The news told me that this was the end of the world as we know it. But when I went outside, I noticed the sparrows gathering twigs for this spring’s nests. I noticed the skunk cabbage and ramps unfurling a rich green in the floodplain and reaching for the clear sky. I saw the squirrels rooting for nuts stashed among the roots last fall and I realized that I’d been lied to by the purveyors of “news.”
Life goes on in the world all around us, the opportunist creatures oblivious to a certain coronavirus that’s causing us so much consternation. To them, the roads are just less busy and it’s quieter than it was a few weeks ago.
All around us, the decomposing mycelia are abuzz, though we’ll never see it, re-purposing the nutrients of things that used to be alive. All of this work is a necessary precursor to the explosion of growth now greening the Pennsylvania countryside. Shortly, many of those same mycelia will offer us the forest fruits we know as mushrooms, a fungal wave washing across our state over the next six months, cresting in early fall.
The soft-stemmed plants now begin doing their part to ensure that the sun’s energy reaches the highest level of the food web, sprouting from seeds wafted on the Autumn wind or carried in the gut of an unsuspecting animal until expulsion. All this re-planting and exchange of energy is carried out with no-one’s direction, it’s all just the most natural things there are.
Most of the toads have already lain eggs, I think. Their choral croaking has enlivened the night air almost everywhere I’ve been over the last month. I stepped outside for a run on a frosty morning recently and could hear a few determined individuals still playing their amphibious bagpipes. The amphibians aren’t worried. They’ve just created another generation and it’s all they can do.
I don’t honestly know how the fish are. I haven’t found any in the last few weeks but I assume they’re well too, still swimming and not on a one-way trip to my frying pan.
The broad-winged hawks and redtails seem to be taking it all in stride, letting nothing disrupt their routine riding of the updrafts. Surveillance of the fields must go on while the grass is still low and the bunnies are exposed. Young hawks wait near the top of a nearby tree, now far from tiny but not ready to soar just yet.
Many trees have fallen in the strong spring winds we’ve experienced in recent weeks, the oldest and most susceptible to the harsh reality of nature falling first. Parasitic mycelia have likely been at work for years, preparing them to go and the ample March rain has loosened roots which started out from little nuts perhaps a century ago. With a wood-rending crash marking the end, comes an opening in the canopy that will allow light to reach the nascent May apples, ostrich ferns and dogwood. The long-hollow trunk will become a home to innumerable animals from microbes to a bear. And there’ll be a bright chicken-of-the-woods mushroom for me a couple of years from now.
It’s cataclysmic, disastrous and life-changing. But nature doesn’t know emergencies, only long cycles of renewal. Perhaps by spending more time with nature and less with the news, we could borrow some of the eternal stoicism of wild places and creatures.
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Between 2007 and 2011, I walked from Georgia to New Brunswick in 5 long hikes, looking at brook trout streams all along the way. On the fourth of these hikes, I carried a rugged video camera that I used to capture day -to-day life on the trail between Cortland County, New York and Moosehead Lake, Maine. Long ago, I produced 9 videos from this footage and uploaded it to YouTube where these videos sit, seldom seen. Along with my next 9 blog posts, I’m going to share links to each of these videos. This is low-quality footage, especially by today’s standards but gives a real-life glimpse of the trail chronicled in my book, The Dying Fish.
The EIGTH video of the fourth hike of the Eastern Brook Trout Solo Adventure: