In Cattaraugus County west of Little Valley lies Allenberg Bog, one of the Buffalo Audubon Society's sanctuaries. Local residents call it Waterman Swamp.
Last week I joined John Hodson on a working trip to Allenberg. John is a former Audubon president who serves as caretaker of this sanctuary. Under his leadership recent purchases have added significant acreage to the property and he wanted to locate the new borders for posting.
This was my first winter visit but I had been to Allenberg in summer. In fact, that hike suggested how important this boundary marking would be. Entering the area from Farm Market Road on that earlier trip, we walked directly into a clear-cut. Not only had a number of valuable trees been removed from sanctuary property but the timbered area looked like a cyclone had passed through. Thick undergrowth and delicate wildflowers had been trampled by the lumbering machinery and bright sunlight penetrated what had been a deeply shaded copse. It would take years for nature to repair the damage.
If the property line had been better posted, that distruction might not have occurred.
Although our winter trip was a wonderful outing, there were tense moments. The first was when John drove across a snow-covered field and through a briskly running creek. I had visions of wading ashore and hiking miles for help, but he lurched out in fine style. Later he took us down an unplowed road whose only exit was up a steep incline. I held my breath but he again made it without mishap. Thank goodness for four wheel drive and snow tires.
The survey was great fun. We chuckled at how important our university degrees were to the process of taking compass readings, lining up the hundred foot tape, marking the endpoints and moving on to add another length. Our toughest job was remembering how many hundreds we had counted. It was easy to forget that as we clambered over old fences whose rusty barbed wire snagged our pants, through thorny shrubbery that grabbed at our knitted gloves and hats and under fun-loving hemlocks that dropped snow down our necks.
As we made our way through the forest, I thought of the time years ago when I helped survey farm properties near Binghamton. My boss insisted that I sing loudly as we advanced through the woods. It was deer hunting season and he didn't want to take any chances.
But now, as we trudged through the snow along our designated line, my mind turned to what a grand opportunity this was. Winter hikers will know what I mean. The snow cover suppressed sound and even the distant barking of a dog came as a shock. Although we saw many turkey and deer tracks, we came upon virtually no wildlife in the woods and even with John just yards away I had that eerie feeling of solitude that the forest gives. When we rejoined, I found myself tempted to whisper.
Life was there however. Where we crossed a field we observed several voles. They dashed up out of their small passageways to appear for an instant before diving down again. One little mouse surfaced intermittently for several yards as it sped away from us. The local hawks and owls must be having a good year.
We also found a tiny spider in the woods hanging at our eye level from the end of a single strand of webbing. How amazing that this infinitesimal bit of protoplasm should be active in these freezing temperatures. I hope it makes it through the still tougher months to come.