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Posts Tagged ‘forest’

I am in the forest and leaves are falling. At times they are falling so hard it sounds like rain. Looking up, it is like I am watching the hardwoods throwing leaves from their branches and into the arms of the conifers. Who knew the trees played games of catch?

In the book The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben teaches us a thing or two about trees. He wants to make sure we know that individual trees are important. At the same time he insists a tree is only as strong as the surrounding forest. When trees unite to create a forest, the whole becomes greater than its parts. The well-being of a tree is dependent on the community of trees. Wohlleben suggests that trees are far more social than we might imagine.

One tree standing alone is at risk. It cannot establish a consistent climate. It suffers alone in wind and weather. But a forest of trees creates an ecosystem that moderates temperature, stores water, and generates humidity. Wohlleben insists that in a forest, trees care for one another. Every tree becomes valuable to the community and is worth keeping around as long as possible. Sick trees even receive support and nourishment from others until they recover.

Wohlleben is convinced that trees are able to communicate with one another. And not only one another, but with other creatures as well.  Who knew? He makes a case that trees care for one another. They share food with one another. The forest is a tree community. They need one another. Maybe those lively trees we read about in stories are not as farfetched as we think. Maybe trees are not the passive plants they appear to be. Maybe that really is a game of catch they are playing above me. Maybe the forest really is an enchanted place.

I am struck by the way Wohlleben talks about the forest in ways the New Testament talks about church. We communicate with one another. We care for one another. Like trees in the forest, we are stronger and more productive when congregated. Alone we are at risk. Together we are the church. We need one another. Just as an individual tree does not make a forest, an isolated Christian does not make a church. It is interesting that both forest and church are the dream of the same imaginative Creator. Perhaps we should not be surprised by any similarities. Whatever future research tells us about trees, I will never walk through the forest the same way again.

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Some things prompt thought and activity simultaneously. Hiking is one of those things. Hiking requires muscle activity and decision making. Hiking can prompt deep breathing and all senses on alert. It helps us learn to live with the gear we have and to live without unnecessary gear.

Hiking allows the imagination to become active. It helps you to see differently and to listen differently. Hiking helps you recognize the blurry line between beauty and danger. It helps you show reverence to both. Hiking will help you to appreciate undeserved gifts.

Hiking is like a trip to the cinema. The colors and acoustics and textures and contrasts and movement provide a live action performance going on all around you. Even the scenery reaches out to touch you. You respond to what is going on out there. And it responds to you. There is interaction. Hiking puts you into relationship. You are granted admission to a one time showing like no other. And you become part of the show.

Hiking surrounds you with life. You cannot take it all in. Annie Dillard says “in the top inch of soil, biologists found ‘an average of 1,356 living creatures in each square foot.’” Even if this figure is off by a creature or two this is a lot of life. She goes on, “ignoring them won’t strip them of their reality.” Life is in front of us, behind us, above us and beneath our feet. Hiking helps us understand that creation has us surrounded.

There is a practical element. Hiking will take you someplace. You might even grow from the experience. But the benefits are more than practical. You might make a discovery. You might get to know yourself. Hiking will do something to you. This is activity for the soul.

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Getting Outside

Earlier this week I was walking toward the east as the sun was climbing higher in the clear sky. It is February but the air feels like spring. A red tailed hawk flies into my view. He comes nearly overhead and then circles back toward the east. As he gets closer to the sun the light shines brilliantly through his outer feathers. As if he is outlined with angelic pinstripes. It is like he flew into a Thomas Kinkade painting. I watch until he is out of sight before I move on. It is just good to be outside.

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“I try to spend as much time as possible in the winter forest. It is a great place to sharpen the senses. Contrast, movement, and sound call attention to themselves in a hurry. Things are more visible in the bare deciduous woods, including evidence that something has already been there before you arrived. Then there is the winter forest at night. The senses sharpen more clearly. Temperature heightens the sense of cold on your nose and cheeks. Looking at the sky feels like a spectator sport. Noise and movement gain your attention quickly. It is not difficult to find yourself on the alert. If you are nothing else in the winter woods at night, you are aware. Sometimes you hear something, see something, discover something that makes this all feel like an adventure. But the fact is, in the forest it is always likely that you were discovered first. Some things are sure to grab attention, like the cold of a winter night. Other things are subtle and require sharpened senses. I hope to be attentive.”

