An unhurried walk in the calm of the woods

Ahead on a narrow path is a long stretch of hardwoods and conifers. Most of the distanced trees appear to be decades old. The oaks, chestnuts and hickories are wide with branches now barren of leaves and nuts in the weak November light. The hemlocks, pines and sprawling cedars also have some size to them.

Even without foliage, the forest sentries look a little foreboding with their many shadows blanketing the leave-covered ground.

A slight wind brushing through the trees making their creeking and rattling sounds can also be a little unnerving.Story-tiotle-_An-unhriied-walk-in-the-calm-...-(2)-photo-credit-to-_dailyapple.blogspot

But the forest is anything but unsettling.

Walking there can be peaceful and calming to anyone whose ordinary existence has them driving in Interstate traffic, hearing the invasive sounds of 21st century life and dealing with the “I need it yesterday world.”

Being prepared to move slowly through the many sounds and smells a forest presents means stopping often and taking perspective with a careful, 360-degree view of things waiting in all directions.

The hardwoods have loosed their cargo of nuts to the earth, making any squirrel, chipmunk, deer or other creature needing protein for the winter a little more satisfied.

Bird nests from the summer sit unprotected all around. A few squirrel nests are scattered up above, their owners out and searching for food.

Shrubs line the understory. Some have small red berries, just waiting for the mockingbirds, juncos and foxes to have at them.

Some scattered brambles and low-slung rock outcroppings provide cover for the dens of those mammals that stay active through the cold and harsh winds to come.

Through the grays and muted browns of winter there is bright color provided by male cardinals, yellow-bellied flickers and the tiny, white-throated chickadees.

All the birds are chasing seeds dropped by any weed or shrub, and their chatter breaks the silence.

The turtles, toads and frogs have buried themselves in hibernation.

An occasional raccoon or possum might be stirring as 5 o’clock brings the last streams of fading sunlight.

Toward the end of the time in the woods, a quick scan of the western sky shows a brilliance of pink, muted orange and light purple clouds that will soon appear to be slate gray as all but a few columns of light remain.

But before the too-quickly-gone trip to the woods is over, the last of the multi-colored maple leaves can be seen rustling in the comfortably soft breeze. Several species of oaks grasp their leaves in a death-grip against January.

The ground is covered with fallen leaves of all shapes, sizes and textures. Poking through them can bring the discovery of salamanders moving toward hibernation or even a mouse or vole that has escaped the notice of a predator.

Loose rocks and stones can be turned over if other winter-called life needs visiting. Green mosses cling to some of those limestone rocks or have been making do with rotting logs or downed tree limbs.

Off to both sides of the bare trail, menacing poison ivy and prickly vines have made their way up the trunks of any tree in the way. Honeysuckle still has its dark green leaves and multi-flora rose tangles have successfully invaded areas where nothing will dislodge them.

Much deeper into the forest come signs of larger animals that have passed by. Overturned leaves, still wet from being thrashed in and strewn about, are evidence of the ramblings of a fox or coyote or even a group of feasting turkeys.

Most of the mast has been discovered and devoured by animals knowing the troubles of cold weather are near. Chipmunks give their shrill and high-pitched messages and warnings to relatives and neighbors.

Squirrels give off their irritated chatter when the visitor comes into their haunts. They bound from limb to limb in getting a safe distance away.

Up ahead and in some of the tree tops, there is a throng of starlings noisily waiting for the leaders to fly away to a safe place to spend the last light in feeding.

Crows are overhead in great numbers. They have congregated after feeding through the daylight hours to fields where corn or soybeans have just been harvested.

The crows will swoop into a copse of tall trees and spend the night in a restless darkness where they aren’t quiet or still. At the indication that first light is only minutes away, they will leave their rookery and wing back to the farm fields or cattle lots for another day of finding anything loose to eat.

A low-lying area with standing water is ringed by the tracks and sure signs of deer, turkey and raccoon.

Even the quiet wind causes sounds to ease their way through the barely moving trees. The conifers sway and contact the bushes and shrubs. The bare limbs of the hardwoods rub together and give off a moaning/groaning sound. Could there be some lost soul hidden and crying for help in the rock-strewn clump of growth over there?

It’s getting colder.

In some house not too far away, a fireplace is lit and burning apple wood. The smell of the smoke coming from that fireplace full of apple logs is a treat to the senses.

It’s also an aromatic signal that the walk in the woods has come to an end.

And the Interstate, noise pollution, and hurry-up world are not going away.


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