Take to the Woods

In the cathedral of the forests, the mysteries and magic of Mother Nature come alive. 

Through the soaring pillars of trees, rising in arching canopies, streams of sunlight reflect on the forest floor. In cathedrals of nature and of faith, we are awed in the presence of harmony.

Like the great cathedral builders, 19th century French landscape painter Camille Corot was inspired by the woods. Fascinated by the play of sunlight on color, he recorded the crisscross of shadow and light across paths in the woods. In the woods, you can see what Corot saw: trees fringed in gold or deep green or chartreuse as touched by sunlight … hundred shades of green … a sunlight stream illuminating a brilliant red leaf on a seedling tree … a mica flake shining in a streamside rock.

As I walk, a patch of green under an oak tree reveals a clump of crow’s foot, a ground-hugging plant with leaves like the foot of a bird. It reminds me of Christmas decorations. Once I made a wreath with things from the forest: crow’s foot, sweet gum balls, milkweed pods, acorns, moss. I did not feel so inspired today, choosing instead to encourage the crow’s foot’s hold of the forest floor. This year, I am behind on Christmas decorations.

In the cathedral of the forests, pillars of trees rise in arching canopies. 

Crow’s foot, a plant with leaves like the foot of a bird, remains green in the cold.

Other members of the crow’s foot family are yellow spring buttercups and goldenseal, a plant revered by the American Indians for its medicinal value.

Winter or spring — no matter the season, leaves cover the forest floor. They whisper to me when I walk or trick me, sliding underfoot on a downhill walk, depositing me on my rump to create my version of a beaver slide. A beaver slide is like a straight sliding board, an escape route for the beavers when a tree they are cutting begins to fall. It is also a conduit for transporting construction materials for the beavers’ homes.

Once, in a different woods, a hillside of honeysuckle and a piece of cardboard made me a human slide. But beaver slides are not for belly-flop play.

This woods is beaver land; tree stumps with pyramid tops tell me so.

The most hunted of all animals, beavers are amazing creatures. They are great underwater swimmers, steering with a flat rudder tail that also supports them on land when cutting trees for a home. Flaps in their mouths protect them against splinters. Three eyelids add extra protection, as well as allowing them to see while swimming. Beavers’ homes in the water are built of wood, mud and rocks with underwater tunnels leading to the cozy den above.

I marvel at the wonders of this cathedral.

Water is nearby. I can smell it, feel its coolness, hear it splash over rocks before I see the stream where the beavers make their home. Along the sandy shore are prints of deer and others, maybe raccoons, that come to drink.

Nearby is a shallow frog pond. Such ponds are great learning stations, where over time on other walks you can see gelatinous egg sacks burst into tiny wriggly creatures that turn into squirmy creatures with a tail and big head called tadpoles that turn into legged hippity-hoppity frogs.

Lichens, algae or fungus that live on another body as part of it, cover the damp rocks. Some blossom from a decaying twig. Some lichens, continually moistened by dew or rain, grow little by little for 4,000 years.

Under the leaves, I spy a box turtle that turns out to be a pine knot. Pioneers sought these strange growths for fire starters.

Away from the creek, a three-foot mound beside the open trail reveals a home for termites, wood-eating insects that hollowed the trees nearby. A brilliant flash of red and blue-black and white: A redheaded woodpecker is storing acorns for a winter feast in the tree’s hollow. 

Suddenly the woods are no longer gently quiet. Squirrels scamper, competing for their feast of acorns. High in the treetops, a dozen crows, clever and fearless insect-eating birds, show their glossy black plumage as they talk and talk, warning who and what.

The sun in the trees across the sky shifts its pathway. Bright green plants are now dark blue-green. Brilliant red seedlings shine maroon. Variegated light patterns on the forest floor pick up stones and turn brown leaves to gold.

The forest is a cathedral, its soaring pillars of trees, arched canopy and streams of light inspiring awe in the presence of harmony.

Take a walk in the woods.