A few months ago, Kalen ordered some UV flashlights off Amazon. He needed them for work to check some kind of coating on specialty circuit boards they were making, but he has often found that it is more efficient to order things for work from personal accounts and have the company reimburse him. So of course, when the UV flashlights were delivered, we had to open them up and play with them. We turned off all the lights in the house and walked around shining the lights on everything, exclaiming when we found something that fluoresced, like the pattern in the curtains or the different strings in the rag rugs in the kitchen. We looked at the dog’s gums and teeth, at the house plants, and the cash in our wallets. It was great fun; I highly recommend it. We also looked at the bathroom. That was not fun. I don’t recommend that.
Later on Kalen was researching other things that might be interesting with a UV flashlight, and while we didn’t find a lot of practical advice, we decided that at the very least, my parents would think it was kind of cool, especially my dad who encourages curiosity at every turn. He often brought home various toys he had bought to illustrate various scientific principles to his physics classes with an excited cry of, “Holly, look at this!” I’m still mesmerized by the mirrored flying-saucer thing that produced a realistic and 3D projection of whatever small object was placed inside. I know it was all about light refraction and reflection, but it seems like magic.
We visited my parents for an extended Easter weekend and a beautiful time. My parents’ house is a few hours farther north than my own house, which means the seasonal changes are a couple weeks offset. Their spring flowers open about two weeks later than ours, and their autumn leaves begin to turn about two weeks earlier. Those transitionary periods can often feel fleeting with weather that rarely matches up with our idea of what spring and fall “should” feel like, so visits during this time always seem extra special, also kind of like magic, making it feel like the seasons take just a little longer to unfold and granting more time to enjoy them.
We had beautiful weather for the several days we were visiting and spent quite a bit of time outside. We participated in a rural springtime tradition which also happens to be the only kind of hunting that I care about: mushroom hunting. We walked through the woods, and even when we don’t find any fungi, we always discover something marvelous. I don’t think it’s been quite warm or wet enough yet this year for mushrooms, but it’s still early. We did manage to find a tiny sapling adorned with a bird’s nest. The nest was empty and I don’t know what kind of bird built it, but the scale of it all made it seem like something from a fairy story. We also found a turtle, freshly emerged from his winter slumber judging by the thick layer of dirt on his shell. I don’t think it was either Harriet or Hubert, either, although I didn’t get a very good look. I especially enjoyed the moss ball we found, apparently a lost baseball or tennis ball from who-knows-when that rolled into the woods and adopted by a moss colony. All our discoveries were appreciated and left exactly where we found them.
We don’t have to venture into the trees to appreciate the local scene either. As we ate our breakfast one morning, a large turkey moseyed into the back yard. Mom and Dad have a large platform bird feeder in the yard, so we regularly watch its visitors and make note of them in our Merlin app, but the turkey was a fun surprise. Turkeys aren’t uncommon here, but it certainly wasn’t what we normally see when we’re looking at the feeder. We got Pippin to look out the window at it, but he didn’t seem to know what to think, and the bird soon wandered off.
Another evening, though, Mom and Dad had meetings and Kalen was helping his mom with an errand. I stayed home to watch Pippin. Pippin adores sitting on the end of the sidewalk and just being. He’s an excellent example for practicing being present in the moment. I had my laptop out and was working on a few drafts for this blog and decided to sit on the sidewalk with Pippin to better keep an eye on him. The birds have seemed especially joyful this weekend, and as they sang, we heard other noises through the woods. Squirrels are astonishingly noisy, crashing about recklessly before darting up trees (and falling out of them far more often that you’d think). There was plenty of this, but we also heard a slower crunch, more measured and even. I looked out into the woods, half expecting a neighbor absorbed in their own mushroom hunting, which I suppose, on reflection, it could have been. A large deer swiveled its head to me and waggled its tail. My phone was inside charging, and I didn’t dare risk spooking the deer by getting up to retrieve it. After a moment, another deer appeared. And then another. I only saw three, but based on the sound, I think there were at least two more.
It amazes me how perfectly they blend into their surroundings. Over the course of half an hour, I watched the three slowly make their way down the hill, nosing the leaves for spring shoots and when I looked away, it was difficult to spot them again until they were revealed with a tail flick or a vigilant head swivel. Because of their effective camouflage, I can never photograph them well; there’s never enough contrast, but I’m almost glad I didn’t have my phone. Without the pressure to get a good picture, I was able to better enjoy the moment and the stillness of our guests. I was also impressed with Pippin who spotted them about the time I did and stared intently, although I’m sure he heard and smelled them long before they revealed themselves. He probably could even identify them individually, as I’m sure he’s encountered their scent on various trails in the woods and in low spots in the pasture.
Kalen had been thinking when we were mushroom hunting, though, and he ordered a surprise for my parents. One of the things he had read the UV flashlights could be used for was mushroom hunting, so the night the flashlights were delivered, we played Nerd Family and traipsed out into the woods with our UV flashlights. We didn’t find any mushrooms, and later research came back with conflicting answers, but like our first mushroom hunt, zero mushrooms didn’t equal failure. We found several other exciting things that we couldn’t see with normal light. Lichen on trees and stones shone brightly, and large decorative stones in the driveway had new patterns and features we had previously been blind to.
The most exciting discovery, though, were insects. We don’t have a positive ID on them yet, but there was some kind of grubby, centipede-like critter crawling around on some dead wood that positively blazed in the darkness.
It’s particularly difficult to capture images and video of things that fluoresce under UV light, but Kalen got this pretty good picture. I’ve never been so fascinated watching a bug crawl around on a log, but the only way I can describe it is “unreal.” We found a couple more up and down the driveway, but there certainly weren’t a lot of them, only three or four at most.
We got a little cold and it was past bedtime, so we called it a night. We didn’t find any mushrooms, or Easter Eggs for that matter. But turtles and mystery bugs were a pretty great alternative.