Seeing in the New Year

Whose woods these are I think I know”                                                         They’re ours of course, whenever we go.

Walking in the sere winter woods, the lush green of summer feels like a faded distant dream. Curly brown leaves lay where they fell in a protective mantle across the frozen land, rustled by a stiff northern wind. Their mosaic of muted colors displays every shade of tan, from bright light papery beech leaves to the thick shiny bronze oaks. On exposed hillsides unseasonal downpours have carved a twisted course through their deep layers, revealing the curving contours of the landscape

The leaves have fallen to the ground       VW_Dec2014 023
With rustling sound so soft.
Soon winter will come marching in,
With leaden skies aloft.

Bright autumn hues of red and gold
Have faded to dull brown,
But soon an ermine mantle,
Will cover all the ground …

November, Ardenelle M. Mason


In the eddies of brooks, the withered forms of plant stalks stand stiffly holding their shattered seed heads. The arched stems of sweet woodreed dangle over the water like the graceful arms of dancing ballerinas, while punky cat-tail heads explode in slow motion, casting a million tiny parachuted seeds to the wind. Scattered through the marsh, dark green tubular tules spear the air in singular spikes, refusing to bow to the freezing cold.

VW_Dec2014 037 I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.

The Brook, Alfred Lord Tennyson




The bright songbirds of summer that roused us with their dawn chorus, have flown south to warmer climes. In their place a sparrow slips silently through the leaves, eating buds and hidden bugs, it’s mottled tan feathers a perfect foil for flitting unseen. High above among the dense hemlock branches, white-throated nuthatches chatter cheerily, tap tap tapping the giant tree trunks for grubs.


I heard a bird sing                                                       
In the dark of December. sparrow
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

                                      We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

In the dark of December, Oliver Herford


All else is stillness, the deep quiet of waiting out the long winter, for which there is no recourse. The slowness of the season seeps into our thoughts, bringing an inner tranquility of being. We have time to reflect on ourselves and the course of our lives, to reset our goals and paths, to renew our commitments. We return to the woods retracing our steps in its cycles of death and rebirth, finding comfort in the regularity of nature’s rhythms.

VW_Dec2014 054… and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
determine to save
the only life you could save.

The Journey, Mary Oliver






As I slip into the woods on the Virginia Wood Trail the sound of morning traffic on Pond Street quickly fades away. The quiet forest envelops me with rustling leaves and birds calling. I’ve adopted this trail through the Friends Adopt-a-Trail program, but in some ways I feel like it’s adopted me. The lure of the forest is hard to resist, and these early morning forays before work stay with me all day. Of course there’s lots to do, branches to trim back, logs to cut, trash to pick up, but the work is light and fun, and it’s rewarding to help keep the trail clear for others to enjoy. And there’s lots to enjoy in Virginia Wood, between the waterfall at the dam, and all the interesting stories at each station of the Spot Pond Brook Historic Trail.

Mapleleaf Viburnum

Mapleleaf Viburnum

Along the way I notice the changing of the seasons, Indian cucumber leaves turning crimson (photo at top), yellow zigzag goldenrods, and the purple berries of the mapleleaf viburnum. The air is brisk and moist along Spot Pond Brook, the water spilling over a log making a quiet gurgling sound joined by the murmer of crickets, and soft buzzing of bumblebees, working their way through blue asters. Winter brings the first crunch of snow underfoot, white edging on the cracks in rock outcrops, and clear thin ice along the edges of the brook.

Heartleaf Aster

Heartleaf Aster

Some animal sightings are common, like frogs and snakes, while others are more fleeting. One morning I saw a flock of birds noisily chase a red-tail hawk up and down the brook, flying right overhead. Another time a mink slunk right by me running up a tree trunk to quickly cross a jumbled rock talus slope. Deer tracks in the mud of a vernal pool attested to where they ate the tops off of one of their favorite foods, the orange-flowered jewelweed.
It’s always hard to leave the forest and get back into my car to finish the morning commute to work, but I do so with a sense of satisfaction at the work accomplished, and with a serenity that will carry me through the day. I’m often reminded of where I was by finding a leaf in my hair, or burs on my clothes, which always brings a smile to my face. Over time these early morning walks have brought a deeper appreciation of the gift to us all that the Tudor family made in honor of their daughter Virginia.