A FOREST NEW YEAR’S
The sun was radiant and the ground frozen hard as I walked up to my tree New Year’s morning. The stream ran along the Prospect Hill Road but as I reached the Barn Tower, ice was pushing out of the ground in translucent sculptures extruded by the squeezing pressure of the frozen ground. I splashed through mud puddles here just last week but the seasonable cold of winter has visited these last days.
This morning brought ice and frost patterns on the windows of the sun porch and I wondered if the cows would be frozen solid. Some New Year’s treats of English muffins with warmed molasses perked them up, along with a bale of fresh green hay.
A woodpecker was hard at it as I walked to my tree, a percussion section of one. There’s been no snow at all for days and I was surprised to see a bit of green fern hanging on in the sheltering cleft of the tree’s flaring trunk where it meets the ground. I know snow insulates it, but it persists even now in the cold, bare ground.
I notice the sun brings the birds. Yesterday at noon, my eye was drawn by a glint of blue: a pair of bluebirds, first one on a fence post, then the other in the red maple by the house, the sun flashing on the male’s wings. He came to the little stream that winds through the pasture to drink, tipping his head once, twice, to its glittering water. How important this stream is! How much life it draws. Also the seeds of the red maple, and the sumac, and tall summer flowers and grasses now faded to rustling scribbles of brown. So little is needed to sustain so much, this bit of cover in the thicket, a rivulet of fresh water, a bit of foraging ground in the trees and brush we hardly notice, but so vital to the animals of our winters.
The big oak I am studying this year was bathed in tender winter light. The sunlight was soft, yet penetrated deep into the bark. The shadows come so early now, and the textures of the woods are thrown into a richness by the angle of the sun I never see in spring or summer.
With holiday closure of the forest’s field station, the woods seems a special remove, the animals nearer, the trees too. A few walkers visit to enjoy the trails, but mostly, this is the forest’s quiet time. At night the great wheeling array of stars rewards an outpost here far from city lights. I listen. I take long walks.
A pre-dusk hike yesterday with my husband Doug brought the rewards of the sun-rouged cliff at Porcupine Ledge, the ice sculptures of rocks in Rutland Brook, worth a pilgrimage in itself.
Surrounded by wild lands in every direction owned by the Harvard Forest and The Trustees of Reservations, the trails at Rutland Brook, owned by Mass Audubon, are a sanctuary for wildlife. And people, too.