Friday, January 4, 2013

Cherry Hill Gate- Winter Edition! (And a train show to boot!)

Hello All!
   It has been a while since last we posted. Life has been full of ups and downs since then. Christmas and New Years have come and gone and this is our first post of hopefully many, many more for the 2013 year.
  We start off our hiking adventures this year going to Cherry Hill Gate. We have taken pictures of Cherry Hill in the spring when nothing is yet blooming but the frogs and turtles and many, many other species in nature are procreating. We have been there in summer, leaves and flowers blooming, birds a singing and chipmunks-a-munking. :-) We have been there in fall when the leaves are turning the many hues of autumn and as the animals prepare to hunker down for the winter, BUT this is our first foray into snow-covered beauty in the beauty of Cherry Hill. I have to say, each season here has it's special appeal. Spring is jacket weather (most of the time), the temperatures are more bearable and new life springs abundantly all around. Spring is full of beginnings. Summer has the hot temperatures, there's a LOT less to do to get ready for a hike. The biggest challenge is missing the dousing rain. Summer holds a bevy of beautiful animals of many shapes and sizes and variety. Did I mention that Summer is hot? I don't like hot. I like comfortable. My comfort zone is less than 70, more than 65, I like cloudy too, it's easier to take pictures without a lot of backlighting. :-) Summer hikes can be challenging because of the heat though. Fall brings my favorite time of year. I love the way the world looks as the blazing colors spread across the hills. The animals prepare for winter and migrations begin. Animals that stay behind are either storing up for winter or gorging for a long winter nap. Cloudy, drizzly, breezy days abound leaves boat down and blanket the ground with a crispy carpet while autumn spices fill the air. Then comes winter. All the other seasons are boxed in with it. Winter begins and ends the year. Some, like the previous couple of years are very mind and offer very little in the way of snow and frigid temperatures, but this winter has been more of a winter wonderland winter. This winter we have had a foot of snow just after Christmas (in total, not all in one blow) and the temperatures have been at freezing and below for more time than I care for. I enjoy freezing temperatures as much as I do scorching ones. Winter holds it's own special kind of beauty though. Freshly fallen snow blankets bare trees and frozen ground. It's beautiful, however painful if it comes into contact with bare skin for any length of time. If prepared for it however, adventures in the snow can be not only challenging, but rewarding. The amount of wildlife available to observe is not just scarcer, but what's left is plumper and easier to see (if it's not white) against the snow and barren trees. With no foliage left, the forest can stretch out into seeming eternity. I am reminded of a poem. Please allow me to share it with you. (The kids have been learning this this season, they're getting pretty good at it too!)
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Well, enough with the talking, on to the photos! First, let me tell you, we went to Cherry Hill with the intention of feeding birds and it being fairly untouched. Silly us. There had been people there all day! Even while we were there we saw a good many people out and about. Who knew! After we went hiking in the frigid, windy weather today, we went to the RBG building and saw a train show! It was cool, I took pictures, I'll show those too. These photos are a conglomeration (please don't give me credit for knowing how to spell that word, just be surprised I was close enough that spell check knew what I meant!) of photos that Mike and Sam and I took. 

Here we begin. This is the new and improved  sign in front of the Cherry Hill Gate trail. Pretty is it not? :-)
Here is one the friendly neighborhood geese who choose to stay year round at the RBG.
Off down the trail. Our eager explorers embark on their journey. All the kids are bundled up in snow great and Mike and I are doing our best to stay warm. The wind was biting today and it was around freezing but felt cooler than that thanks to the wind chill.  Down the hill we begin, however, we don't get far, the call of the chickadees entice the intrepid explorers and they stop to feed the birdies. 
See, that didn't take long. Rora tried for a good long time to convince one of these fluffy bundles to eat from her hand. This is a big step for her. She has decided that she has left the life of a bird watcher for that of a bird feeder. The real test will be if she's willing to feed a bird without gloves on come spring time. Don't worry though, time will tell if she were able to catch the eye of a hungry little bird before the trip was over.
Here was a nuthatch that was also eager for a handout. He did get one. It wouldn't be nice to leave out such a beautiful bird. Even if he wasn't beautiful he'd have gotten some seeds.
He posed for a nice little picture. He had a short attention span for posing though. He wouldn't hold still after this.
See, there he goes!
Here he is alight on Sam's hand. This is a photo that Sam took as he was waiting for some unsuspecting bird to ask for a handout. This particular nuthatch was very kind and grateful though and posed long enough for a photo shoot in thanks for his meal.
Here is Caleigh in light blue and Eva in dark blue going down the trail. You will notice that many of the photos are taken from behind. That's becuase I was not as intrepid as the other explorers, I was cold and reluctant. As I said at the beginning, cold is not my forte. I was glad for the pristine beauty of white nature, but not as eager for biting cold of the invisible wind. Also, I walk slower than they do and keep stopping for photos, but that's beside the point, we do not press it, we, look over it. ;-)
This part of the trail is a slight hill. You can see Mike, Sam and Rora at the bend at the bottom, but Caleigh and Eva decided to see if their snow suits and the firmly packed snow made for good tobogganing, they did not, but they had fun trying.
I told Eva to smile, this is what I got. This is a happy face, trust me.
At every moment before this Caleigh has been whining, complaining and fussing. I know you're wondering, why, on a beautiful, however cold day, would such a bundled up, beautiful girl be whining, fussing and complaining. Well, I'll tell you. She was in a sour state becuase up to this point, no chickadee or bird of any flavor had decided to grace her with it's presence. This discouraged her to the point of distraughtfulness. (Spell check doesn't think that's a word.) She was in tears because of it and was certain that life as she knew it was not worth living if 5 minutes into our foray into nature she had been so utterly unsuccessful. I finally convinced her that no bird would want to share in her presence if she was going to behave so badly. Also, I made it plain that such bad behavior would only be rewarded with a swift trek back to the van where she and I would sit in cold silence until everyone else had had their fun and then we would go home where her bed awaited her as did an entire week of naps and lack of electronic diversion and that if her mood and attitude didn't change post-haste and a smile didn't replace her frowny tears, this trek would begin immediately. This is the subsequent smile that stayed on her face most of the rest of the visit into our cold land of beauty. 
Not far around the bend they found a multitude of fat squirrels dancing up and down on the fallen logs before them. They (the squirrels, not the children) had no interest in being fed, they had apparently been given permission to go out and play at the playground and were completely oblivious to everyone watching.
Eva posing near the squirrely playground.
Aurora (or what you can see of her). She is smiling, trust me. :-)
In the cold embrace of winter, the pond area is quite frozen over and takes on a distinctly different look. The boardwalk is packed firmly with snow and obvious footprints of people and animals alike can be found on the frozen water below. None of those footprints however belong to our family. Not only is it not allowed to go off trail, but ill advised when you're not sure how much weight the ice will bear. 
See the foot prints?
The frozen remains of once marshy goodness. The pond is hibernating until the warmth of spring awakens her and she springs to life once more. 
This is a Mourning Dove, so called because her call sounds so mournful. I don't think it's her fault. God had a reason for it sounding so sad, even her beak is blue. She sat here for a good long while. The only bird that really, fully cooperated with photo taking. This is also one of Caleigh's favorite types of birds. Not sure why, but it is.
Here is Aurora, trying very paitently (or trying to be patient) for a bird to take her offering. They had been being fed all morning though and we didn't go until into the afternoon. They were probably bored and full, but she persisted. She tried again, 

