Back To The Orphaned Woods

Since nothing, absolutely nothing was happening in my studio, I decided to go for a walk in the woods.

But I didn’t want to go on my neighbor’s path that I’ve been walking lately.   I needed to get off the path and into the woods. I was craving wandering without knowing exactly where I was going.

I wanted to go to The Orphaned Woods.

I hadn’t been to the woods behind the farm since the grasses and bushes grew so tall I couldn’t get through them early in the summer.  This year I didn’t mow a path as I had the past couple of years.  To get from the farm to the woods, I’d have to hack my way through the tall grasses and bushes while getting covered in ticks at the same time.

So I loaded Fate and Zinnia into my car and drove to the path that would take me to the woods that connects to The Orphaned Woods.

As if in affirmation, as soon as I stepped off the path into the woods, I saw the Barred Owl flying from one tree to another. Then I saw the bird, which I think was a bluejay, chasing it. I watched for a while, as the blue jay squawked and the owl silently moved out of its way, without giving up ground.

When the owl vanished from my view, we headed up the hill towards the Orphaned Woods.

“I missed you”, I said out loud as I stepped over the stone wall into the woods, my heart softening.

I visited the Big Old Hickory and the Maple with the broken branch. I squatted down to get a close look at the many mushrooms with taking a picture of them. Zinnia splashed through the small pond created when a Shagbark Hickory uprooted last summer.

Fate led the way back to the farm, but I called the dogs back as the bushes started to get thick. We had to go home the way we came.

The woods get by fine without my visits.  I had the feeling they had to adjust to my coming back.  Or maybe it’s that I felt as if I were a bit of a stranger.  Because I didn’t get to see the gradual changes that the summer brings, a part of me expected the woods to look as I last saw them in the late spring.

Now that I’ve been, I know I’ll want to go back again before the path from the farm is clear enough for me to walk it.

Wandering those woods was just what I needed to bring myself back.  To empty my mind of the voices and ideas that have been lodged there.  I think mostly that what I let go of was my own expectations of myself and what I should be doing.

Jon calls it recharging the creative self.

That’s a good way of thinking about it.  A letting go, so I can start again.

Fate drinking from the little pond made by the uprooted hickory tree.

Mushrooms In The Rain

It’s been a while since I walked in the woods.  Late July and all of August were full of hot, buggy days.  I chose to swim in the Battenkill over walking.  But today it’s cool and rainy.  The bugs were still out, but nothing a hat on my head couldn’t handle.

Even though we’ve gotten a good amount of rain this summer, it wasn’t as much as last year.  So I wondered if I’d see any mushrooms.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Some of them looked as if they’d been growing for a while.

While others were just emerging.

The salamanders were out too.  So many of them were near or under mushrooms. I couldn’t help thinking they were staying dry under the natural umbrellas.  But of course, it’s the rain that makes the salamanders come out. Their skin is porous and they need the moisture so they don’t dry out.

Some of the mushrooms were the size of a dinner plate growing on the stump of a toppled tree.

And some were tiny and growing out of bark surrounded by moss,  making the tree trunk look like a fairyland.

Not all stood up straight and perfect.  Some had been toppled and eaten by animals and insects.  I’m not sure if I interrupted the cricket eating this mushroom or if they were just passing by.

This mushroom pushed through the pine needles shiny with rain, its orange center a juicy beacon or bullseye.

It was impossible not to notice the brightly colored mushrooms.  I imagine also, the most poisonous.

But the softer colors caught my attention too.  Sometimes because of their subtle markings, their shape, how they looked in their surroundings….

…or their texture.

These were only some of the mushrooms I saw on our walk in the woods today.  Once again, I was inspired by them, thinking I’d like to recreate them in my studio somehow.  I though the same last year, but it never happened.

Maybe it will this year.

A Short Walk In The Orphaned Woods


A fern growing out of an old blue enamel pot in the dump in the woods

It was just a short walk in the Orphaned Woods, but enough to clear my head and get an idea for my quilt.

