Nature is amazing, and I am continually awestruck by things I see during walks along the trails in Preservation Parks.
I remember the first time I saw an albino squirrel scurrying among his dark-gray brethren at Hogback Ridge Park in Sunbury. I had never seen a pure-white squirrel before, and I could not keep my eyes off it -- daunted only a little by the naturalists in the office who pointed out that albino squirrels are "really not that uncommon."
All of us at the Preservation Parks offices remember the day we received a playful video from a park visitor, showing what appeared to be a fierce, sharp-backed monster emerging from the water in the Hogback Ridge pond. I still love that video, which featured a photo of a raccoon, animated to send it sinking behind a log in fear of the so-called monster.
That monster turned out to be a couple of snapping turtles with their tails and spiny backs positioned in the water just the right way to form the scaly beast. "Oh, that's a snapping turtle," a more-knowledgeable co-worker said, nonchalantly, when I showed her the video. Vaguely disappointed, I had hoped for something more -- mythological.
A couple of summers ago, I came across a strange-looking marking on a leaf. The creamy triangle had a dark-brown cross and looked like a tiny stringed instrument. Honestly, I thought it was just a blight on a leaf, but a closer look revealed a pair of antennae, and a feathery appearance. It was a clymene moth, and once again, I had come across something new in nature.
Do you see a pattern here?
Last week, I learned a new word: gynandromorph. The word was included in a fascinating New York Times article about split-sex butterflies.
What caught my eye were the photographs, depicting butterflies with male coloration on one wing and female on the other.
The article also referenced another split-sex creature: a northern cardinal that has been visiting a backyard bird feeder in Erie, Pennsylvania. Half the bird is bright red -- the male's color -- and the other half is taupe -- the color of a female cardinal.
Who knew? Well, plenty of scientists and naturalists knew, I'm sure. But not me. That is part of the reason I love the natural world as much as I do. I don't need to hit the trail armed with wildlife books and tree-identification tools to appreciate its beauty and variability. I didn't need to know that the clymene moth was a real thing, or that pond monsters, viewed just the right way, are really snapping turtles.
I'm not a scientist or a naturalist -- just a former journalist turned communications manager. But I was born with natural curiosity and eyes wide open. I've been able to explore trails to find trees and clouds and butterflies and birds and all those things that make up the natural world.
That is what the trails at Preservation Parks offer to the community: the places and spaces to venture out, with eyes wide open and a heart full of curiosity, to learn about the nature of Delaware County.
Join me on the trail, and you'll see.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.