October 9, 2021
Last week, Mom and I walked along the wood edge looking for white oak acorns to give to Larry so he could plant them. Mom named tree species we passed; American elm, American basswood, black cherry, aspen, paper birch, sugar maple. Though we passed bur oak and read oak, we didn;t find any white oaks until we reached the “back” of the pasture, well a corner really. We began picking up a few that were still fully intact. Peering into the woods we could see there were more; so we backtracked to the gate and climbed over, and followed as close to the fence as we could manage, rounding the corner to the white oak tree. Bur and red oak grew nearby, we may have picked up a few of their acorns as well. We found out later, we had found an overcup oak too, which usually grows further south. Later, Larry told Mom that it is unusual for all of these species of oak to grow so near to one another. I ventured a little down the almost vertical slope but Mom didn’t risk it. Mom picked up a husk of possibly a butternut.
The possibility of butternut brought me back today. I sit on the edge of the woods, in the pasture. The sunshine is warm and feels wonderful but the air and wind are chilly; I should have brought a long sleeve. I laid down on a chunk of old concrete, wishing it was a boulder instead; under an old, kingly bur oak, my eyes roving over the texture of its furrowed bark. A leaf or two drifts down every once in a while. I look intently at a small, white, fuzzy mushroom thriving on the crown of a dead boxelder. (Perhaps a split gill, schizophyllum commune mushroom.) Sadly the boxelder, my portal into the woods had to be cut in order to fix the fence. I am frustrated by the number of buckthorn in this part of the woods, I would like to remove them. A flush stand of nettles dots the understory. I love the collection of trees. My supplies for the woods include two journals, mushroom guide, tree guide, camera and sketchbook. Birds chirp but I can’t see them, at least two species, perhaps sparrows. Crows in the distance. A woodpecker taps somewhere above. I love the low angle of the October sun. At first I felt guilty, taking a day for myself and the woods but was reassured it’s a necessary and a good thing for me to do. Time to start walking!
I tramp along the fenceline, going south and a little downhill. A chickadee chatters, and something else too but I can’t identify it. Oak and elm gather by the fence. Further down, the head of the huge ravine, below the pond, and on the corner, a tree leans out over the fence and reaches down trying to touch it – its overall appearance has me thinking it is a willow of some sort. I draw near. Walk stooping under dead branches, wondering if I can climb up it and cross over the fence instead of scooting under the fence. Upon inspection of its leaves from the live part of the tree, I confirmed it as a willow – consulting the field guide, it is a black willow. There’s another tree growing under it or perhaps it pushed this tree over. I grab a leaf, and hold it with my mouth. I attempt to climb up, but the small branch gives way under me, so I move down to my right (up the crown). These dead branches nearly touch the ground. I try here; it’s a little unstable, but I walk up the narrow branch, holding onto others, snapping dead branches off, unintentionally in the process. Either the tree or I, or both of us, wobble; perhaps this wasn’t safe, after all I am many feet off the ground. Camera swaying. Possessing a sense of adventure and love of climbing trees, under the fence would have been faster but not as much fun. I step over branches. Some live twigs mingled with dead ones. Tree trunk widens. Some scat sprouting hairs – raccoon? Half tempted to sit and revel in the willow but desire to keep moving. I step off the trunk at the base of the tree. (Wind through the trees and dropping leaves sound like rain.)
Ah, home. Finally, I start to relax and shed feelings of guilt. Why am I happiest in the woods? I desire to share it with someone but also enjoy going alone for solitude and moving at my own pace. I am enraptured by the trees, elm, boxelder, cottonwood, even the dead tree laying on the bank above the ravine. I step down into the ravine, breathe deeply – taking so many photos. A bright colored mushroom, golden brown like a bun, sprouts from a log. I walk a few feet down the ravine, until it curves. Distracted by the trees and then a mushroom, which is everywhere! I admire the ravine – rock strewn, trees growing out of the banks. More mushrooms. Glorious oak tree. So many mushrooms; I wish it were edible. The morning is warming as I walk. I climb out of the ravine, following mushrooms on the ground and trees. (Mindful of how I walk – heels down first. I scared up a grouse or something.) Dense undergrowth. Onward, I press, heading towards the stone foundation, so overgrown from March – very different from my visit with the girls in April. (That story is still waiting to be edited.) Torn between passing by the foundation or walking the ravine. I chose the foundation, somewhat following our path. Passing by the stones, I duck under the near horizontal boxelder. The undergrowth is so much thicker, too dense. Mosquito buzzing. Out from under the boxelder, I look back, momentarily considering climbing it. I would love the connection with the tree and it would be so easy, but I want to keep moving. I am getting hot. The undergrowth nearly obstructed my view of the small ravine ahead. Drawing up to it, legs fully extended, I step over it. Pushing past, ducking under, and dodging branches, I continue onward, arriving at the bigger ravine. I can hardly see the rock formation on the other side, toward the top of the slope. I amble down and back up out of the ravine, holding on to trees. Mushrooms like striped moths adhere to a tree.
A few steps away, I almost stumbled over the cow skull – covered in leaves, teeth revealed. Bright mushrooms lampshade shaped on stalks, glow below the rocks. I pondered climbing the rocks, but decided not to this time. My soul lifts again – maples gorgeous, not much for undergrowth. Brown shelf mushrooms decorate trees. I am overcome with the desire to walk barefoot. Probably not a good idea – oh what the heck. I pause to take off my shoes and socks, tread on a carpet of maple, elm, and oak leaves. Enjoying being barefoot, I can really feel the woods. The sky is becoming overcast. And I am more in the breeze again. I sit down on the soft hillside overlooking the wide ravine, admiring the trees. A maple leaf dangles from a spider’s web, dancing in the breeze. A murder of crows cackle. (One calls another responds – are they talking about me?) I think this is my spot more than by the foundation; I love the openness. I hate the highway noise though. Wish I knew the names of all the plants, running my fingers along the tree bark. I looked through field guides. I had a snack, took notes, and sat for over an hour. Leaves falling on me. Getting cold after sitting awhile, I should keep moving and look for a butternut tree.
About to put my shoes on, nah, I keep going barefoot. (Like the difference between walking in nature and driving through it – more connected.) Crows caw. Sadly, my foot falls aren’t any quieter barefoot. Up the slope to the trail, I walk across the dead tree. This is amazing. Half tempted to ditch my shoes, will be back this way; but what if I need them. I check out the trees and rocks. I round the bluff. A sugar maple had fallen across the trail. I consider climbing it, but duck under and around the branches to keep going instead. A buck scat, careful not to step in it. Searching for a butternut tree, I focus down the slope and find what I think is it. I ditched my pack and shoes, and picked my way down the slope, maneuvering between trees for support. The terrain is steep and hazardous. I paused to take photos and then climbed back up the slope.
Further down the trail, I found more. I stopped at a deep ravine, and sat for a while at the edge. Backtracked to pack and shoes. Climbed up the hill to the base of the fallen sugar maple, trying to identify oak trees. Up on to the maple tree, I walked along toward the crown – didn’t feel great on my bare feet but fun anyway. At the base, I put my shoes on and continued up the slope to a big oak by a rock outcropping. Reaching oak, I wrapped my arms around a thick branch, pulled myself up and wrapped my legs around it with some difficulty, trying to swing up but not strong enough, bark digging into my arms. I used to be able to do this as a kid. I drop down, and keep going. Back to the trail. Up to the gate and over it. Along the pasture to my bike. Ducks drift on the pond. I was in the woods for five hours; where’d the time go?
(Interested in seeing more photos? Look me up on Instagram!)