It’s as if there’s a speckled green wash over the woods.  It doesn’t cover everything, but here and there, as if there’s a resist in some places and acceptance in others.

On the way out of the woods, when the hill across the road came into view, I saw that it had turned red since I was last there.  Unlike last year, today I knew the trees with the red buds were maples.

And even at a distance, I felt like I knew that hill a little better.

The red buds of the maple trees on the hill.

Skunk Cabbage In The Swamp

Skunk Cabbage Flower in bloom. The thick leaf surrounding the flower is called a spathe.

I went to the swamp to see if the Skunk Cabbage was up.  I was looking for those big green leaves that remind me of Hostas and at first didn’t see any.  I didn’t know when I started my walk in the woods that the flowers come up before the leaves.


A flower before the little yellow/green flowers emerge. The flower, which is about  the size of an elongated golf ball is called a spadix.

The first leaves I saw were pulled tight around the rest of the plant, like a buttoned-up overcoat on a cold winter day.

Then I noticed the flowers, lower to the ground, blending into the soggy leaves that mulched them.  The flowers warm the earth around them.  They can  heat up to 70degrees and even melt snow and frozen ground.

A Skunk Cabbage leaf before it opened


Skunk Cabbage smells bad when the leaves are broken. Which is why they are called Skunk Cabbage.  The smell, which mimics rotten meat, attracts flies, butterflies, bees and beetles who pollinate them.

A Skunk Cabbage pod and flower with the green leaves beginning to grow.

I didn’t think that animals ate Skunk Cabbage because of the smell.  But it’s actually because it causes a burning sensation when eaten.  So I was surprised to see that one of the flowers had been chewed on.  But I learned on the National Wildlife Federation website that bears will eat the young plants.

I’ve seen bear scat in the woods and once a bear.  But now I have another clue to look for to see if a bear has been in the woods where I walk.

The Dying Mother Tree, Enabling Life

The dying Mother Tree in the Orphaned Woods

It can take years for a tree to die.

A big limb broke off this old maple in The Orphaned Woods a couple of years ago.  And now another limb, almost as big, is hanging off the other side only being held up by one of the other branches. The tree is obviously dying.

Surrounding it is a circle of smaller maples.  From what I read in Suzanne Simard’s book, Finding The Mother Tree, I’d guess that this maple is a mother tree.

Which means that even when it’s dying, it’s still sending nutrients to the smaller trees that are growing around it.

When Simard did experiments with injured trees she found that “Facing an uncertain future, she[the mother tree] was passing her life force straight to her offspring, helping them prepare for the changes ahead.  Dying enabled the living; the aged fueled their young.”

She wrote...”I imagined the flow of energy from the Mother Trees as powerful as the ocean tide, as strong as the sun’s rays, as irrepressible as the wind in the mountains, as unstoppable as a mother protecting her child.”

I love the idea of giving while dying. Of passing my life force on.

This might just be a romantic idea of mine.  A way of softening the certainty of death.  But it does make me think about how my life force could possibly manifest. I’m not even sure what that means. But the words creativity, love, and hope come to mind.

A Family Of Maples

I pass this family of maples every time I walk on my neighbor’s path in the woods.  I’ve taken their picture before, but today I was able to get a photograph of just how I see them. I imagine they will eventually all grow together and become one tree.

Do you remember a couple of years ago when I visited the home of a wolf spider in a tree much like this one that was eventually cut down?  I was surprised today when I  found a smaller tree with a similar mushroom growing over a “doorway” to a home that might be fit for a wolf spider.

I don’t know if anyone is living in this tree, but I’ll keep visiting it and maybe I’ll get lucky and see if it is occupied.

I found this dancing couple on my way back.  Trees twist like that for different reasons.  Often they’re shaped when another tree falls on them or by disease.  Sometimes they lose a lead branch and another one grows to make an unlikely shape.

