September Woods

September 25, 2021

Late morning, I swung my leg over my bicycle, and proceeded down the gravel road to the other farmstead. Before the old barn, I turned right, down the field driveway to the pasture gate below the barn. I slipped off my bicycle, laid it down, opened the gate and pushed it through and then closed the gate. Back on the bicycle, I pedaled onward through the exhausted pasture, up along and above the east side of the pond. Pedaling through the grass and over the bumps of a cow trail was difficult but I enjoyed it. I almost didn’t make it up the incline above the north end of the pond. I walked my bicycle down the slope to the boxelder tree lying prostrate over the fence, and parked it there. Warm from the effort, I slipped my hoodie off and draped it over my bicycle.

I paused to marvel in the grand oak tree standing nearby. Some leaves had changed color and fallen to the ground, but there were also some green leaves too. Most of the leaves remaining on the tree were still glowing green. Among the oak leaves, rest elm leaves. At the foot of a tree, just on the other side of the fence, daisy fleabane blossoms were almost spent, their centers beginning to turn brown. I stepped on to the concrete slab resting under the horizontal boxelder. Sitting down, thinking, I slowly laid down, gazing up at the tree limbs. I took it all in for a few moments. Nettles around the boxelder were still lush. Oyster mushrooms grew on a log.

Up again, I strolled alongside the fence, heading southward, back toward the pond, and a little downhill. By the ravine, where the electric fence is higher, I scooted under the fence on my hands and knees. I entered the woods under elm trees. Kneeling down, I admire the still vibrant undergrowth plants; the large leaf of either Virginia bluebells or large-flowered trillium; and either Virginia waterleaf, columbine or Dutchman’s Breeches. I am still learning to identify plants; in the spring when they are flowering, I would have a much easier time. I haven’t been in these woods often enough during the spring bloom to know what is growing here. Young gooseberry plants. Thistles. Sedge. There’s also white clover and several other plants I can’t identify. Ambling up the shallow ravine bank, I savor the texture and character of the elm and oak trees. A couple of the oak trees have some marvelous scars. What happened? I spy another oyster mushroom; it was too decayed to harvest.

I continued to mosey, sometimes stumbling on fallen branches and sticks, frustrated with my lack of plant knowledge – there was so much and very little of it could I identify. I brushed past older gooseberry bushes. Perhaps I will have a summer soon in which I can harvest some berries. The undergrowth was thick, carpeting the forest floor – how different it appeared than it had in mid-April when it was still nearly barren. The stone foundation peeked through the vegetation, beckoning me. Inedible mushrooms feed on a fallen log. A silver maple towers above the stone wall. I had to pay close attention to where I stepped, rocks littered this area, disguised in a green, moss garment. Another beautifully intact oyster mushroom; I cut and place it in my bag. The skeletal remains of garlic mustard grew densely in this area; an edible plant I should forage in the future. I run my fingers along the stone wall as I pass by, following a barely discernable deer trail. Duck under a horizontal boxelder, step over logs, dodge branches, brush past grasping brambles, until a cluster of oyster mushrooms stop me. I harvest these three mushrooms as well.

I am wonderstruck with how thick the woods had become with vegetation since the early spring. Life needs to be more settled, providing me with time to wander in the woods all year round. A cluster of red berries, sitting on the top of the pulpit catch me eye. Jack in the pulpits are intriguing and delightful plants. I lounge across the first ravine slicing through the hillside. Mushrooms of all sorts halt me in my tracks as they demand to be observed. What luck, more beautiful oysters! A spikey cedar grows by the rock. Kneeling down, I examine the space under the rock; the dirt looks disturbed – had something been living here?

Onward. Birch, oak, elm, basswood, cedar. Young sugar maples begin to dominate the hillside. The next ravine gives me pause. I gaze across to the exposed bedrock; it stirs my imagination. Using small trees for support, I make my way down into the ravine, scan the other bank for the best route, and climb up, again holding on to a tree to pull myself up. Brown mushrooms living on the paper birch coated in released spores. Skirting moss covered stones, stepping over branches here and there, I try to step lightly to make less noise. The upside down cow skull that greets me every time I come this way, again poses for a photo. A tree, several feet away, has a large tumor. I wish it was a chaga mushroom. A rock outcropping towards the top of the slope draws me to it. I climb up the layers of sedimentary rock to the top, and take in the woods from this higher vantage point. Moments later, I amble back down and continue my trek.

The sugar maple zone. Most of these trees are young. The understory is quite open. Aside from the myriad branches littering the ground, I can walk with ease – no ducking under or dodging grabby limbs. (Although, it is those difficulties that creates an adventure.) I touch the maples as I pass, enjoying the texture of their bark. Veering to the right, I trudge up the hill to the man-made trail. My time in the woods draws to a close; I follow the trail up the hill to the pasture gate, and climb over, walk along the fence line back to my bicycle. Back along the top edge of the pond, pause to open and close the get once on the other side, up the road to the house.

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