It's starting to look like winter in these woods.
It’s been a hard week.
Most days I’ve been at my computer at 6 am banging out work on deadline. Personal issues too tricky and morally ambiguous to share with friends send me on a 14-day course of Prilosec. The usual Christmas-and-I-am-an-atheist-and-on-a-tight-budget dilemma gets papered over with lots of gift-wrap and tied up in red and green ribbons. Oh well. Five worrying water leaks made worse by four Nor’easters that rammed my northeast-Atlantic-facing Rockport home this fall shake me sleepless every time it rains. And it rains all the time.
I think I’ll stop right here.
Because I’m writing about what happens when I step into the winter woods — which surround me in Rockport. This is when my consciousness shifts from the pain that’s tearing at my stomach to the impossibly verdant green of the moss on the Kieran Trail. To the deeply resonant, hallowed hoot of the Great Horned Owl. To the slippery log bridge that traverses yet another swollen, rocky stream.
Pay attention. Don’t fall in.
Because I’m writing today about what happens to us on a recent woods walk on one of the worst of the hard days. My friends Ruth and Matt let me tag along on their daily 3-to-4.5-mile woods hikes if our schedules mesh. These lunchtime excursions into Dogtown and the South Woods are ostensibly for the standard poodle, Maggie, and the golden doodle, Ellie, who have yet to experience exhaustion. They go and go. We keep up; maybe grow a bit stronger day by day.
Maggie and Ellie never think the water is too cold.
As we often do, we set off for South Woods. Matt knows every trail in these networks of trails. He can judge hiking times regardless of the creative trail braiding he does as we weave this way, then that. And on this day he veers off course and leads us somewhere new.
As beautiful as this new pocket of woods is, we are dismayed for underfoot is a continuous trail of broken glass. We crunch our way to an elevated granite clearing that exposes a 360-degree-view of feathery young, green pines; seemingly impenetrable woods to the west; and strewn about — half-burnt logs, scores of broken bottles, discarded cans and food wrappers. Someday some archaeologist will class this site “Party Mound” and shake her head in incomprehension.
We vow then and there to come back with bags, brooms and dustpans and clean it all up. This will be our Christmas gift to the woods. The perfect ‘give-back’ effort we’ve been seeking, right here.
Someone has strung and wound popcorn around this maple.
We turn, eventually, and crunch back the way we came for a quarter mile or so when, noticing a single strand of popcorn wound round a maple trunk, Matt steps off the path and though we wonder about this deviation from the course, we do the same. He has some adventure in mind, perhaps?
Wait a minute.
“Look!” Matt is ecstatic.
We cannot not believe our eyes.
We reorient our sights. Refocus. Narrow down and look sharply all about us.
Everywhere, in all directions, we see beautiful, edible decorations. The woods transformed. South Woods as Christmas tree. Just brilliant!
There are millet seeds embedded in slices of bread that have been soaked in honey and peanut butter. Ice cream cones filled, not with chocolate chip ice cream, but with lard and seeds and nuts and dried fruit. Plump cranberry chains. Luminous slices of orange aglow in the afternoon light. Bits of dried apricot dangling from low-hanging branches. Pinecones stuffed with fruits and fats and seeds. Carrots. Celery. Apples. What a spread! A nature nosh, I say, only half joking, for I nearly hit my head on half a bagel strung from a tree on a piece of ribbon.
Apricots and berries looped around a branch.
So full of light they are hard to photograph.
Nuts, berries and lard in an ice cream cone. Pemmican for birds.
A stuffed pine cone. Inspired, I went home and made stuffed artichokes.
Bacon strung on a wire sculpture.
A study in textures.
Here's to a good nosh!
Gifts for creatures of all sorts.
Who did this?
We look for the sparrows. Chickadees. Grackles and stray waxwing — be here, please. Cardinals and jays — flash your blues and reds this way. Fill up. Our feast is for the eyes and the soul. Yours is more essential. Winter will set in for real. There will be snow and cold and wind and ice that make foraging all but impossible.
Scouts? Bird watchers? Neighbor? Who amongst us did this?
A wonder of nature, strung from a tree.
Thank you. This perfect slice orange, a miracle all by itself, lights an afternoon woods. It lights my heart, too. Soon it will please, in far more important ways, another unsuspecting critter.
Happy New Year to my friends and to the friends of nature who tend to the trails and all that roam there.