Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
On this steep hillside that faces north a cool wind blows without interference from either landscape or vegetation. The foliage on most trees, long since deposited on the dark humus of this forest floor, provides no impedance to the stout breeze that moves the air and cools me as I climb the forested gradient. I am here for no particular reason other than to celebrate the beauty of the stark November forest. It is a blessing that I am obligated to enjoy so that I can appreciate the grace and beauty of the natural world. For me it is nothing short of rapture.
There can be little doubt that I fully appreciate the green of summer. Life is abundant. The forest seems joyous. And the beauty of all things living almost beyond description. But this time of year, when leafless branches provide distant view between naked trees, the woods take on a distinct beauty of their own. The countryside in autumn may hold colors that are more pallid than summer but they are no less beautiful. It is as if the entire forest has adorned a sepia tone; perhaps life imitating art. Evergreen ferns dot the forest floor. Spinulose woodfern, and Christmas fern provide a sampling of color when not covered by the overburden of fallen leaves. And large areas of evergreens trees such as hemlocks, white pine, and red spruce provide the perfect contrast to the browns, pale yellows, and grays that dominate this barren landscape.
Deciduous trees, no longer clad with evidence of life, take a rest while cold weather is cradled into this region. The mood of these quiet woods somehow seems pensive and contemplative. It is a good time to fully appreciate all of the magnificence that stands before me. And with Thanksgiving arriving in less than two weeks it is the perfect time to count the blessings that these New England woods gives to those who will take the time to notice.
We are blessed with clean air. Our forests absorb carbon and provide oxygen. That we live in an area that holds vast tracks of woods means we have more that is wild and fewer humans. Air pollution is minimal and clear, healthy air is abundant. Any one who has taken a deep breath of cold air in a autumn New England forest can attest to the fact that it is both an energizing and a spiritual experience.
We are blessed with clean water. This land holds a lively brook. The water is well oxygenated and supports brook trout, Appalachian crayfish, hellgramites, and a plethora of macroinvertebrates that adore pure water. Our drinking water, stored in deep schist bedrock reserves is ancient and has few imperfections. Our ground water and surface water are also plentiful. To live in a water rich environment is one of our greatest blessings.
We are blessed with abundant wildlife. From darting dragonflies along frothy brooks to the majestic black bear in the hearts of our deepest forests our rural territory holds nearly countless numbers of insects, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. In the summer we get to witness monarch butterflies and bumble bees harvest nectar and pollen from our wild flowers. Both wildlife and plants flourish as days are long and nights are short. In autumn we experience the wonder of all of our animals gathering and storing food to survive the upcoming harsh winter. From chipmunks filling their cavernous cheeks to blue jays hiding acorns over wide areas of forest these animals help us to better understand the preparation that is necessary to get through the challenging colder months. In winter we can locate tracks in the snow, spy porcupines in hemlocks foraging on branch tips, and we can capture the joys of seeing a snowshoe hare bound through the woods. And in spring, when vibrant life returns, we can listen to the melodies of returning songbirds, view amphibians migrating to vernal pools, and watch the snow melt to refill our ground water and surface water supplies.
We are blessed with an incredible variety in plant life. Old fields and the remnants of cleared areas provide holding places for grasses, native herbs, and forbs. Wetlands are host to beautiful wildflowers like cardinal flower, joe pye weed, blue vervain, and blue flag iris. They also hold cattails, aquatic grasses, sedges, and bulrush. Our forests host trees that span from the mighty red oak to the not easily recognized hop hornbeam. Our woodlands also host hundreds of different plants that reside in the understory. Shrubs like witch hazel and spicebush fill the voids in the forest. Ground covers like partridge berry and wintergreen hold soils and give us breath taking green leaves and red berries to feast our eyes on. And vines like our wild grapes and poison ivy give our forest texture by climbing on trees as they search for sun light. Our ponds host aquatic vegetation like water lilies, water shield, and pond weed all critical at maintaining a healthy aquatic environment.
We are blessed with clean earth and fertile soil. Our New England land has a history of being cleared and years later recovering to forest. Most areas have seen few effects from harmful chemicals or fertilizers. Each year when plants move into dormancy their foliage composts into dark humus soil. These soils continue to support the life in our forests, fields, shrub lands, and aquatic environments. There is nothing quite so satisfying as holding dark, rich, soil in your hands and feeling the vitality that it brings to all living things.
We are blessed with clear night skies. The milky way, distant planets and stars, and our moon all seem to be at our doorstep. That we live in a place where ambient light from cities and suburbs do not deaden the beauty of our vast universe is wonderful. Starry nights widen our imagination and peak our curiosity. The fathoming of how insignificant human issues are can only be realized as we compare ourselves to the vastness of the cosmos. There is no realization that is more humbling.
And perhaps, more than anything else, we are blessed with the grace and spirit of our wild earth. That we are privileged enough to be part of the cycle of life is nothing short of miraculous. In our life time we witness natural wonder after natural wonder. From water falls to baby fawns we get to experience life as I think it was meant to be.
And how sad it would be if we did not take a moment to be thankful for these wonders that are given to us each and every day.
Originally written for the Heath Herald in November of 2011.