Land Journal: May 2014

In August 2013 I moved to Plainfield, Massachusetts, to the foot of Deer Hill/West Mountain, on the edge of the valley of the Westfield River. The journal below is my story of getting to know my new home: the land that stretches up the side of the mountain behind my house.

May 19, 2014: Soft

A patch of coltsfoot, one of the first flowers to bloom in a sunny spot, a month ago when the there was still snow in the deep woods, has already gone to seed; each yellow flower replaced by a soft, white, airy ball of seeds. Thin, saffron-like strands of yellow float on the outside; possibly remnants of the flower, burst into tiny strands. When I touch it gently, a seed clings to my skin, ready to be carried to some new location, to bloom again next spring.

The new leaves, high overhead, seem almost to purr in the wind; a glorious, soft, sweet sound after winter’s creaking trees and dry rattling beech leaves. As I slide through the young beeches on my way up the hill, the leaves brush softly against my skin, seeming to caress me. No longer shiny, as they were a week ago when they had just emerged, now they’re much larger and glow softly in the sun like smooth, cotton fabric. The veins are slightly recessed, while the surface in-between bulges up, like the patches in a quilt. Imagine how lovely it would feel to be clad in such leaves; walking softly and purring as if in the wind.

May 14, 2014: Depthlessness

Walking through the young beech trees, the forest feels nearly magical this morning. The new leaves, small and soft, hang down from the branches like jewels. Even standing still, looking through the trees, there’s a beautiful sensation of depthlessness, of being surrounded by the patterns of green leaves and silver-gray bark that I can look through but that my eyes get lost in, unable to find complete forms to hold onto, just the ever-shifting clouds of leaves.

May 13, 2014: Fluttering Leaves

As I’m standing knee-deep in the quarry, getting ready for my morning swim, a gust of wind sets the just-emerged leaves on a tall maples to fluttering and sparkling in the sunlight, sending down one of the beautiful, soft sounds of summer.

May 12, 2014: The Day The Forest Turned Green

Sunlight streaming down through the trees passes through galaxies of spring-green stars: small, new leaves bursting forth everywhere. The light passes through the leaves seemingly undimmed but turned a brilliant, glorious, nearly unbelievable shade of green. The maples — red, sugar and striped — have been followed in leafing out by the smaller beech trees and now when I look up the entire roof of the forest is turning green! I walk with my head craned backwards, not looking where I’m going, taken in by the magnificent transformation overhead. And when I do look down I see the stripped maple and beech leaves shining as if they’ve been waxed and polished. The beech leaves are delicately folded in parallel lines angling out from the central stem; so precise, crisp and beautiful I doubt a metalsmith could make anything finer out of gold or silver. And they’re fringed in fine hairs that with the sun beyond catch the light and surround each leaf in a glowing white halo.

Amidst all this green glory, two deep purple-red trilliums face the sun; taking full advantage of the light before the growing tree-leaves bring shade to the forest floor. Strands of spider web sparkle in the sunlight too, while bees buzz and birds pour forth a flood of spring songs. Could a day be any more glorious than this?

May 8, 2014: Climbing Higher

The spring re-greening of the forest is climbing higher. For a few weeks now trout lilies and other tiny plants have been speckling the forest floor with green, and with tiny spots of other lovely colors when the flowers bloom. More recently various small shrubs have been leafing out, lifting the spring green a little higher above the ground. In the last couple of days the stripped maples, which rarely grow to more than a dozen feet tall, have begun to poke out just a few leaves too. We’re getting higher. But from my sunrise perch I look out through the tree canopy, which looks even grayer today than they did a few weeks ago; nearly all of last year’s beech leaves have finally fallen away, the last bright contrast to the gray trees. A few still hang on, tightly curled and dry, but on most of the beeches the buds are swelling; nearly to the bursting point but not quite; many times the size they were all winter. But they’re not yet green. However, as I look out through the winter-gray treetops there’s a single tall tree that’s now decked in green, brilliant spring leaves speckling the sea of gray. It’s a sugar maple and as I walk through the forest I see more; the first of the big trees to leaf out.

After a long winter when the days often blurred one into the next, with little changing from day to day or even week to week, now I awake each day wondering what grand change from the day before I’ll find on my morning walk.

May 6, 2014: Bursting Buds

The air is cool, damp, and still; the sun hazy behind gray clouds. Under the hemlocks it might almost be a raw, damp, early-November morning. But amongst the so recently winter-bare trees, tiny flecks of green are slipping forth at the tips of many of the branches: buds opening to reveal tiny knots of green within. On the stripped maples the small red buds have burst and the new leaves are now wrapped in inch-long velvety looking green sheathes, streaked with a rosy blush; a few splitting open now to reveal dense, tightly-packed, brilliant green leaves within.

Below, on the forest floor, tiny, pale-cream, bell-shaped flowers are blooming: Wild Oats, also called Sessile-Leaved Bellwort, according to my flower book. Like the new leaves on the trees, they’re all but invisible from a few feet away. As I walk it’s hard to know whether to look down for wildflowers or up for new leaves! The forest glows as the clouds break up and the sun shines through. There’s no doubt it’s spring now. Near the end of my walk I come upon a pair of young sugar maples covered in small, wrinkled, but fully-open leaves; burgundy now but soon to be huge and summer-green.

May 5, 2014: Living Waters

Gray clouds fill the sky and a damp, raw breeze reaches down through the still largely-bare trees to shake last year’s dead oak leaves, still hanging on a few trees over the quarry. The reflection in the quarry is nearly perfect but not quite. Even in the pauses when the wind falls still long enough for the wind ripples to fade away, there’s still a slight shimmer to the water’s surface. I think it’s from small creatures in the water creating radiating ripples that stir the surface, giving new meaning to the term “living waters.”

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