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...


  1. What an immensely thoughtful, beautiful and poignant post. Thank you Cherrie!

  2. Thank you, Kate, for taking the time to read it. I'm happy that you found it meaningful.

  3. This is a lovely post. As a parent, homeschooling mother, and lover of the natural world, I feel overwhelmed by the beauty of your words and photos. I am so deeply sorry that such a tragedy has occurred anywhere on the planet, but especially sorry that it was literally in your childhood town and school.

  4. Sarah, thank you for your words. And for your attentive and beautiful Solstice to Solstice journal!