I took my iPhone but had no plans to take any pictures on my walk in the woods yesterday. But with all the rain, the mushrooms were sprouting and I couldn’t resist. I don’t know their names, but here are some of them….
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.
The stream is flowing right over the Gully Bridge. My boots have a hole in them so my feet get wet, but the cool water feels good. Over the bridge, mud sucks at my feet till I get to higher ground.
Moths flutter furiously like an early-winter snow flurry. I can’t tell if I’m disturbing them or if they’re just constantly in motion.
My path to the little waterfall is blocked by the top branches and leaves of a maple tree that came down in the last windstorm. It’s too hard to climb over, and I wonder if I will come back with a clipper and bow saw to clear it away or just make a new path. So many trees are down, dead ones mostly.
I detour up the small hill and when I look up I’m faced with a dark archway of earth.
A Shagbark Hickory toppled over roots and all. Where the tree once stood there is a depression in the earth with about six inches of crystal clear water in it. I wade in the water to get a closer look at what used to be under the ground and is now visible. Earth, rocks, roots, insects. The mosquitos biting.
A small birch toppled over by the stream and I pulled it back up, hoping it will stay. I wish I could do the same with the hickory. I begin to wonder what it and the area around it will look like as the season’s change.
Mushrooms are everywhere. I take a few pictures of the most interesting then spot the Indian Pipe.
Ghost pipe (also known as Indian pipe) isn’t a mushroom. It’s a flower that gets its nutrients from the fungus in the ground instead of through photosynthesis. That’s why it’s white not green.
Fate led me out of the wood on a different path than usual. The ground cover was low and I didn’t have to duck under the arch of the Japanese Honeysuckle. This new way also took me past the Witch hazel tree which I’ve been watching with each season. I now has the seed pods which will burst into little yellow flowers in the fall.
I was searching. I had the need to see something I never had before in the things I look at every day. So I put the macro lens on my iPhone and wandered the farm, inside and out.
It felt like hope to me, the idea that I could find something wonderous where I didn’t expect it. I took picture after picture, but not finding what I was looking for finally gave up.
Instead, I went to the big maple behind my studio, a place I spend little time, and leaned against the tree, soaking in its slow calm.
But the thick chunks of bark were filled with life. Moths fluttered from their hiding places behind the bark, like tiny bats emerging from their sleeping place. A big black ant scurried in and out of the crevices as if looking for something it had lost. A spider feasted on her catch in her small web.
Water dripped off the branches and soaked the bark in a deep crevasse where long ago two trees had grown together to create one. Distracted by the bright green lichen, it took me a moment to see the mushrooms. The largest one was a sixteenth of an inch at most. They grew up and down the crevasse so small I had no idea what they really looked like till I focused my lens on them.
“It was getting on, so I got up, sorry to leave the bark warm against my back. But I was breathless with elation, high on my thoughts, and I felt the kinship with the Mother Trees, grateful for accepting me and giving me these insights. I walked to the top of the knoll, remembering a small route to the main haul road, and I followed a deer trail heading roughly in the right direction.” Susan Simard Finding The Mother Tree
I read the words with longing. I wanted to be in those deep old woods leaning my back against a thousand-year-old tree.
I wanted to know what a fresh grizzly bear footprint looked like compared to one three days old. I wanted to brave the mosquitos and live more of my life outdoors than in. I wanted to cook and eat, sleep and shit in the woods. I wanted to do it all in the same way, with the same respect and collaboration with the land, that the indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest have done. The ones who have been stripping bark from trees for hundreds of years to make baskets without harming them.
It’s easy to fall into the romance when reading a book like Suzanne Simard’s Finding the Mother Tree. So maybe I didn’t need to do all of that, but I did find my chest swelling and tears of regret leaking from the corners of my eyes.
I love my life as it is now, but at fifty-seven I can be honest with myself that there are some things I will never do.
And one of them is hiking the parks and preserves in the western part of the country. It’s one of those things that I always wanted but never made time for in my life. For most of my life, I just went along without plans seeing what would happen next. It wasn’t until I started seriously making art and started my blog in 2008 that I knew what I wanted to do and put all of myself into it.
But I couldn’t help thinking that if I had this kind of will when I was younger, maybe I would have chosen a life of some kind that led me to the woods. Or maybe at least I would have made the effort to spend more time exploring the natural world.
I never allowed myself to have regrets before. I think I didn’t want to have to feel the disappointment that comes with regret. But I wasn’t being honest with myself.
When I allowed myself to cry those tears I was able to let go of something unfulfilled inside of me. Because in the next moment I thought of the woods behind the farm.
The woods I now think of as The Orphaned Woods and how lucky I am to have them.
At any time I can leave my house or studio, walk through the pasture gate and follow the path into the woods. Not an old-growth woods, surrounded by thousands of acres of untouched land, but woods that, honestly, suit me very well.
They’re small enough for me not to get lost in but big enough for me to lose myself in.
My regrets, though real, are small compared to the life I have chosen and now live. I understand that if I really wanted to live a life different from mine, one where I spent more time outdoors than indoors, I could.
My choices are my own and I take responsibility for them.
For now, I am grateful that when I walk in The Orphaned Woods, even though I’m not in an old-growth forest, I can still look for the mother tree, nurturing her offspring and helping to keep the forest around her healthy. I can find the mushrooms that are the flowers of the vast network of fungus under the ground that connects everything that grows there.
And I feel that connection too.
I always have. Even when I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, I was always drawn to the trees. The small maple I used to climb at the end of the block where I lived and the big old trees, that survived the development of the area in the years after WWII.
Now, the more I learn about the natural world, not only from books but from living on the farm and walking in the woods, the closer I feel to it. The more connected I am.
And I think maybe that’s what I’ve really been longing for all along.