The last time I walked on the path through the woods, was almost a month ago, just before hunting season. That day I watched a moth out of season and a Great Horned Owl glide silently next to me and land in a tree as if I wasn’t there.
Today the animals didn’t show themselves, but I did see Ice crystals sprouting from the earth like mushrooms. They speared soil, moss small branches, and leaves on their icy tips, not letting anything get in their way.
Yet they were delicate enough to snap in two when I gently touched them with my finger to feel their ribbed texture.
One of the few interruptions from working on my quilt was to take a walk in the woods after feeding the animals in the early evening.
I didn’t plan to take any pictures, but overnight, the woods had filled up with mushrooms. There were so many different kinds I tried, unsuccessfully to take a photo of each type. I know little about mushrooms, but I do love their sculptural shapes and textures and varying colors.
I’m also fascinated by how quickly they grow, pushing up and aside anything that gets in their way as they pop up from the earth.
I didn’t a walk in the woods this morning, but seeing the yellow mushroom in this photo that I took the other day is making me feel grounded and peaceful. Almost like being there again. It’s a calm place for my eyes to rest and my mind to retreat.
Fate and Zinnia run under the Japanese Honeysuckle ahead of me. It’s the perfect height for them, but I’d have to crawl to get through it. I’ve been ducking under that bush for years, it’s one of the archways that lead me further into the Orphaned Woods. But now it’s lower than usual.
When I get closer I see the dead branch that fell on top of the bush pushing it down. It’s only as I reach to remove the branch that I see the robin’s nest and four bright blue eggs.
The blue is like neon among all the spring greens that color the woods. I can’t take my eyes off them. For the first time, I wonder why they are so blue. Then I snap out of it. The mother must be nearby, waiting for me to leave. I take a picture and walk carefully around the bush.
That was a few days ago.
Today I’m laying on the couch spending my time reading and sleeping. My stomach is queasy and I’m too tired to do much more than feed the animals and throw the fabric that Judy and Fran sent me into the washer and dryer.
I tell myself that if I rest today, I’ll feel better tomorrow. And I believe it.
I’m halfway through Suzanne Simard’s book Finding The Mother Tree, Discovering The Wisdom Of The Forest. It’s a memoir about Simard’s discoveries of how the trees in the forest are connected by a network of fungus that transport nutrients, minerals, and water between them.
I don’t get all the science, but I do get the essence of what she is writing about.
It’s because of this book that this year I planted the ten saplings that I got from The Arbor Day Society in the woods close to other trees instead of in a clearing as I’ve done in the past.
The place I chose for them is in a grove of young Hornbeam trees. Their smooth bark is so like the stretched muscles of an athlete that they always seem to be in movement to me. The soil beneath them is moist and rich. I planted a couple of the seedlings in the humus of a fallen birch.
I never thought of how seedlings grow in the shade of the trees around them. That they need sunlight, but not a pounding sun. And now I know that the saplings have a better chance of surviving when their roots grow mycorrhizal fungus which connects them to the roots of other trees and helps nourish them and even find water under the ground.
It is this network of fungus that all those mushrooms that I found in the woods last year grow from.
As I lay on the couch, reading about the old-growth forests in the mountains of British Columbia, I’m thinking of the woods behind the farm.
Tomorrow when I’m feeling better and I’m watering the saplings I’ll be wondering if they’re growing that life giving fungus on the tips of their roots. And I’ll be thinking about the world below my feet as well as the one above.
“I really shouldn’t be walking in the woods this time of year,” I said to Jon as I pulled another tick off of me.
But I knew there would be wildflowers and the trees are budding. I could walk on my neighbor’s paths but then I’d be missing what’s happening in the Orphaned woods behind the farm.
It was last week that I realized I could begin to identify more trees when I saw the tiny pinkish-red bouquets that littered the ground. I didn’t need binoculars after all, I just had to wait for the flowers and catkins to fall.
The Red Maples were the first to scatter their clues at my feet. Every time I saw the small red flowers, I’d look around me to find bark that looked like Maple. I have a good feeling for it now, but there are so many kinds of Maples. I’m still now sure I could identify a Red Maple just by its bark.
The next thing I saw was the Marsh Marigold growing along the bank of the little stream.
I knew there would be more wildflowers, so I kept my eyes to the ground. These bright orange mushrooms were growing on a dead Black Cherry Tree that had fallen along the boundary of our woods and our neighbors.
There’s so much new life in the woods this time of year. But so much of it, like these mushrooms, come from another species dying. I wondered if we interrupted someone’s meal when I came across a dead chipmunk, that someone had obviously started eating.
Then there were the feathers, mostly gray and white, but a few with a swatch of purpish blue. At first, I thought it was from a Blue Jay but they didn’t look like the Blue Jay feathers I’ve found in the past. And they were much more purple.
I put one feather in my hat and was surprised when I spotted the thin white fur, not too far away. It was hardly visible laying with the pine needles that were a similar size and shape. I thought at this point that my eyes must be keen to seeing the stories of the woods.
