We’re out early in the morning on a day that promises to be another scorcher. Noah and I are sans Jesse, who joined us for a walk the day before but has decided that he’s okay with napping this one out, resting his senior bones.
The day is bright sunshine, with a slight breeze as Noah and I begin our trek of Old Mill Trail in Nockamixon State Park accompanied by bird song and chatter, including the cheer, cheer, cheer and birdie, birdie, birdie of the northern cardinal. Unlike most North American songbirds the female is as loquacious as the male, both known to have a repertoire of over 28 calls and songs. Today they are in full chorus.
Noah bounds about, exploring his surroundings with glee and abandon, his joy providing me with plentiful smiles and occasional guffaws. He has two gaits, strut and all-out sprint, floppy ears flapping, lanky legs leaping over streams and logs. He is one happy camper of a puppy.
As we walk along I pick from the abundant wine berry bushes, offering some of my bounty to Noah who looks at me as if to say, “I think not. Have you forgotten that I don’t do fruit?” Wine berries, or wild raspberries, were imported to North America from Asia in the 1890s for their potential as breeding stock for cultivated raspberries. Like many introduced species, they have unfortunately become rather invasive, but boy are they yummy. By the way – best way to eat wine berries? Pick some that are nice and ripe but not mushy, with a burgundy hue. Pop one into your mouth and let it dissolve, savoring the sweetness with slightly tart undertones.
Noah halts suddenly, tail aquiver, ears at attention before something he obviously finds to be not only foreign but downright threatening. As I approach I see that what’s caused his alarm is a cast-off snake skin. Now, I know many people get the heebie-jeebies around snakes, but I’m one of those odd folks who happen to have an affinity for snakes (okay, I’ll admit to being spooked if one pops out of nowhere). I hold up the skin and it’s a long one – at least four feet in length – perhaps that of an eastern racer, black rat, or eastern ribbon snake. Noah skirts around it, eyeing it suspiciously, clearly communicating his continued distrust.
At this time of year, deep within the woods, wildflowers are somewhat scarce, but we do come upon a few, including germander. Germander is a member of the mint family with spikes of lovely, pale lavender flowers. Despite significant safety concerns, it has been used both medicinally and as a flavoring in alcoholic beverages, such as liqueurs, vermouth and some wines.
While Noah has come a long way, training is a lifelong process, so on our return hike we work on his heel or with me command. I have discovered a wonderful tool for teaching this skill that utilizes a squeeze tube with Kong peanut butter filler; it keeps Noah riveted to my side. He begins to balk as we get near the car – he hates for our outings to end – but with an encouraging nudge, he leaps in. My stomach is talking to me, and it’s telling me it’s time for home and breakfast.
Cindy Woodall resides in Upper Black Eddy.