Tag Archives: woods

Write a Letter

To an old friend:

Remember how often we’d write to each other, pen-pal? Your letters stamped from exotic places, arriving in the mailbox on sunny mornings. I would trot down the driveway to check the mail, sometimes disappointed with impersonal printed business, sometimes cheered with a wrapped message that promised to be a delight to read.

Remember how easily the words came in those days, before there was such thing as a word count, a “good story”, structure, and grammar? Pooh. In those days there were books. In those days we told each other true stories, and wide-eyed we’d read them like the most gripping young-adult novel, except- these were real, written just for us, for our eyes only.

We wrote to each other. We wrote freely, as we were moved to. Unsupervised, unrequired writing, pure joy. Before I knew that “it’s” isn’t possessive, and before I knew what paragraphs are good for. It didn’t matter. I learned, and my letters were plenty readable.

For years I wrote to you. You wrote to me. Preferring paper and pen to face-to-face talk, I would wander the hillside like Frederick the mouse, gathering colors and sounds, images of plants in the sunshine. I would bring them back, in my mind, my camera, my words. Forest air in my lungs, forest dirt on my boots, blackberry scratches on my knees, sweat on my forehead. Alone, I would gather words for my next letter, and when pen met paper I would tell you stories of the places I’d been.

Write back soon!

Love,
Your Pen-Pal

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Meadow Pond

In a dip at the edge of the hayfield on the top of a hill
past the rippling grasses, thigh high
and the grasshoppers and katydids humming away this warm summer evening
past the open sky and distant hills
down into the side of this small prairie
is a pond.

Small pine trees planted around it in the shadows. Reaching rays of orange sunlight shifting through the trees, their leaves the dark green of deep summer. Night comes closer here on the cool Northwest side of the hill.

Silent slice of sky in the grass, still reflecting pool. Glass broken by the toes of waterbugs, skimming the surface, leaving ripples in their wake. On the far side of the pond, a fallen aspen reaches out over the water, half submerged, half child’s jungle gym. White and black bark, shimmering leaves in the slight breeze from uphill.

Deep woods beyond the manmade pool, beyond the cliff that supports its downhill side. Ancient hemlock. Darkness and shadows and nightfall, wood-pewee, pine boughs and needles over the soil.

Like the dragonflies, I hover by the water.

Nightfall

Somewhere in the darkening field is a bird in the dusk. It flies up into the navy blue sky, wings whistling, and circles back in a wide loop to the dark thicket it came from. It calls from there—a short, nasal, agitated sound. It’s a woodcock, looking for company. They fly like a mad thing if you get too close.

It would be a quiet night if the peepers hadn’t begun to sing. They’re down by the old pond, and their calls pierce the twilight. The fog I meant to photograph flows down the hill in a slow-motion river. Stars are populating the sky.

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I wrap my fingers around the cool, damp legs of the tripod. It’s time to go. Yesteryear’s goldenrod stems, squashed flat by snow, blur beneath me. Thorns grab me from nowhere. Soon I’m at the top of the field, and look back.

Blinking towers. Last sunrays. First stars.

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I can’t resist. I set down the tripod, barely brush the touch-sensitive screen, and wait as the eye gathers light. Click. That one was blurry. Again.

Not a week ago I’d been in the house, windows shut, and heard noise coming from outside. I flipped off the light and opened the window. Coyote howls, clear and loud. They were close to the field I’m standing in tonight, blind except when I look at the sky.

Finally, satisfied. Up go the tripod legs. I find my way home more by memory than sight, humming “Oh Susannah” to keep the shadows away. The woods are patches of darkness and ill-defined lighter areas. Sometimes I wish I had an animal’s eyes.

Natural Treasures: A Personal Investigation

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After the storm.

Since elementary school and before, I’ve had a passion for the natural world. One of my first pet obsessions concerned lone tent caterpillars—I’d collect the creepy crawlies (whom I viewed as cute and fuzzy), feed them their favorite multiflora rose and hawthorn leaves, and carefully handle them daily until they became lethargic and started trailing tiny threads of silk. Holed away in their faux natural environment, one by one the caterpillars would find a secluded space under a pile of leaves or in the corner and go to work, spinning themselves up in silk and disappearing in a cocoon. Days would pass. Maybe a week or two. I didn’t mind—there were other caterpillars to play with. One by one, I’d find a cocoon broken open, messy like something had been born there. I’d know that somewhere in the miniature jungle I’d created, a new moth was ready and waiting to be released.

Until middle school my family lived in a small neighborhood with limited natural treasures, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Sometimes we’d go visit SUNY IT and stroll the campus, with me gawking at milkweed, monarchs, and one day a spectacular Luna Moth. (It’s amusing to me that I have memories of SUNY Poly stretching back 10+ years, though I became an official student only two years ago.) When we moved a few miles away to the “country,” I was surrounded by woodland on most sides, utterly enraptured by the acres of nature suddenly available for me to explore. By this time I was homeschooled and able to spend hours hiking, observing nature, discovering new species (new to me), and taking thousands of photographs. And though now I’m a college student, so busy that I often forgo my hikes, my passion for nature remains.

I still live at home and I’ve seen the trees go down around the neighborhood, new houses go up, elderly neighbors pass away and the next generation arrive. Part of me laments the decreasing wilderness of the area and the increase in human presence, with the occasional shouting and laughing, music and light pollution, and the general need to respect the neighbors. Part of me realizes that I was once a newcomer here—we knocked down trees to build our own house, and became a human presence where there had been none before. Some of our neighbors have been here for 50 years—Norm planted the red pine trees to our North, now towering adults 60 feet high. Everyone was a newcomer to this wilderness once.

I’ve been a junior docent at the Utica Zoo, and taken an Environmental Science class at MVCC. I’ve realized that the solution most environmentalists call for is more legislation, stricter laws to protect the environment. I don’t agree with this. Not yet. I’m a diehard Libertarian and it will take a lot to convince me that government is the answer, but I also have a deep love of wilderness and it hurts me to see wild areas disappear. What is the answer? Is there even a problem?

There are many reasons to want to conserve wild areas, but my biggest reason is that these places are valuable to me personally as places of otherness and connection to a bigger, older world. I want wild areas to exist, but I want humans to be free. My best answer to this “problem” right now is education—show the world the beauty of these places, through writing, photography, film, even through captive organisms, and hope to inspire a respect for and connection with wild places.