– from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 29

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I am a traveler in the forest. Winding my way through the dark, through a light snow and through the trees toward the trail that will take me back to the road. I see my breath against the clear sky where a slim crescent moon and a brilliant evening star shine the brightest.

I am one who listens to the night. Waiting for a song or a call in the distance but all I hear is the wind in the branches of nearby trees. Blowing across some of these creates a whistling sound. Blowing against others causes a percussion effect. Tonight’s entertainment is acoustic and instrumental.

I am a weather watcher. I think of Annie Dillard’s comment “We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.”

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It feels like Winter, finally. And the forecast calls for snow. Makes me want to do something wintry. Maybe I’ll put on a lot of layers. Test the strength of the ice on the lake. Get out the snow shoes. Light a fire. I have been watching the trailer for the movie The Revenant which looks like a winter adventure. Maybe I’ll go check the trap line, fight a bear, and crawl back to camp. Or maybe I’ll just go watch the movie.

I am reminded of the following;

I try to spend as much time as possible in the winter forest. It is a great place to sharpen the senses. Contrast, movement, and sound call attention to themselves in a hurry. Things are more visible in the bare deciduous woods, including evidence that something has already been there before you arrived. Then there is the winter forest at night. The senses sharpen more clearly. Temperature heightens the sense of cold on your nose and cheeks. Looking at the sky feels like a spectator sport. Noise and movement gain your attention quickly. It is not difficult to find yourself on the alert. If you are nothing else in the winter woods at night, you are aware. Sometimes you hear something, see something, discover something that makes this all feel like an adventure. But the fact is, in the forest it is always likely that you were discovered first. Some things are sure to grab attention, like the cold of a winter night. Other things are more subtle and require sharpened senses. I hope to be attentive.(Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p.29)

Sounds wintry. I am glad I do not have to fight a bear or crawl back to camp in the snow in order to experience some winter adventure.

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The timber rattlesnakes were active in the forest this week. I only know this because I walked up on two of them. Neither of them seemed to be concerned about my presence. These are awesome creatures with their large hefty body and colorful pattern. So large it makes the triangular head appear small. As he moves away from me, it appears to be a strain for this small head and narrow neck to pull such a large body behind it. One of them raised its tail that transitions to a darker color before the rattle begins. I followed it until the cover got so thick that I no longer had a clear view of its dangerous head.

But that was not the most impressive creature I encountered. Walking along a well-worn path I noticed a black tail lying out in the open. Thinking it was a black rat snake I carefully moved closer hoping to get a glimpse of its length. As my eyes followed its tail into the weeds I noticed the body became thick rather quickly. At first I thought maybe it had eaten recently and this was a bulge until digestion was completed. However, this snake appeared thick all the way to its head. There was no visible distinction between head and neck which made the head look large.

When it realized it had been discovered it began to move away. I followed and it turned to see what had disturbed its hunting time. Easily six feet long, this thick body was black with a chainlike pattern that was visible when light hit at the proper angle. Its belly and chin appeared to be white. We stared at one another for a while before it raised its head and flicked its tongue. For a moment I thought it was going to speak “Are you alone out here? What are you doing so deep in the jungle?” Oh wait, I am thinking of the Jungle Book.

The field guide suggests that this is Lampropeltis nigra, a combination of Greek and Latin words that roughly translate as “radiant black small shields.” I had never seen an Eastern Black Kingsnake in the wild before. Interestingly, I also read they are immune to the venom of timber rattlesnakes and will eat them when opportunity presents. Maybe that is what he was hunting for. Perhaps I should have shown him where to look. It is a snake eat snake world out there. I wonder if Kipling got ideas for his stories from adventures like these.

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