Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lost in thought and not because that's unfamiliar territory

Today I had a chance to ski to one of my favorite woodland sites.

I visit the site frequently in summer and fall with my ecology class to take forest composition data (and to show the area off to the students) but otherwise I don’t get out there on my own. I’ve been wanting to ski back to that site but it’s not on the way to anywhere I often go and just far enough away to require a special trip. Today I was in luck. I had a meeting and this site was on the way. The weather recently turned against us skiers: we lost a good deal of snow in the recent deep thaw. The trails on our place have bare ground showing. But I gave it a try on this site anyway.

Turned out that snow conditions were OK. Yesterday’s flurries left a light dusting over the hard pack left from the thaw. It looked like this area had gotten some extra lake effect snow before the thaw, so enough of the base survived.

First was the ski in to the trail since the road was closed for the winter. The one mile of skiing on the 30 ft-wide, snow-covered roadway was easy but not especially scenic. The trail was more than scenic.

I know this woodland well. I know and even have data (the class-collected data) to show the rich diversity of flowers and the forest composition. It’s a maple/yellow birch/yew forest with scattered oaks and spruces and firs, and hemlocks and white pines over by the lake. The large, widely spaced trees; lack of early successional species; pit and mound topography; and abundance of coarse woody debris across decay classes indicates that it’s taking on some old-growth characteristics. That’s been quantified. I also know, but don’t have hard data to prove, that’s there’s just something about it that makes this an especially pretty forest. I make that unsubstantiated claim to the students. They don’t feel the need to write that down. They know it won’t be on the test.

What I wanted to see today was the winter contrast.  And it was a contrast. The coarse woody debris was mainly covered up. There were no tracks except for one set of squirrel tracks. I did make a note of the hemlock regeneration in the patch of hemlocks for thinking more about at a later time. Not a lot of natural history action to see. What there was to see was a quiet forest under a thin blanket of snow. And that same ‘just something about it that makes it a lovely forest’ was still there.

I found myself not so much lost in thought as lost in lack of thoughts. That feeling of health, beauty and goodness took over. Issues that were bothering me before became the trivial annoyances of life that they actually were. That’s a feeling I like. 

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