Resurrection in the spring forest
By Jim Poling Sr.
After the long winter illness, colour is returning to the cheeks of my bush lot.
A red-breasted robin hops through the newly-exposed layer of dead leaves, looking for a grub, or anything else edible. Then there’s the slow, silent orange flicker of the wings of an early-returning Monarch butterfly. Or, perhaps it is a Viceroy; the untrained eye finds it difficult to distinguish between the two.
Green patches of wet moss cling to the ancient granite outcrops, and the bases of the naked trees, adding more splotches of colour to a dreary landscape. And peeking out from the rock crevices are the brightest spots of all – red wintergreen berries glistening in rays of sunshine. These berries, and their surrounding green waxen leaves, truly are a miracle of the woods. They blossomed into fruit
last summer and survived beneath the snow and ice throughout the brutal winter cold.
All are signs of spring’s resurrection from the dank forest floor in which trees stand stiffly silent like skeletons. Small but hopeful signals that warmer, more productive times are coming. Beyond this forest is the chaos of humanity’s coronavirus pandemic. Out there, spring has become a season of things lost – lost lives, lost important events, lost incomes.
Here, the forest is quiet and ordered, demonstrating the consistency of nature left alone to exist as it has for thousands of years. This consistency is seen in the moose track along my forest trail. Every April, when the snow begins to disappear, a moose ambles this path, migrating from winter to summer quarters. I have yet to see a track from the bear who occupies this forest. I know it must be up and about after hibernation, but I have not seen it, heard it or smelled it. That’s probably because we both practice social distancing. We are both cranky on early mornings before breakfast, so neither wants to come anywhere near the other.
What is awesome about the spring forest is its easy transformation from the cold miseries of winter to the buoyancy of summer. The little wintergreen plant and its red berries illustrate that beautifully. After so many snowbound months, the berries are ready to do what they were born to do. Plump and bursting with life, the berries soon will shrivel and rot, dropping minuscule seeds to create new life and fulfill their sole purpose – to endure, to survive and to carry out their role in nature’s plan.
The pandemic and its forced isolation have created time to be out here observing the wonders of the awakening forest. All that time once spent doing other things – many of them materialistic things – now is spent thinking and viewing things differently. It is amazing how our vision widens and becomes more focused when we stop doing all those “other things.” What comes into view more clearly is an important lesson of nature: think ahead and be prepared.
Everything that exists in this forest understands that lesson. The squirrel that procrastinates and does not gather and store enough nuts likely will not survive the winter. It is a stark lesson: Prepare well or be ready to suffer, or even die. That was a lesson highlighted by the commission investigating the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak. It emphasized the precautionary principle, which basically is about thinking ahead, preparing and taking action before a situation becomes critical.
There is mounting evidence that if governments, corporations and people in general had paid attention to this principle, the current pandemic would have been less severe. Another thought prompted by this pandemic, and by a walk in the spring woods, is whether our human activities are
drawing us farther away from nature and its many lessons. We live in a materialistic, money-oriented world. When I look into the forest, I wonder whether we really need to have all those things we think we do. Everything we really need is right here in nature. Our human world is one we have moulded outside of nature.
Thinking about how to change it is too deep and too complicated a thought to work through today. And, it’s likely that the pandemic will end up making some of those changes for us.