July 4, 2011

Signs and Sounds

By Program Intern Alyssa Piper

While stronger sunrays and the last day of school mark summer for some, Memorial Day is the beginning of summer for Squam Lake and the town of Holderness, NH. The summer residents packed up their boats, trailers, and cars full of spring cleaning and summer fun as they returned to the lake to open up their camps, cabins, and lake houses. It was clear that as the seasonal bustle continued throughout June, summer 2011 was well underway. One thing I noticed as I watched spring unfurl into summer here on the lake—the sights and sounds of wildlife inevitably became more distant as we humans moved back in.

I am a seasonal intern at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, arriving in mid-May from Worcester, MA. When I first arrived, we had days upon days of spring rain and the temperatures never seemed to inch past the high 50s, but being attuned to winter, it was still a welcome change. Coming from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the city environment, it took a few days for me to slow down to adapt to the way of life around here, but I did learn something important—how to closely observe and listen. I was used to listening for cars coming around the corner or for dogs barking from windows, leaving the birds and slapping of water on rocks to the background noise. My first day here, though, all there was to hear was the wind in the tree buds, the spring bird calls, the water on the shore, the rain on the roof, and of course, the mysterious calls of the loons on the lake. As for observations, every glance at the lake garnered at least one glimpse of a loon.. In fact, there was one pair that spent a lot of time around the Science Center’s dock on Little Squam. I thought perhaps they considered me a friend after spending so much time with them every evening. With all the rain, the water level of the lake seemed high, and the land surrounding the lake was so saturated there were Mallard Ducks swimming in the grass! It was delightful, needless to say!

That was a month ago, though. The rain has subsided and the lake level has decreased. There are boats roped to almost every dock and trucks or cars in almost every driveway. The sun is hot and the children that run by smell of sunscreen and bug spray. Last week, during Laconia’s Bike Week, the only sounds apart from passing cars were the constant thunder of motorcycle tailpipes and boats zipping back and forth on the lake. It wasn’t as easy to sit back and listen to nature… You had to strain your ears to focus on the birds and the water, rather than the bikes and the boats. Now, maybe only once every few days do I spot the friendly pair of loons near our dock and only late at night do I hear their lonely calls. What happened? Summer happened, and it’s all too easy to run right past what many of us come here to enjoy—nature.

Next time you’re out and about on a hike, on a boat, or just simply in your own back yard, take a moment to slow down. Not only will you see and hear things you may have never seen or heard ever before, but the wildlife around you may take a moment to slow down and have a moment of curiosity, too. For example, last week I took some reading outside to one of the many fields here at the Science Center. After settling into the sun and grass, I saw not one but three baby woodchucks as they peaked out from the taller grass and browsed the field around me. I stayed as still as I could as I watched their behaviors; they would sit up and look around and then return to finding the most scrumptious clover. After about ten minutes, one baby woodchuck got so close, I could have extended my arm to touch him, though I didn’t—wildlife is for observation. Then, a larger woodchuck appeared from the grass, most likely their mother, for all three babies scurried quickly towards her.

I invite you, rain or shine, day or night, to open your ears and your eyes to nature. Who knows what you will see or hear! Perhaps you’ll see a Common Loon carrying her chick on her back or a fledgling Bald Eagle learning to fly? Or maybe you’ll see a Porcupine up in a tree or hear an Owl’s hoot? Believe me, there’s something new every day!

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