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Saturday, June 6, 2009

National Trails Day: Hike

For many more pictures, see the Picasa web album for this hike.

Some people from the morning visit to the Canal Town Museum gathered at the trailhead near the graveyard for a short hike. The trail was beautifully sun-dappled, and there was a new flower blooming around every turn. I lingered at each one, wondering if I should break out the camera yet, and began falling back before we'd even hit the reservoir trail.

I managed not to get too far behind - for about ten minutes. Then I saw a bug on a plant just north of the old reservoir, and it was all over. Later I used BugGuide to find out that this is a female Panorpa. Judging from the Wing Guide of Ontario, I'd say it's a Panorpa acuta. It's definitely a female, because the information page tells us that the males have an appendage on the rear of the abdomen that looks frighteningly like a scorpion's stinger. They don't sting, though, so you can relax. I know I did.

I caught up with the rest of the folks just as they were entering the woods. Then came the depressing part of the trail: the procession of broken birdhouses. It turns out that Kathy Disque had just put them up this spring, and as we passed through the woods to the tall staircase, we saw that they'd all been vandalized.

Looking at the sad bundle of birdhouse slats that Mary collected, I thought again of my old theory to explain why people seem hard-wired to engage in vandalism. I think that it's a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics. In attempting to gain a reproductive advantage over its peers, an organism has two basic choices: work to build up its own resources, or work to destroy the resources of others. Since the entropy of any system always increases, it's always far easier to reduce order than to increase it by the same amount; tearing something down is much easier than building it up. It seems clear to me that an evolutionary process could select for vandalism, enraging though the results may be. Thoughts like this help me cope.

We crossed the big bridge over Canastota Creek and the little one over the tributary just upstream, climbed the slope to the old railroad bed, and gathered around while Al told us some of the history of the railroad. Then we turned back, stopping on the bridge for the shot at the top of the page.

While Mary, Kathy and others fished some garbage out of the creek, I noticed a spider hanging from its web a few feet away. I took the opportunity to snap a few hundred shots as it devoured a fly it had caught. Later I referenced BugGuide and found that it was Mangora placida, or tuftlegged orb weaver. There was something strange about this one, though, because orb weavers are, by definition, supposed to weave orb webs. This one instead had a simple, thick, horizontal tangle web. It also had a bum leg, as you'll see if you look closely at shots in the Picasa web album. I wonder if that had anything to do with its aberrant, slipshod approach to web-building. Check out these gorgeous shots of the same species.

At the top of the stairs Mary paused to see if anything could be done for the bench, also recently vandalized. Apparently not.

Between the stairs and the trail I got some shots of a yellow wood-sorrel, but unfortunately my shots don't show the angle of the seed pod stalks, which would tell me what species it was.

On the way out of the woods I snapped some shots of herb robert, a constant - one might say unavoidable - companion in these parts.

We passed back out of the woods and along the path over the old reservoir, and as I reentered the woods northwest of the cemetery I made a point to get some shots of the delightful blue-eyed grass I'd seen on the way in. They're not what you'd call rare, but they're also not something I see every day, and that little blast of saturated blue with a brilliant yellow center always makes me smile.

Nearing the end of the trail, we passed through a plentiful copse of dame's rocket, an old favorite of mine from back when I was traipsing up and down Fairview Avenue with my Peterson's Guide to Wildflowers.

I certainly couldn't end the hike without grabbing some shots of the first burst of color I'd seen that day: some forget-me-nots growing in the stream just a few feet from the trailhead.

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