Just Another Walk In the Woods

100_2759Most of my wild ramblings are just that, rambling about the wilds from one place to another on foot, while my mind rambles from one thought to another within the confines of my imagination.  There is little doubt that my mind does the most wandering.  My ramblings give me the chance to answer questions I have about life; questions like and I contributing to the universe and what can I do better to create a better natural world?  Although I have not found complete answers to these questions I always feel that I am just a little closer to a major breakthrough at the end of a wild jaunt.  So I keep rambling about the woods whether it is near my home or far away in the wilderness.  As I wander around in the wilds I mentally record my thoughts so that I can write about them later on. Below are some of my thoughts on a recent excursion in the woods. 

 

It is an early morning in mid-May.  After several brief spring days that were followed by winter-like weather, today feels like the warm weather might be here to stay.  I am walking on a trail that starts near the back door of my house.  I could easily take this trail past thousands of acres without ever crossing my own tracks.  On this day I will be lucky to cover 50 acres on my short ramble.  Today my time is limited as more pressing events with my children will take precedence. 

 

As I enter the woods I notice that the clintonia has produced its first new leaves.  These leaves are exposed to the few sun rays that can squeeze between the newly formed foliage on the overhanging branches.  This wonderful clintonia plant will later yield a delicate yellow flower.  Eventually the plant will grace the landscape with multiple tiny blue berries hence the common name blue bead.  Nearby are a variety of ferns and clubmoss.  These plants are remarkably ancient.  As a group of plants they were preceded by only a few other plant groups like algae, fungi, and some aquatic plants.  In the very, very distant past ferns and clubmoss, also known as allies, were a dominant plant in many regions of our planet.  Long lost cousins of our present ferns and clubmoss grew to a tree-like size.  They were amongst the first plants to be able to transport water through a vascular system to foliage that converted sunlight to chlorophyll.  We now see the remains of these vast ancient jungles in our coal mines and fossil fuel supplies.  Millions and millions of years later we still feel more than a whisper of their ancient existence. 

 

Ferns and clubmoss are examples of nonflowering plants that reproduce by unusual means.  Each plant contains spores.  When the spores get deposited on the soil they produce a secondary nonchlorphytic plant.  This produces male and female cells that reproduce and eventually grows into the plant with which we are all familiar.  This unusual reproduction technique makes perfect sense for plants that had to endure a volatile environment.  The chances for species survival were likely heightened if reproduction could take place in a more stable environment.  I find myself digging around in the soil at the base of the ferns in hopes of finding some evidence of this process.  On this day I am not so fortunate.

 

After this brief activity I renew my walk in the woods.  On this day the woods smell cool and damp.  The clean, clear smell of the damp woods clears my head and I can focus on the narrow trail that runs up the hill in front of me.  As I look up the path I can see movement.  It is difficult for me to determine what the movement is.  My body reacts and goes into some primative stealth mode.  My breathing slows but I can hear every heart beat in my chest.  And then slowly, emerging from behind a shrub, I see a hen turkey.  She is alert.  It is apparent to me that she senses my presence given her nervous behavior.  Not too far behind are several turkey chicks lined up in a single line.  At first I think there are just a few, but they just keep appearing, still in a single line.  There are perhaps twelve of these precious birdlets. I am surprised because it is early to see a turkey brood.  They appear to be freshly hatched and I believe that the hen is trying to guide them to a safer environment.  The hen quickly moves over to an area of thick, low undergrowth.  She begins clucking to call her chicks.  They all run, breaking the single file formation as they gather around their mom.  This time the chicks were lucky.  If I were a fox or coyote their lives would have been short lived.  I am reminded that of the twelve chicks only three or four will be lucky to live out a full year; a triumph for those that survive.

 

I move on and wander off the trail to a red oak stand that is a favorite forage spot for wildlife in the autumn and winter months.  Every other year, or so, these trees produce vast quantities of acorns that provide valuable sustenance for numerous wildlife species.  Acorns are valuable for building the fat reserves that are necessary for winter survival.  Black bear, white tailed deer, red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, crows, and many other species will depend up areas like this one for valuable nutrition.  This area has few understory plants.  The light on the forest floor is sparse in the summer because of the spreading limbs that block the sunlight overhead.  I am attracted to a small sugar maple sapling that is trying to buck the trend and grow beneath the thick overstory.  A good deal of the bark has been worn off of one side of the narrow trunk.  It is clear that during the previous rutting season a young male deer used the trunk as a marking spot, rubbing its orbital glands against the tiny trunk and scarring it by removing the bark. 

 

I push towards the top of the hill and approach a small wet area that I have known about for years.  For a long time I was puzzled by this wet area.  There is an opening above this damp spot.  Sunlight finds its way to the forest floor allowing wetland plants to grace the damp area.  The bedrock is close to the surface here.  Over time I notice that this area stayed wet even during the driest years.  I concluded that it must stay wet as the result of hydrostatic pressure, more commonly known as a bedrock spring.  The actual water pressure is from a distant source; another connected piece of bedrock on a nearby hill that stores water at a higher elevation.  The plant community in this micro-environment is lush.  Cinnamon fern, spinulose wood fern, and bluejoint grass are all present.  There is no standing water but the soil is saturated.  A small down-gradient channel is present but not flowing at this time.  During innundated periods the water likely runs off from this wet area to lower terrain rejuvenating the groundwater as it seeps into the soil.  This is probably a great spot to spy on wildlife.  Small, isolated, water sources can be an important commodity to forest animals.

 

I wander a little farther to the south.  The ledge on which I stand has a picturesque view.  If I look to the northeast I can see a mountain about 20 miles away that is on the opposite side of the Connecticut River.  From this vantage point I see very little other than miles and miles of forest.  I wonder how many others have stood in this exact spot and have experienced the wonderful view. 

 

It is the perfect place to sit, think, and reflect.  I find a moss covered section of exposed bedrock on which I can sit comfortably and take a few minutes to relax.  My mind wanders to my childhood.  I used to fantasize that I would stumble into a dimensional time warp and find myself deep in the forest two hundred and fifty years ago.  In my young imagination I would find myself being terribly afraid at first.  Being lost in the woods is one set of experiences, but being lost in time is something else altogether.  In my imaginary world I would wander through the forest and eventually find my way to a colonial village.  The pioneers that I encounter are curious about my appearance; sneakers, cotton t-shirt, and dungarees, all very foreign and unknown to this era.  In my imaginary world I eventually display great capabilities based on my 20th century knowledge.  Like many childhood fantasies I become a legend in my own mind.

 

In remembering these childhood fantasies I am reminded that our minds are capable of taking us nearly anywhere.; sort of the ultimate freedom.  I sit here and wonder if this is how oppressed people survive the awful experiences to which they are exposed.

 

The drumming of a partridge on a distant ridge brings me back to reality.  The partridge is some distance away, perhaps a quarter mile or more.  I try to imagine him beating his wings, pushing so much air that it sounds like someone trying to drum some ancient message to be interpreted by our inner souls. 

 

And with this thought I start rambling back to our homestead. My mind and body are ready for a new adventure, real or imaginary, with every step I take.

 

Originally written for the Heath Herald in May of 1992.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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