Monday, April 18, 2011

Reading the Land

My family spends lots of time in the woods behind our house. We know the place where the trail splits and we often find coyote skat (poop). We know where the pioneer white pine forest transitions to a hardwood forest. We know the exact place where we relaxed on our backs in the snow and watched a Bald Eagle fly overhead. We know the little hole that is home to a chipmunk. We know our woods.

Yet, each time we go out there, we learn something new.

Maybe we notice a new fungus growing on a log.

Or the rainbow created by the fading sunlight as it hits the vernal pool.

Ot the dappled sunlight as it falls upon a princess pine.

Recently, my son stopped to point out this tree.

"Mommy. It looks like this tree started to split and then it grew back together again."
"Oh yeah. I've never noticed that before. I wonder why we never noticed it."
"Maybe because that branch was in the way." (He pointed to a branch that used to be in front of the "crack" but fell off. In the photo- on the ground to the left).

"When do you think that branch fell?" I asked.
"A while ago."
"How do you know?"
"There's mushrooms growing on it."

We've passed this tree probably hundreds, certainly many times since the branch fell, but we never noticed this detail. In that moment, I realized we had never touched it, either. As we touched the bark we were surprised to learn how rough it is. From a distance is looks smooth.

My son moved closer and further away examining the bark and then touched it again. "Yeah. It looks so smooth but it's really rough."

No matter how well you think you know a place, there is always more to learn. Close observation reveals the details.

Spend time getting to know where you live. City dwellers, this can be as simple as getting to know the tree growing up through the sidewalk outside your apartment. What shape are it's leaves? Does it bear fruit? What kind? What animals are living on it/around it? (Remember that insects are animals). Does your tree look healthy? Feel it's bark. Maybe even make a bark rubbing. How does your tree change over the seasons? Visit it regularly to find out.

Have you observed nature lately? What did you see? Did you learn something new? I invite you to share.