and again,
and again, 
and again, until finally, PAYDIRT! (so to speak)
If you ask her, she fed 2500 birds today. Caleigh is certain that's an exaggeration, Aurora doesn't know what that means and sticks to her story. Either way, after a lot of patience, she had quite a high success rate with the birds.
Eva on the other hand was not at all interested in feeding the birds, not on her hands anyway. That's not to say she's sticking out her tongue in hopes of feeding a bird on it, she was just passing the time however she could find amusement. Not sure why she's doing this, but it made sense to her at the time. She mostly dropped whatever seeds she was given on the ground. Threw pieces of dirty snow over the side of the railing and sang O Come All Ye Faithful, over and over and over again. I'm not sure why, but again, it made sense to her and her sisters found themselves singing with her much of the time. 
Just in case you were wondering, this is not a bird. It's a muskrat. Susie and Sam were both out today.
Sam got these photos. I didn't realize muskrats were all season animals, but you learn something new everyday. Some days are just more memorable than others. 
You can't really see it well, but the bird in this picture is a Cooper's Hawk. It was flying all over, swooping down and trying to catch sparrows. Mike and the kids are fascinated with raptors. This was the best photo that was taken of it. Mike took this one of the times he stole the camera from me.
The girls and I beat Mike and Sam up the hill. Who knew it was possible. Eva ran most of the way and Caleigh, so worried she'd get lost or stolen ran after her yelling for her to stop and wait. This is at the very beginning of the hike, or the very end, it really depends how long you've been hiking and whether you're coming or going. In our case, it was at the end directly before going. Caleigh managed her way onto it quite easily, Eva, not so much. Here is photo documentation of her successful attempt at mounting the log.
Aren't they sweet?! That's a rhetorical question, just in case you were wondering.
Here is Mike, back where we started, in much the same place as the first photos taken. He's easily distracted. He heard birds and in his limited grasp on the language of birds, he took their singing to mean they'd like him to stop and feed them. Aurora decided that father knew best and waited with him to see if indeed he had rightly interpreted their calls. 
This is Sam. He ran up the hill. He didn't find it as invigorating as Eva did. Good thing that sign was there or we'd have been picking him up off the ground. He's not as little as he used to be.

After this we pile into the van and take off the the RBG building very nearly directly across the street. Here is what we see there.

For those of you not "in the know", these little structures are called inuksuks. (pronounced in-ook-shook). If you have never heard of them before, they are structures of stone built of flatish rocks in the general shape of a person, though not always. They were/are used by the Inuit (previously known as Eskimo) peoples of Northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland as navigational aids, coordination points, markers and message centers. One is used on the Nunavut flag of Canada. If you want to know more about them, you can google them or look them up on Wikipedia! :-)

Notice how around that hole it's shaped like a bear?

I think this little room is supposed to look like that of a queen bee. There was a little car that looked suspiciously like a bee that kept stopping in there.

This hole has what I think is a fish leaning gracefully backwards, in a position I've never seen a live fish take before, over the top of another tunnel.

Here is the CN Tower, the full size, original version is located in Toronto, this rather handsome miniature wood version of it is located in a forest home amongst various other Canadian icons.
Here's Mike next to the Tower.
Here is a lighthouse. It is suspiciously located on the banks of what seems to be a quiet river. Not the normal home of a lighthouse, especially such a grandly built one, but if needed by the wee folk of this lovely haven, who am I to argue with their placement of it?
If you click on this picture and enlarge it, you will hopefully see a waterfall in the distance.

The only covered bridge in this small world. Humble beauty appropriately placed over a river.

The lovely little world from above. The tiny details are unable to be seen from such heights, but the grandness of the undertaking is much more obvious.

And that is our afternoon. We went home hereafter to a lovely dinner of homemade pizza. I hope you enjoyed our photo documentation of our expeditions. I hope to see you again sometime soon!

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