There are trees throughout the country that were shaped by Native Americans and used as trail markers.  From what I’ve read they have pretty distinctive shapes and are a lot older than any of the trees in the woods I walk in.

But even if the trees in my woods are naturally formed, I still use them as markers.  If I were dropped into the Orphaned Woods near one of these distinctive trees, I’d know exactly where I was.

Little Greenhouse In The Woods

One of the jars and the moss growing beneath it.

There’s a garbage dump in the Orphaned Woods.  Bottles, bedsprings, the tub of an old washing machine,  a stack of plastic cups, a milk can, and a grinding stone.

Most old houses and farms in the country have at least one. I like to visit the dump as the seasons change.  Like the rest of the woods, the dump is ever-evolving.  Some of the garbage sinks lower into the ground, covered a little more each year with decaying leaves.  And some of it pops up, exposed by the melting snow and rain.

There were two unbroken jars in the dump laying on top of the ground, their caps still in place.  I picked one up curious about the jar itself but found what was underneath even more interesting.

The empty jar was acting as little greenhouses.  Sunlight and warmth passed through it enough to grow a mat of vibrant green moss.  Bright life surrounded by last year’s leaves.

I put the jar back on top of the moss and put one of the little plastic cups in my coat pocket.  If I remember I’ll take a bag with me next time I go into the woods and get the rest of the cups.  My initial thought was to throw them away, but who knows I may find a use for them.

Pussy Willows And Raindrops

Some pussy willow buds

I fluffed up the hay in the feeders then waved  Fate on as she circled the sheep.  It was a damp and dreary morning, I wasn’t planning on spending any more time in the barnyard than necessary.  So I wasn’t paying much attention to what was going on around me.

I was about to go back to the house but for some reason, I’m not even sure why, I turned to look into the woods.  That’s when I saw the bushes on the edge of the marsh shimmering as if they were strung in tiny fairy lights.

I knew right away it was the pussy willows.  Not the buds themselves, but the raindrops on them, turning them to glitter even though the sun was tucked behind the clouds.

The pussy willow bush I saw from the barnyard.


Target Canker On A Red Maple

Both Ruth and Gail wrote to me about the spiral bark I saw on a tree in the woods.  When Gail said it was a target canker, a “fungus that attacks red maple trees.  The bark grows in circles as a defense, ”  I had something to google.

When I did I found a blog called New Hampshire Garden Solutions that had more information.   The writer of this blog got her information from Cornell University.

She wrote….“A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’

She goes on to say that over time the fungus gives up and the tree will continue to grow.  As the tree grows the circular pattern disappears into the regular bark.

Thanks for your help in figuring this out Gail and for your input Ruth.

Walking In The Woods On The First Day of Spring

I walked on my neighbor’s path to avoid the ticks who were out in full force with the warm weather.  The swamp is still frozen on this first day of spring.  The ice, like thick islands floating in the spring melt.

Parts of the path were flooded with runoff and we had to climb over a few fallen trees from the last winds storm. But the moss in the swamp is bright green and soon the skunk cabbage will be popping up.

When I called Fate, who had disappeared in the woods, she came running back with a deer bone in her mouth.  She dropped it when I asked her to.  It must not have been too tasty.

I looked at all the beech trees still holding onto their leaves as if seeing them for the first time.  And in a way I was. For years I thought they were aspens.  Now that I know their true identity, the woods look a little different.

I’m not sure why they should, the trees are the same.  I think it’s because I also understand their place in the forest.  How they grow in the shade of the white pines, who were some of the first trees to grow back when the cleared fields were abandoned by farmers.

It’s like finding out something new thing about a friend I’ve known for years.  Suddenly I’m able to see beyond my experience with the person, getting a glimpse into their past that helps me to understand them a little better.

I’m not sure what the spiral patterns are on this tree.  It’s could be some kind of disease. I don’t remember seeing it before.  I’ll have to keep an eye out and see if I can find it anywhere else.


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