That Old New Green

I fear this may get mushy. If you’re not in that treehugging mood, look away.

The Holyoke ridge, looking west from Mount Tom.

This is maybe my favorite prospect in the valley, at my favorite time of year for prospects: when I’ve had six months to forget how beautiful the leaves are, and they come forth again as though for the first time in that pale, infant color and texture soft as skin. I think it has to do with contrasts. Over my shoulder to the right is Easthampton, with its towering old brick smokestacks haunted by nesting swallows. Over the mountain’s shoulder to the left, subsided metropoli full of factories similarly moldering and grey populate a long gradient into haze: Holyoke, Springfield, Hartford, New Haven. Behind me, the summit of Mount Tom, with its ruined Victorian hotel now surmounted by buzzing icicle cellular towers, satellite dishes and wry suicidal graffiti. But right here in front of me is this rippling swath of pastel-green, unpopulated nothing. What’s it doing there, looking like it just erupted from the fingertips of god? What right has it to go unlogged, undeveloped, undecayed?

Unlike pretty much every other place in this valley, I’ve never really had the chance to explore this particular nothing. Maybe that contributes to the mystery. Maybe I never will explore it, just so I can get this same feeling again every spring.

On the way back down across the sandy cut where the hotel’s telephone wires used to run, I ran into a Northern Oriole female–nothing special for most of you people maybe, but for some reason around here I rarely see them. I didn’t take a picture; there’s times when it just isn’t called for. But I crept up to within a few feet and we chirped back and forth at each other for awhile, heads cocked and frozen still. Then I thanked her and went on my way.

Spring Stopgap

Roaring Brook Falls, on the Mt. Toby reservation in Montague, MA. These icicles taste of moss and mineral salt.

Porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum. This guy lives on Graves Farm Reservation, the northwest side, where there is a maybe 100 foot deep ravine that has tons of broken rock and moss all up its sides. I love that ravine–I swim in the stream at the bottom sometimes–and I have met this porcupine there often. He never seems to like me any better, but he’s slow.

He is my mascot of the moment. Prickly!


Fiddleheads are actually the immature young curled-up tops of Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, so-called because the fronds look like ostrich feathers when full-grown.

I found these on the Long Trail ridge in central Vermont at about 2,500 feet elevation, in rocky soil among hemlock, beech and gray birch. They are 2 to 4 inches high, and the fiddle part is about 1 inch in diameter. They grow inside a fibrous brown casing, which you’re supposed to submerge in water and scrub off before eating. I tried some as they were, picked right from the trailside (which apparently you’re not supposed to do—carcinogens bah) and they were quite tasty, like a lemony spinach, though the brown stuff made them somewhat scratchy going down. I also had some for dinner the other night, steamed, then sauteed in butter and garlic. After cooking they lose some of the citrus flavor and become nuttier.

If you’re going to pick fiddleheads for eating, by the way, los eeenternets inform me that it’s best for the plants if you only pick 2 or 3 fiddles from each, so as not to damage the population for the future. You can see in my picture that there are five little fiddles in a bunch—apparently, underground they all come from one plant. I picked two, the tallest ones, and left the others alone.

A Miraculous Egg

Found this in my garden this morning, cradled by the bare earth in a gentle indentation between the rosemary and basil: a robin’s egg, whole and unharmed, fallen out of a clear sky.

Certain spiritual philosophers I know would classify such an event as an omen, a portent. A message of wisdom, timely and explicit, left for me by the universe. But if such is the case, I have to admit I can’t decipher it, beyond the obvious: creativity, fecundity, the divine spark. Go forth, Mr. DeLuca, and multiply. Water the tomatoes. Pull weeds. Nurture love. Share knowledge. Write fiction.

What shall we say, and shall we call it by a name
As well to count the angels dancing on a pin
Water bright as the sky from which it came
And the name is on the earth that takes it in
We will not speak but stand inside the rain
And listen to the thunder shout
I am, I am, I am, I am

—John Perry Barlow, Weather Report Suite

Thanks, god. I’m on it.