December 25, 2012

Holiday Offering

On this beautiful Christmas day, may your burdens feel light, your empty nests be filled, your hearts be tender, and your faith be infinite! Your courage, insights, thoughtfulness, and creative zeal have been my gifts and inspiration throughout this year! May the spirit of this day prevail for you all...

Iced Milk Parsley, © Cherrie A. Corey, all rights reserved

December 22, 2012

Endings and Beginnings...Dark and Light

Winter solstice sunset, 2012
Winter Solstice 2012...the ending marks a new beginning. While many have smugly asserted that the apocalypse didn't come this year, I wonder if the survivors of Hurricane Sandy and Sandy Hook and of this summers heat, drought, and fires would fully agree. And for those mocking the notion that this day might bring a dawning of a more compassionate and enlightened existence, look again at our remarkable response both to help and support the victims of these tragedies and to thoughtfully reassess our long-held perspectives and courses of action...especially around the core issue of climate change and now gun violence and the languishing state of our country's mental health care priorities.

We hold the delicate fabric of this living, breathing, deeply interconnected world in our hands and can determine by our incremental choices and actions whether we will collectively transcend or perish. So then, we can be grateful that we're still here, each and every day, and with clear minds and generous hearts resolve to take care!

December 17, 2012

Defining Moments

Our December Solstice walk at Great Meadows offered the perfect confluence of early winter elements to help us align and refine our sense of time and place. 

© Anne Whitaker 2012
We set off in search of wild epiphanies, and a bit of magic.  A fine snow was falling, creating beautiful patterns characteristic of December in Concord's shallow wetlands, mysterious circles and graceful sweeps informed by the particular conditions of newly iced surfaces.  The patterns suggested a mysterious physics was at work but whether it was daily freeze-thaw rhythms, muskrat feeding and breathing perforations, or the melting of ice near heat-absorbing vegetation, we were uncertain of the exact cause of these snow circles.

© Janice Koskey 2012
© Anne Whitaker 2012
In November, the refuge's shallow marshes 'sprout' many dark mounds heaped high with mud and dried cattails, roots and tubers, and lotus pods.  Muskrats are the architects of these larger sleeping lodges and smaller, pushup feeding shelters that stand through the winter to protect them from the cold and predators.  Dusted by this early snowfall, we suddenly were made aware of the extent of this rodent community out under the ice.

Muskrat feeding lodge, © Janice Koskey 2012
The snow's structure, itself, provided clues about prevailing weather conditions.  No thermometers or wind gauges were needed.  The delicate, needle-like crystals gathering on sleeves, leaves, and dried plants, were a telltale sign of a calm winter's day with temperatures in the low 20's (F.).

Needle crystals on leaf, © Anne Whitaker 2012
Swamp milkweed, © Anne Whitaker
In December, the dark and slow-moving water of the Concord River reflects the arching trees and sky above.  During these early, gentle snowfalls, the whiteness collects on bare upward facing surfaces of roots, branches, and trees articulating their dark outlines and rendering the landscape in black and white like a charcoal drawing.  As we gazed at these reflections, one walker recited from memory these lines from James Russell Lowell's poem "Lines" in remembrance of the three British soldiers buried upstream by the Old North Bridge:

From farm to farm the Concord glides,
And trails my fancy with its flow;
O'erhead the balanced hen-hawk slides,
Twinned in the river's heaven below.

Reflecting, © Janice Koskey 2012
© Janice Koskey 2012

Etched silver maple roots, © Joe Snodgrass 2012
Buttonbush at the oxbow, © Joe Snodgrass 2012
Finally, we went looking under the low-leaning buttonbush branches for one more river or streamside hallmark of winter -- ice bells.  Beautiful, gleaming silver bells growing slowly larger from the splash, dip, and freeze of moving water on hovering roots and branches.

Ice bells, © Janice Koskey 2012
Many thanks to walkers Janice Koskey, Joe Snodgrass, and Anne Whitaker for permission to use their beautiful photographs.

