Nov. 13, 2016
(another post from earlier years…so many of my posts start from walks in the woods)
A bright November morning called me into the woods. Soon enough the hours that are free for walking will be consumed by darkness. Winters are dark in the north country. Not that it isn’t beautiful and just as refreshing to walk after sun down, but it can be bitter cold. Now is the shoulder season. Not yet winter, no longer fall.
The trees have given up their leaves for the moment. At least the deciduous ones. Green remains among branched twigs, highlighted against the blue sky. Periwinkle blue today. There are so many nuances of blue that I find it a challenge to describe them with words. But todays blue is closest to periwinkle.
Heading into the forest I can hear a train whistle. The wind, strong here on the edge of the clear cut is brisk, and from the south. South winds bring the sound of trains. Once I have passed the clear cut I no longer feel the wind. Down here amongst the aspen, pine, birch and oak only quiet remains.
This morning my walk brings me by the beaver pond, a shallow opening in the woods mostly filled with grasses. Scattered pockets of water reflect the light. I stand and listen. Here in the woods my ears tell me more than my eyes. The pond itself is quiet, but a pair of hairy woodpeckers is making their way along the tree lined edge, swooping from dead aspen to dead jack pine. The sharp ‘tweek’ call alerted me. Looking up I waited, knowing they would eventually move. And they did, leaving one tree to check out another only 20 or 30 yards away. Once they landed their distinctive black and white markings told me who they were.
The beaver family has been busy on this side of the pond. Although it’s hard to believe there is enough water to keep a family alive, they seem to persist. White chips of aspen, bite size to a beaver, lay in rings around several trees that have been dropped across the trail. This time of the year the aspen chips appear as snow from a distance, their blondness standing out against the carpet of gray-brown, decaying leaves. All color has been sapped out of these leaves, leaving only carcasses of loam gray and dusky, flat tans and browns.
A circle of blond white chips, an arm’s reach wide surrounds an aspen that is still upright. At the base the trunk has been chewed through, leaving a shape resembling an old fashioned sand timer. At its narrowest I could just about reach my fingers around to touch my thumb. But I don’t. I don’t want to get quite that close. At least ten inches in diameter (think wide) this particular choice for the beaver did not pan out. Looking up I can see the crown of the tree stuck between a spindly jack pine and a more mature red pine. That aspen is not coming down.
I wonder about that. Do beavers look up before they start chewing? Do they somehow direct the fall of the trees they cut down? But what lingers with me longest is the knowledge that they never quit. This tree didn’t fall. They moved on. And started again. It’s a good lesson to remember. Quitting is always an option, but then you’ve given something up. In the case of smoking, quitting is good. But I was thinking of my writing. Putting down in words what I experience each time I wander into the woods or onto the water brings me great joy. Yet I occasionally get hung up by thinking it doesn’t matter. And it’s too much work. Not the writing itself but the effort needed to protect the time from others and from myself.
Baking cookies with the neighbor kids is tangible. I see their smiles, I hear their voices and we have cookies to share. People like cookies. Organizing community activities, like Sunday Ski School, provides opportunities to encourage people to get outside. Watching a three year old learn to cross country ski for the first time, giggling her way down a small hill, is tangible. And rewarding. Words are tangible. But there is no guarantee another will read them. I get hung up on that. And I think about how hard it is to actually get something published. I falter and want to give up. But today perhaps, I will try again.
This is a busy time for beavers, stashing the branches of aspen in underwater storage units. When winter comes they won’t have much need to leave the pond if they can stash enough food under water, and under ice. On the dropped aspen crossing the trail I can see small piles of pale chips where there used to be branches. Working up the trunk a beaver has removed each branch and dragged it back to the pond. The trail is well packed and the air has a tinge of fresh cut wood sifting over the site.
I walk on. Returning home I climb the four wooden porch steps to the house and open the metal garbage can. We keep our black sunflower seed under metal wraps, against the house. I noticed yesterday that there were several small puddles of liquid atop the lid. Slightly off color, and only a tablespoon or so in size I was left wondering of their origin. I’m still not sure but I think I have a possibility. The squirrels, large gray ones with bushy tails, flock under our feeders scrounging seed. They are for the most part deterred from reaching the mecca site and its mound of bird seed by our spinning pop bottles, which adorn both ends of the wire holding the feeders. They also cannot pry off the metal lid to the garbage can holding the seed. So I think they pee on it. I pick up the lid gingerly.
Standing behind the refilled birdfeeders I pour a handful of seed into my left palm and stand quietly, arm outstretched. I’ve done this before. Just not this year yet. The chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches have been working the feeders and are hanging out in the red pines over my head. I try to stand still, feeling my boot heels sink into the grass while the ground rises up into the solidness of my shins.
My head is at eye level with the two hanging feeders, one a box with a dispensing tray at the bottom and the other an open platform wearing a pile of black sunflower seed heaped in the middle. The first to arrive back is the chickadee. She lands on the farthest edge away from my hand, grabs a seed and flies back up to the pine. The nuthatches make several passes, not quite landing. Then one does, black eye tilted at me, hesitating, then a quick downward dip to pick up a seed. He flies off. I stand still. Out of the corner of my eye I see another nuthatch returning, only to be chased by the one who had just visited. My nose feels the gentle burst of air as the smaller nuthatch flies by my face to escape the chaser. Being brushed by the wings of a nuthatch is almost as good as having one light on your finger.
I pour the seed from my palm onto the pile in the feeder, turn and walk inside to write.
Welcome, Aaniin, Sat Nam
I celebrate life and share my passion for learning, rooted in the natural world….
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
"My nose feels the gentle burst of air as the smaller nuthatch flies by my face to escape the chaser. Being brushed by the wings of a nuthatch is almost as good as having one light on your finger."
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