Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A late afternoon walk in the woods

Almost every day, late in the afternoon, the dogs and I get into the car and drive a short way to go for a walk in neighbours' fields or forest. Yesterday, the air was soft and warm. The forecast for today was not conducive to long walks in the woods where rain might drip down the back of my neck, so I chose the woods. The dogs love this walk. I can't hold them back easily when the car backs into the logging road driveway.

Each time we visit it seems this walk is never the same. I note different things about the birds, the understory, the fallen branches, what's green, what's not. Most walks with the dogs are moving meditations for me. I'm vaguely aware of where they are or aren't since I often can't see or hear them, but I seem to automatically pay attention to what's around me. Roots stick up from the ground that might trip me - a late blooming wildflower, windblows on the ground that might be new, new growth, old growth, mosses, and in fall new colour.

Yesterday a number of things caught my eye, despite dogs running off to investigate smells from the treeline across a bordering field. This combination of bright red berries and the huge leaves flattened on the ground are all that remain of a vigorous and very large jack in the pulpit. Its size is truly amazing. What must it have looked like in the spring? I muse.

We pass an ancient beech, now truly in its last years. Large branches have broken off recently, and it's clear that this magnificent old tree's life is decelerating much more quickly as only a few of its branches had fallen prior to this fall.

I've written about beech bark disease before.This woodlot is small and was probably originally a mixed hard and softwood bush. Most of the maple is small now, from three to four inches tall to perhaps fifteen feet. It's been logged and re-logged until all that's left is the reminder of what once was - huge rotting stumps covered in moss. Some of these are giant white pine, logged for poles, masts of ships and ribbing for them as well. Some are maple, long valued for furniture or building for its tensile strength.

The stumps make great photographs. Many paintings capture their marks of a Canadian pioneer history.

Beech? not so much. Most of this woodlot is now beech, young maple that will take years to grow to "cutting" width and height. There is also ironwood and some elm and ash - both of these latter species facing their own diseases and infestations as our world grows smaller.

And then I spot something most unusual:

A beech - a wolf tree - the kind that must have been on the edge of this bush in pioneer days when fields were being literally chopped out of the forest - huge spreading branches with a top that stretches high and uninjured to the sky. It appears healthy!

That lifted my heart. It may have some sort of genetic imperviousness to the disease, or not. But for now, for yesterday afternoon, it sorted of lifted my heart.

I look around for the dogs as our walk is coming to an end - sunlight is filtering through the trees, grapevine hangs from some of the trees, the path at this point has only one more major windfall to cross. But as usual, the dogs are now panting hard from running after whatever they think they have found - I've seen deer scat and know they along with the the rabbits and squirrels make themselves scarce when the dogs are around. They're on a search for water and I can no longer hear them, let alone see them.

In past years there have been stumps that act as watering holes, crevices that hold rain for days, even weeks.

Not this year. A lot of the tiny trees have succumbed to the to the dry hot summer we've had and shed their leaves to wait until next year. Wild flowers, weeds, even many of the brambles haven't lasted.

 I come across a waiting woodpile - neatly stacked and ready to wait out the winter for next year or to be picked up and taken to the shed my friend's son built for her. He and a friend have been carefully selecting trees that had died or needed to come down. By the bark this looks like an ironwood that will now become useful as firewood.

When I return to the car wondering when the dogs will also return, I find them wandering along the edge of the road, tongues hanging out long and dripping, waiting for me! I laugh as I urge them to hurry across the road to the car and jump in. They are most reluctant - they're very hot and very tired. They've been running - perhaps after a creature or more likely from their search for water - all the streams are dry beds now, and perhaps the bucket that is usually outside my friend's home is empty. So after much encouragement to get them back into the car, I finally head for home, the dogs exhausted (the goal of the walk) and me feeling somehow uplifted by what I've seen this afternoon - the cycle of life told in the trees. Where there are endings, there are also beginnings. Not particularly profound, but a satisfying meditation for this day.


  1. Hi Barbara, sounds like a wonderful walk. I am sure your dogs enjoyed it too. I love to walk in the woods. There are so many things to see and hear. It is sad to see the big old beech come to it end, but I assume the forest and trees will regenerate. Great post, have a happy day!

  2. Thanks for stopping by Eileen - I'll think of you and Goldie walking in the woods as well....

  3. I was pleased to take this walk with you this evening. So glad you invited us all. Beech in our area means black bears, the nuts are their favorite fall food. Nice photos Barbara!

    1. Thanks for joining me on the walk Bill - I often think of you walking with Cooper and Adia - such beautiful bloodhounds, in your beautiful forests and mountains. What wonderful walks you have in your exploration of the countryside around you and your family.

  4. What a beautiful walk. I feel the same way about my walks in the city or, where I am now, by the ocean: never the same even if I follow the exact same path. Your photos are magical.