Meditations in November woods
November, 20, 2008
These November woods are nut brown and gray, as oak and beech take over where maple leaves off. The children and I went walking on a recent afternoon, relishing our extra hour of rest but aware, as well, that the precious daylight would now fade all the sooner. We wandered through the everdusk of hemlocks and the bare-limbed hardwoods along an oxbow of the Housatonic. We clambered over marble cobbles and marveled at the whorls of maidenhair in each and every crevasse. We sat in stillness and heard crows in the pines and geese above the cornfields and the wind stirring tattered leaves.
The autumn fields are rank with rustling goldenrod, milkweed pods in downy profusion, asters gone to seed. Few birds remain in the undergrowth, save for the chickadees that as a child I learned must eat three times their body weight every day to survive in winter, and a hairy woodpecker at work on a standing snag. The scudding clouds might have told of coming snow had the temperature not been in the low 50s, but soon there will be frost that does not leave the ground with the rising sun, and ice will gird the shoreline of pond and forest pool. The cries of the geese herald the time of snow, and dark, and skies full of icy stars.
There is magic in these November woods, explored through the eyes of children. We poke at scat to see who had whom for dinner. We cannot cross a footbridge without stopping to pantomime the three goats and the troll. We compare the gnawed and girdled trunks where beavers have been busy to see which are evidence of more recent activity. At the base of an enormous cottonwood with a healed lightning scar we find a cave big enough for two, and further progress ceases while the urge to den predominates.
All the while I remember walks of my own, my little hand secure in one larger, my short legs taking two steps for every one of my parents’. When I was a young man, the wilderness appealed to me not because I hoped to dominate it, daring the odds of survival with every extreme undertaking — but because of its promise of solitude, discovery and awakened sensitivity. I climbed mountains in confidence that I could do so unharmed, yet learned in those vast spaces that I was vulnerable. I wandered in deserts seeking mysteries and found them deep within.
Now I am no longer young. My bones that ache with the dropping barometer, and I have a stronger sense of my own mortality. I am no more the solo wanderer, trekking from peak to peak, but a husband and father who moves to the meandering pace of his little people as we explore the world together.
There is wonder in a blade of grass, a wilderness in our own backyard. I would love to see glaciers again, or to stare out over the Namibian escarpment where half a lifetime ago my tracks mingled with those of elephants in the sand of dry riverbeds. But for now these adventures are part of my past, recaptured in my mind’s eye and informing that inner wilderness of the heart. I know that just as sure as growth and decay in the forest, with parent and child it all comes around again.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com. He and Fred Baumgarten write Nature’s Notebook on alternating weeks.
© Copyright 2008 by TCExtra.com
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