by Anna Harding for Tony Pascal, our teammate, d. April 23, 2013
I find the spot where Tony sat for the past two months and begin to observe the stream, the Little Sally, and its surroundings for this last entry. It is sunny, 65 degrees; a chilly eastern wind blows through the forest and creates dappled, frenzied shadows on the stream and its banks. The small waterfall creates a soothing sound, sending bubbles and foamy islets floating downstream. The banks are covered with moss that appears to drip down toward the water.
Small bugs have emerged, some of them pestering me, seeking my skin to bite. I pull a seed tick off my pants leg. Little ironwood treelets are emerging everywhere, and various grasses are taking good hold along with the huge skunk cabbages, the pale purple violets, and some earnest basswood saplings. A tall tulip tree plays host to a vigorously growing poison ivy vine.
Tattered spider webs reveal remnants of past meals still entwined in their sticky pattern and a dragonfly darts erratically over the stream. A solitary bumblebee buzzes lazily and investigates various plants and leaf litter for what, I know not!
The slightly cloudy tannin-stained stream reflects the sun as it moves up in the sky, shining down through the leaves high above. A tufted titmouse and a cardinal are the only birds announcing their presence to me. The lush, fecund forest is quiet aside from the rush of the wind through the treetops and the burbling sound of the stream.
by Anna Harding
Sunny, about 69 degrees. Drifting, high cumulus clouds, a fresh breeze to stir the treetop greenery, and I settle in to observe. The unfurling fiddleheads of the cinnamon ferns (or buckhorn ferns) are evidence of the turn of the seasons since I last sat in the wetlands. Leaves on the trees, so tender and vulnerable in their soft, undefended newness; the subtle fragrance of the hidden bloom of a May apple (yes, I got down close to sample it!), and the exuberant emergence of the spring ephemerals all usher me into the fullness of a cool, spring day.
Black and yellow swallowtail butterflies flutter through my wetlands mandala, signaling the influx of many more insects whose time to feed and breed has arrived. In and around the watery, boggy vernal pond, the skunk cabbages have increased in size exponentially and claim ever larger tracts of these swampy lowlands as their rightful territory. The wetlands water that was clear in the winter sits stagnant in this bog, now a thick soup of algae, pollen, and detritus that is in the process of decay.
As I look up, I imagine another mandala laid across the tops of the trees, encompassing the blue sky in all its vast depth. My viewing platform is in the shade for the first time since I began this project…the lushness of the surrounding forest creates different conditions for what emerges and needs shade to thrive.
After sitting a while, I adjust to a new level of stillness and more layers of life are revealed to me. A Jack-in-the-pulpit is in full bloom…and another and another! The act of sitting quietly awards the gift of truly seeing. An ovenbird sings from the lower shrubby growth; a Carolina wren sings his distinctive clear tune. A distant yellow-billed cuckoo sends out his one-note declaration of his place in the order of things, and a sense of timelessness is like a spell that has been cast over me as I witness this magical place.
by Cindy Beemiller
I reach the meadow, breathe in deeply. There is more fresh air, more sound, more green, and less view! The trees have filled in and the grasses are coming up, creating little hiding places. The meadow is alive and closing in.
My white flowers from last month have given way to the purple flowers of the pea plant and yellow dandelions dotting the evergreen path. The sky is passing rain clouds, revealing the warm blue sky of spring.
The morning chirping is amazing. I close my eyes and try to pinpoint each call. The smell of drying dew fills the air with scents of fresh grass and good soil. The cold winds and breezes are still. I open my eyes, lie back, and watch two vultures sway back and forth across the sky. Four more join in. I keep listening and looking around. The brown stems of winter are being overcome by green, and the grass hummocks or mounds are dense and turning green. I can no longer see the bare soil anywhere.
I have enjoyed my time here. I have let nature come to me on its own terms instead of me scaring it away walking along a path. So many sights, thoughts, and wonders I would have missed passing by. The beauty of the meadow would have gone unseen.
I must say good-bye to a mini- vacation. Next I will venture to enjoy another spot, either in my backyard or here at the Arboretum.
by Wendy Jacobs
Wow, the high forest has finally popped. Being well-shaded at the top of a well-drained ridge, the greenery here lacks intensity from ferns, grasses, May apples. But its spareness and delicacy are all the more precious on this cloudy 50-degree day. With the floor-to-canopy leafing must come a feeling of safety for the birds, and there are many more of them. Not to mention the urgency of mating season. They never stopped singing as I made my way along the trail to my usual position.
The bird calls are rich, varied and sweet. I look long, but do not see a single bird; the trills surround me from a distance. I count nine different calls. Closing my eyes while counting, I nearly drift off to sleep—even perched on a three-legged stool above the poison ivy. I recall that sixty to seventy years ago, babies were routinely put outside for naps on nice days. How pleasant and relaxing for them to drift off to the bird sounds, one of many ways we humans were then more connected to nature.
The faintest of breezes softly lifts and then drops small branches here and there. The effect is like the whole forest is breathing, a living creature.
A squirrel, very frisky, cuts a semi-circle around me about fifteen feet away. He stops and eyes me for a half-minute, then hops over the edge of the bank toward the stream below. He appears well fed. A bumblebee is also hopping along the leaf litter. A polite fly stops to rest on my notebook. Well-being pervades the deep woods this morning.