Radio Field Trip: Night Hiking in Laconia
In Morning Edition’s series, Radio Field Trips, we’re taking you to places in New Hampshire you may not have heard about.
For our latest story, Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley and producer Mary McIntyre visited Prescott Farm in Laconia for a moonlit night hike.
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(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)
It’s past six in the evening, the sun has set, and I’m about to go for a hike.
I’m meeting with environmental educator Sarah Dunham-Miliotis at Prescott Farm in Laconia. There’s still traces of snow on the ground, and I’m not sure if we’re going to see much wildlife tonight.
I ask Sarah why the farm invites the public on these walks this time of year. Why not when it’s warmer in midsummer or fall?
“The world is waking up this time of year,” Sarah says. “So there's a lot of things emerging from their winter dormancy. In patches where there still is snow, we'll see some animal tracks. That’s harder to see in the summer.”
There are no flashlights on this walk. The full moon will guide us instead. It’s so bright in the sky, it lights up the dark trees around us.
We walk down a hill following a winding path through thick brush until we reach an open field near the main entrance of the farm.
We approach a white, wooden barn rebuilt in the 1800s. A giant walnut tree is planted in front. The moonlight shines through its sprawling, bare branches.
I comment it must have raised generations of squirrels.
“Yes, it really has,” Sarah says. “Yeah, we find the nuts way down in the woods.”
We continue on, to another, larger field across the way.
There’s so much moonlight, we have no problem navigating the field. I can make out the faces of those around me.
I begin to chat with fellow hiker Anne. She lives only a few miles up the road, and she’s been to a few of these walks before.
“I really like learning about the outdoors,” Anne says. “And I especially just appreciate being able to name trees, or wildlife tracks and things like that, and I’m learning it here.”
There are signs animals have been here. Patches of melting snow reveal where some critters go to hide during the winter season. I can clearly see where they have carved small, winding pathways underneath the snow.
“A lot of small critters – mice, voles, some red squirrels – they’re active in the winter,” Sarah says. “But they spend their time under the snow. So there’s this whole phenomenon called the subnivean zone where they make all these little tunnels under the snow.”
Sarah says the tunnels protect them from predators and keep them warm.
“They’re everywhere,” she says. “Just imagine this field with little mouse tunnels everywhere around. It’s kind of cool to see, and once the grass grows up, we will never notice.”
Large maple and oak trees, some hundreds of years old, line the perimeter of the field. And as if on cue, we hear the hooting of owls nearby.
Sarah says she’s sure they are barred owls are calling to one another.
“This is the time of year where they’re mating and nesting. So you hear them calling back and forth a lot,” she says.
But once the owls are aware of us, they go quiet.
We keep walking, and eventually make our way back inside to warm up. Before everyone leaves, I ask Anne if there’s something special about hiking at night.
“Absolutely, I think something that was really cool was seeing our shadows by the moon instead of by the sun,” Anne says. “I don’t think I ever knew you could do that. It was really neat.”
It’s something I experienced an awful lot as a kid, growing up in the fields and woods of New England. There is something special about being in the light of moon.
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