Friday, June 6, 2014


After extended rain events, these woods come alive with an amazing variety of mushrooms. Just yesterday, I was in the process of mowing my tiny back yard when I came upon clusters of a white variety that looked like they'd been made of papier-mache. While they were very similar to the cultivated button mushrooms one finds in supermarkets, these had knobby caps and an almost powdery consistency. I hated to cut them down, so I made the decision to forego those under my hydrangea bush and mow across just the one that happened to be right in the middle of the small lawn. Since then, more have popped up nearby, looking like golf balls strewn haphazardly among the blades of grass.

Farther back from the road, I saw larger bright yellow specimens and other exotic orange-red species with wrinkled edges and black streaks running across their caps. Of course, downed trees almost always sport some sort of fungus growing from their bark, and I think I read somewhere that these mushrooms are parasitic, as they drain dying trees of what few nutrients they may still have left. I also read another remarkable fact once about how, when we come upon a mushroom in the woods or some other damp shady spot, it is most likely just a small offshoot of a subterranean fungal system that can be as large as a mile or more in diameter. The term "tip of the iceberg" applies here, and that is an adequate description of this strange life form that is still somewhat veiled in mystery.

For days now, I've been hearing a Pileated woodpecker as it moves between the trees all around me. I finally saw it alight briefly on an oak at the foot of the driveway, but a passing vehicle scared it off. Its loud laugh is unmistakable as this large red-tufted creature forages for insects just under the bark of older trees. The only other large woodpecker is the Ivory-billed, which is a few inches longer than the foot-long Pileated and is now nearly extinct.

One evening last week, just after dusk, I observed a smaller Hairy woodpecker poking its bill into the hole that was drilled in the top of the dead maple trunk in the backyard. I noticed evidence of the hole last fall when large wood shavings began appearing on the ground among the fallen leaves. It took awhile before I discovered their source, and I knew that only a woodpecker could make such a perfectly round clean hole. It appears that there is now a nest inside it, and I will have to select a safe vantage point to make my observations in such a way as to not disturb the mother as she goes about her parental duties.

These woods never cease to amaze me with the gifts that they so often bestow upon me without warning. Yesterday, I spent several quiet hours painting the back porch, and I was starting to wind down for a lunch break when a movement drew my eye to the backyard. There, not 10 feet away from the porch steps, stood a tiny fawn. It poked around in the ferns for a bit as I stood there frozen in time and watching in total awe as it lifted its nose to sniff the air, making small mewing sounds not unlike those made by a newborn kitten. I finally moved very slowly toward the porch railing and spoke gently to it. It kept sniffing the air and mewing and then very slowly turned and headed toward the shed. I watched in wonder as it wandered into the woods, hoping that its mother was somewhere nearby.

I kept the magic of that moment with me for several hours and even awakened in the middle of the night wondering if that tiny wondrous creature had gotten safely to wherever its mother was. For the few moments that it had stood just feet from me, nothing else mattered. All my worldly cares vanished, and I felt closer to the natural world then I had at any other time. Even as I write, I wonder at the forces that brought that fawn to me at that particular moment when I happened to be in the right place at just the right time.

Nature is like that, always knowing what we need just when we need it most.


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