New Hampshire Nature Notes
by Eric Orff
From a rocket launching to launching into summer.
Well time has really flown by the last couple of weeks. Really. My wife and I took a quick trip to Florida a couple weeks ago to catch one of the last launches of the space shuttle. My son joined us for a couple days as well to get a launch in himself. Seeing a space shuttle launch was on my life list of things to see and with time running out, on shuttle launches any ways, I decided give it a go even on short notice to my wife. We shot down to Orlando on Sunday the 10th of May for the scheduled launch on the 11th. But knowing that an actual launch on the scheduled date was a rarity we booked a hotel in Orlando for the week.
As luck would have it, (Have I ever mentioned how serendipitous my life has actually been?), the launch was right on schedule at 2:01 pm on Monday. What a spectacular sight it was to see Atlantis blasting off into the sky as the roar of the burning rockets enveloped the whole Kennedy Space Center viewing area some six miles away. This was Atlantis last scheduled trip into space and one of the last scheduled shuttle launches as it is scheduled for retirement in 2010. And what a launch to see as all the following week there were daily views on the news of the Atlantis repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. Check another one off that life list for me. And what a week of perfect weather we had for the balance of the week in Orlando. Plenty warm and long sunny days some of it perfect at pool side. And our good luck held for as soon after we left on the 15th Florida has been the NOT so sun shiny state as a big front moved in with rains for over a week. You gotta know when you got it good!
Back here at home spring is leaping by. Here at the house the spring peepers were silent by the time we got back from Florida as were the trilling toads. The tree frogs are still in the tree around the house and have not descended into the meadow below yet. Now I did spend an evening last week down at Ricks on his deck at rivers edge. On that warm to cooling evening the peepers and toads were still calling there. Why there and not here I don't know. But we have had two frost warnings here in the last week. One was Monday night this week. Frost was near but my garden plants seemed to have survived OK. But pretty cold in the morning in any case. Of coarse we have had a couple more days in the 90's too. We went from the mid 90's one day last week to a frost warning in less than 48 hours. The birds are already pretty quiet as well here at the house. Save for the house wren with his constant bubbly song. Rick reports that this week the raven babies have nearly fledged and are out of the nest itself and into the branches about the nest. Here in Epsom the local dairy farmers the Yeatons are two weeks ahead of schedule in chopping hay. Yes spring and I guess summer for all practical sense is running ahead of most years. In fact they finished chopping the hay across from my house on Monday.
Over the weekend my family all headed to Maine to our camp and my sister's place. Back to the old family homestead. We have had a camp on the lake for 50 years not far from the house my sister now owns and where my father was born in 1923. It is the town where my folks lived when I was born as well, though I was actually born in a hospital in Augusta. But this lake and land is a place I have known all my life. My grand mother lived there until just died just short of her hundredth birthday a few years ago.
On the way into camp we drive over a small brook we call "Pond Brook" that typically has river herring or alewives migrating up it. Our lake is a dozen miles from tidal waters and no doubt much more by the river that flows from the lake. We stopped Saturday morning after we all met for breakfast to talk to the local alewives counters. They reported that the counted 110,964 in 2008 and the "run" had just started two days before with a count of 24,566 so far as of Saturday morning. Now when we drove out of camp at about 8:30 Saturday morning there were no alewives in Pond Brook yet and none could be seen in the lake.
But by some magical wave of the wand when we were heading back into camp around 10:30 the brook was full of alewives. Hundreds. In fact when we got back into camp I could see huge schools of herring, another name for alewives, speeding across the lake towards the brook. And schools of herring were dashing about the shore all along in front of camp splashing and spinning in their spawning ritual for us all to witness. Now hundreds if not thousands of herring were before our eyes where just two or three hours ago there were none.
I could see a loon dashing out to meet the incoming schools of herring and soon enough the local bald eagle pair were swooping in as well. The osprey was dancing in the sky. Life is sooo good at times isn't it!
Soon another fishermen couldn't resist the throngs of herring as my 5 year old grand daughter Katie spent a good part of the afternoon and evening wading in front of camp with her butterfly net trying to no avail to net an alewife, though dozens were dashing through her feet and all around her. At sunset her father and I took her by boat to Pond Brook. Her Dad and her waded up the chilled waters of Pond Brook, which is only three to five feet wide and a foot or so deep, from the lake trying to nab a alewife. In this brook they are so thick that you sometimes can catch them by hand. Katie walked back to the lake beaming with a foot long herring in her grasp for me to see. We kept it wet and headed back to camp to show my sister and mom as well as Katie's sister and mom her catch before we released her back into the lake.
Until about a decade ago the herring were gone from this lake, probably for a hundred years since dams were built downstream in the 1800's. One man is essentially responsible for restoring the herring to the river and lake. My hat is off to him. What a wonderful experience it is for my family to see the herring in the river at the head of the tide, then see them a day or two later streaming past the camp and spawning all along the shore. It is a memory to last a life time. My life is full of luck and people that make me feel lucky.
Sweet, sweet smells of my plume tree blossoming and toads trill away.
Bring on the frogs. Where are the frogs? Where have they gone?