A walk in the spring woods
By Jim Poling Sr.
Published April 13, 2017
A long-awaited walk in the spring woods is like stepping through a looking glass and entering a remarkably different world.
Before me is life as it was meant to be. Not uncomplicated, but certainly logical. Everything that happens back here is an act of nature. Plants, animals and other organisms are born and proceed naturally toward death.
Reality lives in the spring woods. What happens here is clear to your senses. There is no information that has been juiced or twisted. There are no alternative facts; no fake news.
It’s good to be back here after a long winter. I could have come earlier on snowshoes but it is never the same. Snow shackles freedom, unless you are seeking physical exercise. And, winter light is too weak to show fully the sights I want to see.
A foot of snow remains in the hollows but it is rotting, changing into the water needed for new life. The hilly areas facing the afternoon sun are clear, exposing pieces of forest floor plastered with the fallen buttery yellow-brown leaves of last autumn.
Already there are signs of new life. Green shoots shoulder their way up through the mats of lifeless leaves. I am careful not to step on any, although the ground is so mushy beneath my boots that anything trampled will bounce back quickly.
The trees, coldly stiff just days ago, stretch and yawn in the morning sun. Moved by the breeze their branches sway without creaking and complaining the way they do during the bitter cold of January. The sap produced from the winter starch stored in their roots is flowing freely, lubricating every joint.
Spring sounds are abundant. A croak from a crow passing nearby. The gurgles of rivulets along the hillsides. They are not sharp or loud sounds, but muted as if not to wake anything still sleeping or just awakened and rubbing the sleep from its eyes. They will get louder as spring progresses.
I hope to hear the most exciting of spring sounds: a Tom gobbling. Regretfully there is no sign yet of the turkey flock I saw last fall.
There is no deer sign either, and that is disturbing. Usually the eight-point buck that has lived here for the past five or six years is back on these hillsides after returning from wherever he winters.
I check for damage wreaked by winter’s snow, ice and winds. Some young trees are bent over the trail, but nothing big has been brought down. If I do see any large windfalls I mark them with fluorescent tape so I can find them later and cut them for firewood.
The hills in these woods are populated mainly by oak, maple, birch and beech, all of which burn hot and long when the cottage needs heat.
As I walk I wonder once again why the beeches with their smooth grey trunks and saw-toothed oval leaves grow only on the east side of these hills. There are none on the west side over the ridge. I make a mental note to find out why that is.
It is hard to be here without thinking about the writings of conservationists like Henry David Thoreau of Massachusetts and John Muir, who wrote extensively about the forests of the U.S. West.
And, of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American transcendentalist who wrote his famous essay Nature in 1836. In it he said that people do not fully understand the power and meaning of nature because they are too distracted by the demands of their societies.
“In the woods,” Emerson wrote, “we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life – no disgrace, no calamity . . . which nature cannot repair.”
These writers believed that nature can provide all we need to live good lives.
A spring storm illustrates that for me. The cottage electricity is out, leaving us without light, heat, water, and refrigeration. And of course, no means of recharging the smartphones, tablets and other electronics that are major parts of our lives.
However, we survive with wax candles, rain barrel water, and a stack of solid firewood. They provide us all the comforts that we really need.