I had a feeling there would be more flowers. First, there was the purple one. I can’t figure out what it is. But I bet someone reading this knows. The buds coming up close to the ground were covered in soft fuzz.
Then I found a cluster of what I believe is Rue Anemone. It’s hard to distinguish the flower, but the leaf is telling.
I had seen the new posted signs as I walked through the woods and assumed they were put up by our new neighbors. When Moise and Barbara Miller, visited us a couple of weeks ago I told Moise how I walk through the woods that lead all the way to Lake Lauderdale.
“Then you must walk in my woods,” he said and told me I was welcome there.
It was just last fall that I walked through the Miller’s cornfield for the first time. At the time, I didn’t know it belonged to them or that our new neighbors were Amish. I did see the big white house that was being built and not visible from Route 22.
Today as me and Fate and Zinnia took one of the paths leading home I saw two of the Miller kids in the cornfield with their dog, and two draft horses pulling a stoneboat. They were too far away to even wave to, but I imagine they were picking rocks from the field.
In all the years I’ve been walking in these woods, I’ve only seen other people a few times.
That may be changing. The Millers will probably log the woods in the winter.
But still, I’m grateful that our new neighbors are farmers and millers who care about the land and not developers who clear-cut and build houses.
It was late summer, Jon wasn’t home and I was sitting on the back porch eating lunch when I heard the tree fall in the woods.
I’d heard a tree fall once before so I was familiar with the sound. But this time there was no cracking or braking, no rumble as it hit the ground. There was nothing violent about its descent. It came down slowly, the sound of it falling softened by the branches and summer leaves of the surrounding trees.
It felt gentle. I thought of that trust exercise that people do when they intentionally fall back into someone’s arms, believing they will be caught.
That afternoon when I went for a walk in the woods, there was the big old apple tree, dead for as long as I can remember, laying across the path. It had toppled from its rotted roots. It just couldn’t stand upright anymore.
Since then the dogs jump and I step over the fallen tree. It’s thick enough that I’d have to cut it was a saw to clear it from the path. Each time I pass it, I think that maybe next time I’ll bring my bow saw and cut it up.
That hasn’t happened yet.
Today, just before stepping over the fallen apple tree, maybe because of the snow topping it off like a hat, I noticed the puffball. It was about the size of one of my dryer balls and when I bent down to look at it then take a picture, Fate checked it out too.
I didn’t know much about puffballs, except that the first time I kicked one by mistake, a brownish puff of smoke came out of it.
Since reading about them, I discovered that the big white mushrooms that grow in the pasture are puffballs before they turn brown. They’re basically mushrooms without the stem or gills.
Their spores are the brownish “smoke” that comes out of them. So when I kicked that puffball, I was actually helping to spread its seeds. If some animal doesn’t step on them and break them open, their outer skin eventually cracks or breaks off exposing their inside.
Even a drop of rain can kick up the powdery spores and release them into the air.
When I was in kindergarten we took a walking field trip to Duffy’s Park, a few blocks from the school. It was just an open lot of grass with some trees on one edge. Miss Corin, my teacher, picked one of the dandelions that grew there. She plucked the yellow petals revealing their fluffy white seed roots.
It seemed like magic to me when she told us that the yellow dandelions turned into those white balls of fluff that I made wishes on. That I was actually spreading the seeds when I blew on them and made a wish.
I never made the connection between the big round mushrooms growing in the pasture and the brown or purple puffballs I also found there. I obviously didn’t learn my lesson in Kindergarten but it’s finally sinking in.
Some plants and flowers can be unrecognizable in their many stages of development and throughout the seasons. The bark on a Black cherry tree looks completely different when it’s young than when it’s old. And there are so many variations of pine and oak trees I can’t imagine identifying them without being able to also see their leaves, pinecones, and/or acorns.
This spring I’m going to keep an eye on those big round white mushrooms that grow in the pasture. It might be like watching grass grow, but I’d love to witness their gradual transformation into puffballs.
I’ve also read that some of them are edible. But I’m not ready to go there yet.
Fate knocked the Puffball with her nose, breaking it open. So I gave it a squeeze to see the spores drift out.
“oh oh oh, a mushroom way out of season, magical, it got up to 62 in southern VT, the morning of the great snow melt-off it was warmer here than in the Fort Lauderdale FL area. The Fungi Kingdom rules!”
That’s a comment Sharon left on my blog when I posted a picture of a mushroom that was growing in our woods out of season. She’s referring to the movie, Fantastic Fungi, which is now streaming on Amazon and worth seeing if you have any interest in mushrooms.
I thought about what Sharon said about the warm temperatures when I was walking in my neighbor’s woods this afternoon and saw the brilliant green moss growing on the rocks and trees. It was so bright and lush, in contrast to the grays and browns surrounding it.
I almost felt like I could see it growing. The fine hairs of moss, though still, looked like a rippling ocean.
And then there was the small pile of branches, the scale of a pinecone, and the broken shell of an acorn. It probably fell from a nest, but I like to imagine a squirrel noticing the moss as I did and taking advantage of a soft place to have a meal. What a luxury, especially after the snowstorm that would have buried the moss under two feet of snow.