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Wandering the Missisquoi wildlife refuge

11/01/02 12:00AM By Alan Boye
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Today I am walking the Maquam Creek Trail in the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. The Maquam Creek Trail begins at a hay field that serves as nesting habitat for many birds and mammals. Once across the field, the trail enters a deep woods. Instantly, the trees shelter me from the noise of traffic on State Highway 78, and everywhere around me I hear the diversity of nature: the crinkling splash of the creek, the sharp chirp of a stray bird, the gentle shush of my boots on the soft trail.

Last summer's ferns cover the ground like a blanket of golden-green down. I soon come to the edge of the creek. Maquam is a sluggish, black snake of a creek that winds its way through the dark woods. I pass a small squat mound of mud. The area's many beavers build these mounds, and then mark them with their scent in order to stake out their territory.

A black and white dart zips past my head and into the branches of a dead tree. Looking closely, I see a flash of red, but the downy woodpecker pays no attention to me as he searches the cracks for a meal.

Nearly all of the Missisquoi Refuge is river delta. Now, most Vermonters hear the word delta and think of the Mississippi - cajun food and alligators. But the Missisquoi delta is every bit as diverse. This is a homeland to the Abenaki, a refuge for beaver, woodpecker and osprey, and a place where I can spend an hour or two contemplating the variety of life.

The trail has turned soggy. To go any further, I have to dance from rotting log to a patch of moss in order to keep my boots dry. Less than a half a mile from here Maquam creek blends into Lake Champlain, and it's hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. The creek is still on my right, but the left side of the trail has turned to swamp.

I stop to look at a strange shape in the water. A jelly-like mass encircles a submerged tree. The trail brochure tells me this is a bryozoa colony, a huge mass of millions of tiny mollusks. Over 200 different species of birds frequent this tiny patch of Vermont wilderness, to say nothing of the plants and mammals.

We humans tend to forget that we too are part of nature's variety. Even our speech gives evidence of our own natural diversity. Osprey: from the Latin, meaning "bone-breaker." Bryozoa: from the Greek: bryo meaning moss, and zoa: animal. Missisquoi, from the Abenaki meaning "area of flint." Champlain, named for a French explorer; Vermont: a place of green mountains full nature's wide diversity.

This is Alan Boye, just walking the hills of Vermont.
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