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Walk a mile in our shoes

By Susan and Biff Andrews

We are not Master Naturalists because we “know it all” about nature. We are Master Naturalists because we are interested in all aspects of nature.

So when we take our dog Skylar (a.k.a. “Poot”) for a walk — usually at Windsor Castle or Lone Star Lakes or the Dismal Swamp — we try to observe our surroundings carefully. Follow along with us as we share our observations of our walk.

The first thing we notice is that the kudzu is in bloom. It’s hard to begrudge any positives to kudzu, but this might be the one area — the purple blossoms are lovely.

The next plant that seizes our attention is the poison ivy — a native species, at least — with two-inch vines and huge leaves. On the Eastern Shore, we’ve seen three-inch vines that wrapped and killed a small tree, and then stood alone as a tree itself when the host tree rotted. Get ready Lone Star.

Speaking of trees, we came across the “fruits” of two edible species, persimmons and pecans. The ripe persimmons were a beautiful golden yellow; full and succulent, the pecans must have blown down in the tropical storm-force gusts recently. They were definitely not ready to shell. We have not yet screwed up the courage to try the persimmons.

While we noticed several walnut trees, we saw not a single nut hanging or on the ground.

In some trees we passed: Spanish moss. At Lone Star Lakes. On the Suffolk/Isle of Wight County line. Perhaps this “climate change” thing is for real, and we are getting more “southern.”

It will be interesting to watch it this winter and see how it handles the cold. But it got here somehow.

Two plants along the roadside are noteworthy — one for its beauty and one for its invasiveness. The beauty, thistle, is just now blooming, and with nearly every purple flower there’s a swallowtail hanging on it.

For the next three weeks, a drive or walk through Lone Star will reward the visitor with close-up views of butterflies.

The invasive is stilt grass. The battle has been lost. The stilt grass carpets the forest floor, having replaced dozens of native species. Oh, well. Phragmite has done the same in the marshes. We saw some clumps nearly three feet deep.

When we came to a lake launch spot, there were many interesting species to observe. Cattails lined the dock at the water’s edge. Tiny vines with yellow orchid-like blossoms climbed every vertical plant or sign. And then there was the alligator grass.

Right next to the sign warning about the dangers of aquatic hitchhikers, the Lone Star Lakes are sporting alligator grass. It won’t be long before it clogs the shoreline and floats past in small islands.

Next to the lake was a small flowerbed being cared for by a volunteer Master Gardener.

He told us that their organization would be selling plants at the Taste of Suffolk this weekend. We’ll be there!

And finally, on the way back to the car, our lone noteworthy bird sighting — an osprey about thirty feet over our heads — a lovely sight and sound, as he gave his piercing cry.

The good: flowers, butterflies, and Master Gardeners.

The bad: invasive kudzu, stilt grass, and alligator grass.

The mundane: packing out dog poop in a bag.

The delightful: an osprey close up.

It’s all on display. Windsor Castle Park is just as interesting. And the Dismal Swamp is even more interesting. And….

Take a hike! Who knows what you will see?

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.