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Some of my favorite wildflowers are found in the woods, early in the spring before the leaves are fully out, blocking the sunlight. On one of those bright, sunny mornings we had during spring vacation, I decided to head out to the Wachusett Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton  to see what I could find.

At first I was a little disappointed. There were plenty of plants developing along the trails, but none were quite ready to blossom. I came to a trail called the Brook Loop Trail, clearly marked but not on my map. Not a surprise, that map’s probably been sitting in my pack for years. I was richly rewarded.

A Red Trillium at Wachusetts Meadows    

 

 

    A Red Trillium

 

 

 This Red Trillium was on the hillside just above the brook. It also goes by the name Wake Robin. I once read somewhere that it got the name because it blossoms when robins begin to nest. Nice story, but perhaps not especially accurate.

 

 

                                                                                                 A Trout-Lily along the Brook Loop trail

 There were a lot of Trout-Lilies, like this one, along the side of the brook. Starflowers were also out, and bellworts.

As an added bonus, a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers kept flitting from tree to tree just ahead of me, never stopping in one place long enough for me to get a good picture, though I did get a good look at them through my binoculars.

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I came across the porcupine pictured above while walking through one of the pastures at the Wachusett Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton recently.

It’s a little unusual, but not unheard-of, to find one hanging around out in an open field. More often you find them perched up in a tree, or if you’re really determined to find one, curled up in a hollow log or in rocky den.

Nothing perturbs a porcupine – the 30,000 barbed quills that cover most of its body ensure that anything does will suffer painful consequences. The names for this chubby, prickly rodent comes from the combination of porcus & spina, Latin for pig and thorn.

I was reminded of an incident some years ago, when I was working at a wildlife sanctuary in the western part of the state. A porcupine was an occasional visitor to the cabin where I stayed during the summer months, usually when there were no tourists around.

As it happened, there came a day when a family city types – wearing flip-flops and street clothes – somehow made their way along the trail to the cabin and came face-to-face with the porcupine. I had expected shrieks, instead they mistook the porcupine’s disdain for them as a sign of friendliness and asked if they could pet it.

When I explained that it wouldn’t be a good idea, the mother in the group started to argue with me, saying she just wanted to be friendly. Luckily (for her) one of her children, a girl about 8 or so, had more sense and told her she should never pet a wild animal. Then they wanted to know where I kept the other animals … they were an extreme case.

Back to the porcupine in Princeton.

Fishers are its most dangerous predator, an animal that has successfully learned to attack the porcupine at its face and belly, the only two areas not protected by quills.

Porcupines are never in a hurry to go anywhere, and this one was no exception. He (or she) was quietly munching on the new vegetation in the field and let me come up close without giving me more than the occasionally suspicious glance. We regarded each other for a good 15 minutes while I walked around taking pictures from different angles. It didn’t budge an inch, and pretty much just kept eating.

Eventually I was the one who got bored an heading off looking for some early wildflowers. More on that in my next post.

I read Rachel Carson before I read Thoreau. Silent Spring came out 50 years ago, and I read it for a 7th grade book report. I’m not sure how I got hold of a copy, but it must have been from the library. I remember my mother picking it up and looking through it.

“So this is the book everyone’s talking about,” she said. When I was done, she read it. “It’s an important book,” she said. She went on and wrote a book review for the newspaper she was working at.

It influenced much of my thinking, and much of what I’ve done since. Thoreau, Muir, Aldo Leopold and so many others have all shaped my thinking in their own way.

I was going to write something about Silent Spring and Rachel Carson to commemorate the anniversary. But then I read an article on autism in the New York Times this weekend. I’ve linked to it for anyone who’s interested.

It’s been all over the news that 1 in 88 American children are now diagnosed with some form of autism, and the numbers are growing. Trying to figure out why this is happening has the experts scratching their collective backsides. Some suggest it doesn’t exist at all. Others point to as-yet-undiscovered genetic reasons.

What’s Silent Spring have to do with this? The Times article has an interesting sentence: “The C.D.C. was … holding out the possibility of unknown environmental factors.” They don’t elaborate.

I will.

Consider the following: a 2011 Stanford University study showed that 38 percent of autism cases could be traced to genetic factors, while 62 percent came from environmental factors. The sharp rise in autism cases cannot be blamed on genetic factors, because genes simply don’t mutate that fast.

That would leave environmental factors as the chief culprit.

Consider all the toxic substances we are exposed to: something like 85,000 different chemicals in our food, in our water, in the air, and in the products we use.

The average newborn has more than 200 different chemicals and heavy metals in its blood at the moment of birth, and 158 of them are toxic to the brain. These children experience 100 times more chemical exposures now than children 50 years ago, when Rachel Carson was writing Silent Spring.

I would suggest there is nothing “unknown” or otherwise mysterious about the environmental factors.

One last thought.

“The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself…”– Rachel Carson

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