December 15, 2012

Pink Earth, Earth Stars, and Sandy Hook Remembrances

This morning I wandered through Fairyland and Concord's town forest with my ever adventurous and engaging homeschool students marveling at the delicate wonders of an early winter day...not yet aware of the days unfolding news.

We were greeted by needle ice emerging from mud-caked trails, delicate fern moss etched in crystals, and ice music as tossed stones skittered across silvery thin sheets forming over Fairyland Pond.

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) etched with frost
In the protected hollow below Brister's Hill, all joined hands in a measuring embrace around the grandmother tree, one of the town's oldest and largest pines.  One of my students noticed the word Isis embroidered on my hat and while we stopped for snacks, he shared the most wonderful retelling of the great Egyptian goddess's lineage that I've yet to hear, with all of its twists and turns.

Then we set off to climb Brister's Hill, following the ever green course of Brister's Spring winding its way through refreshed mats of watercress amidst the muted tones of forest floor.

At the crest of the hill, we encountered a shelter on the way to Thoreau's Path, a trail inscribed with Thoreau's reflections that circles over the sandy, rocky cap of an old landfill now preserved and reviving with the pioneering growth of pitch pine and gray birch stands, Brister's Hill/Walden Woods, map and trailside quotations.

Inspired shelter on Brister's Hill
Stopping to look at a small collection of rusted metal, pottery, and old jars, we literally stumbled on a fantastic fungi find, one I've been seeking for years...the Earth Star, Astraeus hygrometricus.  Named for the the Greek Titan, Astraeus -- the god of the stars and ancient arts of astronomy and astrology --  this patch of some two dozen dried black and white, fungal "stars" lay close to the gravelly ground near young pitch pines, with whom their roots share a micorrhizal relationship.

Earth star fungus (Astraeus hygrometricus)
Shortly after midday, we rounded the final turn on this long hilltop path where we discovered what we thought was a lingering frosty patch on barren ground.  Kneeling down to inspect these resilient crystals we discovered instead a miniature world of tiny, crusted chalky white lichens dappled with pink fruiting bodies no bigger than the head of a pin.  A colonizer that brings beauty and nourishment back to barren soils, the pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces), was another delightful find for us all and a reminder of the ever-turning cycle of life, decay, and rebirth.

Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces)

Close-ups of the lichen's pink fruiting bodies (apothecia)

Sandy Hook Remembrance 
After these beautiful hours spent with children immersed in exquisite wonders just underfoot, I arrived home to hear of the tragedy unfolding in the village of Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT.  My own sense of place awakened first in Sandy Hook, where I lived with my mother and two generations of grandparents in the early years of my life and attended the kindergarten in the school now so much in our hearts and minds.  In these last few hours, I am astonished at how vividly I recall our home on Dayton St., perched above the beautiful Pootatuck River and flanked by the rocky woodlands of what is now Rocky Glen State Park.  Our gardens, greenhouses, and chicken coop were my early outdoor enticements and I spent memorable evenings with my grandfather watching the stars and hot summer days walking with my great-grandfather to the Sandy Hook country store for ice cream, a route that looks surprisingly the same 55 years later.

With Granpy Denninger on Dayton St., Sandy Hook
Last night I pulled out my childhood photo album to find the pictures of me playing outside the Sandy Hook school and happily inside its then new kindergarten classroom, in the autumn before moving to Massachusetts.

Sandy Hook Elementary School, 1956
My kindergarten classroom, Sandy Hook
The freshness of these memories reaffirms how much that time has shaped my affinity for a caring community interwoven with the sustaining beauty and health of its wildlands.  I deeply hope the Sandy Hook children who have lived through this sad and frightening time will come to find solace and reassurance in the deeper essence of their western Connecticut homeland and an intimate, nurturing community that is now broadened and strengthened by all of our love and prayers.

So many delicate experiences to be held in the heart in a single day...