Dispatches From the Deep Woods: First Contact

Posted by Leah on 8/17/2020 8:59:45 AM

The squirrels sit in branches high above the forest floor, dropping unappetizing bits of green pine cone as they munch and chitter away at their breakfast. The sun’s rays gleam and glimmer through the trees, washing away the shadows and uncertainty of night. The mourning dove’s coo adds a cozy familiarity and sets the mood for the day. I wonder what the effect of this musical choice will be; if the day would be better greeted by the haunting, melodious wood thrush, but the sun hitting my pupils wipes away the thought, yanking me back to present.

In swoops the hummingbird, yet it’s already too late in the morning for this to be breakfast for her. I realize how frustratingly slow I must seem to the hummingbirds when refreshing the food in the feeder; their lives lived on an entirely different plane of time. A red squirrel squeaks and squawks in protest, but of what, I don’t know. He’s in the gray squirrel’s old white pine tree, and I’ve missed whatever slight has set the quick tempered creature off. As suddenly as he started, he’s ceased and moved on; there isn’t much time for stagnant personality feuds amongst the creatures here.

One of the grays is in an older hickory tree. I’ve been wondering if any of my hickory trees are of nut-producing age yet, given that hickories can take up to 40 years to produce their first nut. As they do with the acorns and pine cones, she seems to be tossing lesser nuts to the forest floor, yet thus far there are no immature nuts under the hickories. Maybe it’s simply that the squirrels have tended the crop so well that no nuts have fallen? But that seems highly unlikely. Even the best human farmers suffer some losses every year, its Nature’s way; although, maybe the squirrels have more to teach us than people realize.  My only choice is to wait and see.

As the sun continues to warm the forest floor I catch the sweet spice and earthy scents of pine, hummus, mushroom, chlorophyll. The cicadas begin warning of the heat to come, but for now the air is mild and silky across my skin. Spider webs glint and sparkle in the diffuse sunlight, reminding of left over party decorations. I hear the calls of loons as clear as if I was across from the lake, yet I’m two miles away. I wonder where they’re coming from, why they sound so close. A car passing by on its way to work shatters the momentary magic and mystery. I note the pain in my ear drums as I wonder if the car would have a muffler if I were to look for one.

The red squirrel diverts my awareness yet again, now sitting high on a dead pine branch, gnawing away the bark, tossing it below. At first I think he’s searching for some protein, but he moves on so fast, that couldn’t have been the aim.

I hear large projectiles falling further back in the forest, near Stonehenge*. It sounds too heavy for pine cones or acorns, yet there aren’t any hickory trees in the area. As I start to walk back to investigate, a chipmunk screams in terror. I’m quickly reminded of our lack of rain, the leaves crunching louder than normal under each careful barefoot step. I’ve inadvertently come very close to standing under the tree one of the grays is working in, the falling refuse frequent and disruptive. Inspection of the debris field finds all the noise really has been nothing but acorns hitting the ground, yet the most recent to fall are thrown so forcefully I wonder if they’re meant for my head. I don’t look up, just in case.

I move on, choosing a relatively flat boulder as my perch, brushing away remnants of the chipmunks’ dinner. The stability of the blue-gray granite is reassuring, safe. The thin moss upholstery acts as velvet, holding me in place. Nearby, a chipmunk lets out an unsure warning squeak, but again, I’m not sure if it’s directed to me or not. More observation is necessary. I know, with time, the wood folk will adjust to me sitting amongst them like this, but today it is new. Today is the beginning, Day 1.

The cheerful chirps of goldfinches remind me I haven’t had my own breakfast yet. I’m not sure how long I’ve been out here, but two of the gray squirrels have come down the trunks of trees on either side of me, and are shouting at me to go home. I’ll obey, today, because if there’s hope for a long lasting relationship of any sort, pissing them off worse isn’t beneficial. We’ll be together a long time, my friends. It’s time we both adjust.

There are many, many boulders on my property due to the last ice age. When they flattened out the lot to build my house in the 70s, a large grouping of boulders was pushed into a pile off to the side and left to gather moss and whatever else boulders do with their time. The boulders just happen to line up closely with due east, and during the summer the sun rises over them. It is for this reason I call the grouping Stonehenge. I haven’t lived here long enough to see how my Stonehenge lines up with the sun the rest of the year, but I will definitely be paying attention.