To be honest, the idea of a nature walk with Miles this morning was not hugely appealing. The weather report warned of hurricanes in the south ushering into our area heavy rain and high, gusting winds. My husband said surely I was not going on a nature walk. Friends at the tennis club had the same reaction. My response was to phone Rosemary, a staunch Miles fan, hoping she would pull out. But I have always known that Rosemary is not a quitter and so her reaction came as no surprise. Of course we would carry on! And besides, Rosemary had earlier promised to introduce me to Dosas, an East Indian stuffed crepe, after our last walk with Miles.
As I approached the meeting place, there was hardly a car in the lot. Our nature enthusiasts for the morning numbered a total of three and our intrepid leader swelled our group to four. As our group tramped around the bay, I was reminded of winter walks beside the ocean with waves heaving and crashing, the wind howling and a sky heavy with dark clouds that showed an ominous red band along the horizon. The rain pelted us in the face and made it difficult at times to see much nature and Miles’ voice seemed muffled and far away through our hoods. Miles did not seem to notice however and we tuned in to his fauna, flora and bird news and forgot about the weather.
We learnt how to differentiate the Larch from the Tamarack, trees both native to cool northern hemispheres. The trees appear similar, though the Larch is larger and is one of the dominant trees of the boreal forests in Russia, Canada and Scandinavia. The Tamarack has smaller needles and has very small Tamarack cones. According to Miles, the Tamarack was known as the Canoe Repair Kit Tree to the native people due to its tough, waterproof wood. Both trees turn yellow in the fall and lose their needles late in the season. This activity makes them both Coniferous and Deciduous.
Another interesting lesson was about the Alder tree, part of the Birch family. It has pretty double-toothed leaves and distinct catkins hanging down, even at this time of year. On closer inspection there are dark, older catkins and new green ones that will be pollinated next spring. The catkins of the Alder are the flowers, and there are long male catkins and shorter female ones which are mainly wind-pollinated and sometimes bee-pollinated in the spring.
At this point I heard Miles say there was a nice shelter around the next corner and my mind envisioned a tiny kiosk where hot coffee was being served but Miles’ sentence finished with nice sheltered area of the bay where we could see more ducks. And ducks there were aplenty: the indomitable Red-Breasted Mergansers out in the stormiest waters, dogged and fearlessly diving into the whitecaps while the beautiful Buffleheads were acting like groupies hanging out in the more protected area. Away from all the action, the Mallards were drifting slowly in little groups in the quietest, most protected areas.
Suddenly Miles was steering us toward the parking lot. His talk had turned to the dancing girls on his French cruise ship and we all tried to guess what kind of dancers they could be. Miles will be leaving soon to start his winter assignment and has a lot on his mind. We all wished him well and said Bon Voyage. Though we felt sad to say Adieu, we shall see him in January for more walks. Meanwhile I have Dosas on my mind and wonder what they will be like.