Light Summer Rain

A warm front pushed through Northern Michigan today, bringing light rain and gusty south winds. In the field, the small raindrops angled north on their way to the ground, visible as light streaks against the pines on the far side of the opening. My raincoat was completely unnecessary as the small drops were few and far between. I count three spots per square inch after five minutes of standing in the open field. These raindrops were not the result of a cloud passing overhead at the time, but rather lost drops, too small to fight the upwelling air near the frontal boundary, that were blown this way and that until they found enough weight to fall, or calm enough air to accede to gravity’s invitation to finally fall to earth. Only the largest of the bunch had enough moisture to autograph my raincoat.
Under the trees along the creek, the raindrops are absent. The forest canopy accepts each one, and only when an especially strong gust of wind shakes the whole tree do the leaves add together the tiny droplets and let fall heavy drops to the forest floor. One lands on the bridge of my nose and splatters my entire face. The water is cool, but not cold. The tiny drops have a lot of surface area relative to their mass, so they have warmed to nearly the temperature of the warm August air.
Mushrooms and moths are new sights in the even half-light of the forest. Less than 12 hours of light rain has fallen, yet that is all the mushrooms needed to push up their fruiting bodies. One large, whitish, umbrella-like mushroom was a smooth white dome yesterday. Some dark brown circular-topped mushrooms, an inch and a half high, grow next to the trail where yesterday were only decaying leaves and green acorns. A tiny white mushroom, the size, shape and height of a thumbtack, shine from the moist forest floor.
The rain has stopped or paused, and suddenly, in juxtaposition to the recent downward angled rain, small insects rise from their hidden insectine shelters and angle upward. Many are small mosquitoes; some are smaller gnat-like insects, and from the forest floor rise pale brown moths. By the moths’ size and number, I suspect they are the adult form of the caterpillars that were so numerous this spring and early summer. We had significant infestations of eastern tent worm caterpillars, followed immediately by forest tent worm caterpillars. Which moth is this? I follow the zigzag flight of one near by. It lands on an old oak leaf, blending perfectly with the bleached brown color. I step closer and it flies off. I follow again, and another moth, disturbed by my footsteps, wobbles away to disappear on a leaf just out of range of my eyes. I stalk five or six moths over the span of thirty feet of trail until one lands near enough for me to see the detail of its wings. Only the faintest transverse band of darker pale crosses its triangular wings. Forest tent worm moth. The eastern tent worm moth has a more distinct brown line on each wing, making a chevron. The faint line on these moths line up across their wings with no angle between them. I wonder if the cool moist weather to date will increase moth mortality. The large number of adult moths suggests another spring of defoliation for the hardwoods next year, unless nature reduces their number somehow. Weather can be kind or cruel, and we won’t know which it is until the leaves come out next spring and the overwintering caterpillars – partially developed in their egg masses – either erupt en mass, or in widely scattered trees.
Further along the trail, out of the woods again and in an opening east of the field proper, the smell of wet plants and soil wafts on the calming breeze. Despite the mushrooms, the smell is not musty. I lower my face to the level of the waist-high plants and sniff. No smell my nose can identify. I kneel and smell the ground at my feet. The side of the trail with leaves and sticks smells sweet. The earthy part of the trail smells like dirt (duh!), but sweet as well. That was unexpected. I wonder what process is going on in the soil that has a sweetness to it?
On the hillside lakeward from the field, a slug slowly is crossing the path, its ‘horns’ extended. The forest floor is safe for slugs, which need moisture for their mucus-covered bodies. Better here than in my garden!
The pause in the rain continues. The mosquitoes are persistent – seeking to take advantage of the wet places for egg laying, needing only some blood to nourish them. I choose to walk slowly home again that they may find their meal elsewhere.

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