Field Notes From the Woods

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About this Blog

Field Notes From the Woods, written by Henry Walters, shares observations and ruminations on plants, wildlife, weather, and other facets of nature. Henry Walters is a naturalist, a teacher, and a falconer. He lives and writes in a cabin in southern New Hampshire on a 1,700-acre tract of conservation land, of which he acts as steward. His poems, essays, and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of print publications, including The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

April 12, 2016

The straits of Panama. Early March. Our hero dons his sandy coat and lifts off, heading north, flying by night. He navigates by stars. He feels the pull of the Earth’s magnetic field. He lets forth a cry like a leaky balloon. Not Batman, not Superman, he’s… The Return of the Killdeer may not be Hollywood-sequel material, but for those who keep a close eye on their local baseball field, golf course, horse pasture, or backyard, the arrival of this odd bird can be a thrilling moment. One of the... more

March 3, 2016

Along with the plip-plip-plip of sap in the maple buckets, another sound brings the walker to a halt. Bluebird! Henry David Thoreau, who heard it all before us, called it a song that “melts the ear, as the snow melts in the valleys around.” He’s right—it’s a sound with big distances in it.  Even at close range it seems far off, like a teakettle softly on the boil in somebody else’s house, a hoarse, burbling phrase I hear as So-you-have-the-key? I-have-the-key? The snow’s not melted here, but... more

January 5, 2016

I was given a magnifying glass for Christmas. It’s a fine brass one, with all sorts of knobs and moveable parts. It’s like having a brand-new eye. Beneath it, a fingernail suddenly has texture. The wrinkles around one’s knuckles look like almost legible handwriting. An hour might not be too long to spend studying them. The tiny hairs on the back of the hand are turned into a dry forest, each bowed and bent the same direction, as though blasted by a prevailing wind.  What else can we train... more

October 26, 2015

November the first. You’ve unmothballed your winter sweaters and laid in a supply of hand-warmers. Outside, what are the wild ones up to? The snowy tree cricket’s song is slowing down. The colder the weather, the slower the beat. If you don’t have a thermometer handy, that snowy tree cricket will do just as well: count the number of chirps it makes in fifteen seconds, and then add 37. That’s the temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit! The ruffed grouse is busy growing strange extensions on the... more

September 20, 2015

Summer’s on the wane, and yet it’s hard to put a finger on how we know, exactly. Like a moon one night past the full, there’s a sliver missing, a little nibbling at the edges of the season. Even as the apples hang heavy and the air sharpens on the smell of wild grapes, summer’s riot is pared away. Is it a rattle in the oak leaves, frayed and leathery, when the wind blows? Or a dryness in the roadside flowers, the thirsty look of the goldenrod, the calico asters? Or a new nameless taste in the... more

April 22, 2015

“We’ll know her when we see her!” shouts a friend in greeting, then disappears down the hill. Who she is, he doesn’t tell me, but I’ve got a pretty good idea. She’s on everybody’s mind. Spring comes late to this particular part of New England, this year especially. March lion and March lamb, April fool and April fury, she’s helter-skelter, everywhere and nowhere. Under the sheltered skirts of houses, daylilies are putting up three green fingerling leaves, but the nights are still frosty.... more

January 21, 2015

The snail’s got it made—for shelter, at least. The house he’s born with, soft as a baby’s skull, grows as he does, and stays in step. Hard to lug around, for sure, if you only have one slimy, prehensile foot at your disposal, but worth doing: take one step backwards from any point on earth, and home sweet home, you’re safe in bed. Dorothy needed ruby slippers and three clicks of her heels to do that. Though I have no trouble distinguishing inside from outside, home from Oz, I partly despise... more

September 4, 2014

When a Country Mouse heads to the city to visit family, he tries to act metropolitan. He obeys traffic laws, avoids staring open-mouthed at tall buildings, and refrains from gathering his salad greens out of the sidewalk cracks. And yet he can’t help searching out reminders of home. Where’s Nature to be found in all this concrete? The answer, of course, is everywhere and nowhere. Insofar as Nature is What Is, no place gets blessed with more of her than another. Then again, she is somehow easier... more

July 23, 2014

Midnight. A whomp against the window: a glimpse of wings. Big wings. Birds leave feather-traces in oil on the glass, but this visitor leaves almost nothing—a couple fingertips of dust on the outside sill. It looks like dust, but under a lens the particles show themselves as beautiful, variegated scales, like a dense bouquet of colored-pencil shavings, or the foamy ruffles of an old-fashioned ball gown. And this from an insect who has just seven days to wear this elaborate dress. Scales... more

May 8, 2014

Every year, the wood frog comes back from the dead. Not in the sense that it appears again after a long absence. In the most literal one: an inanimate, mostly frozen object, which has ceased to function, is suddenly resuscitated into being. How does a wood frog make it through a frigid northern winter? No fur like the bear, no feathers like the owl, no warm blood of the squirrel, cozy in its nest. No burrow deep in the mud, where the box turtle’s pulse slows to one beat every few minutes.... more

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