiting for us to pass. Jewelweed blossoms hung like pendants from tangled masses of green. It was warm and we were so very happy to return to one of our favorite natural places.
The forest offered us a cool respite from the heat and humidity. The scent of autumn, sweet and spicy like cinnamon candies, hung in the air hinting at autumn. The damp earth was painted with colored leaves and acorns, a three-dimensional tableau beneath our feet.
As we quietly walked along, catbirds scolded, woodpeckers drummed and tiny wrens hopped among the berry-laden bushes and shrubs. Squirrels chattered and silent leaves fell from high above us, spiraling and twisting as they tumbled to the ground below. Suddenly, movement at our feet. A toad!
We saw many more toads, one the size of a nickel!. All were american toads and each one was patient while I captured his portrait. As we made our way out of the woods and back toward the meadow we believe we might have startled a deer - it surely would not be the first time. Benjamin is confident he saw a flash of large, buff-colored movement but we found no further evidence so we cannot be sure.
As we walked along the opposite side of the meadow, toward the big hill that leads back up to the parking area, we were surprised to discover three fuzzy, black and white hickory tussock moth caterpillars.
Finally, as we began the steep (well, only when one is hot, thirsty and tired) climb up the hill toward the visitor's center, I spotted a hustle bustle of activity in the milkweed stalks. Large milkweed bugs, their nymphs and eggs and a milkweed leaf beetle! They put on quite a show scurrying round and round the milkweed pods.
"When one loves nature," said Vincent van Gogh, "beauty is everywhere." After spending the day exploring the fields and forests of Middle Creek, I can attest to the accuracy of his simple sentiment.