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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.
June 18, 2014: Summer Unfolds
Churning, tumultuous clouds slide over the ridge behind me, and sail out over the valleys to the east, borne on a tempestuous northwest wind that’s shaking the treetops and sometimes even reaching down to the forest floor, gently shivering the ferns and sliding softly around me. Its cool, sweet caress is welcome and brings with it the smell of wet leaves and earth and lush, fragrant ferns.
The brilliant spring greens that flooded the forest a few weeks ago have deepened, becoming darker, richer, and more powerful as the leaves imbibe days of rain and brilliant, summer sunshine. The forest envelopes me and I feel tucked away; sheltered and hidden in the forest’s secret places; the same places where — under the bare, winter trees — I felt naked to the sky and the infinite heaves above a few months ago. Now I feel like some tiny insect making his secret way through a thick layer of moss.
Last night’s wind and rain coated the quarry pond in yellow-green pollen, nearly hiding the tadpoles flitting through the brown water below. When I dive in for my morning swim the pollen mixes with and vanishes into the water, leaving dark, swirling, brown water in my wake. Suddenly I feel like a huge, bumbling giant, thundering through the world of tiny water creatures. But within a few minutes the pollen closes back over my trail the water looks as it did before I dove in.
June 10, 2014: A Gray-Bright Morning
The disc of the sun glows white; shining down through featureless, texture-less gray clouds. Walking amongst the trees, the air feels washed clean by the rain and every detail of the forest stands out bright and sharp: the soft, wet leaves, nearly silent under my feet; the bright green moss beside the stream, a world in miniature; the rough bark on the trees, drying now after the rain; and the bright green tips on the hemlock boughs: this year’s new growth extending by half an inch or so each bough-tip. Even the water in the quarry has been cleared of the pollen and oily leaf-decay residue that floated on its surface yesterday.
June 9, 2014: Summer’s Embrace
High, gray clouds spread across the sky feel like a lid, closing-in, containing both me and the land; a thick blanket against the infinity of space. Still, dense air envelopes the forest and leaves hang motionless. The stream flows on but at a slower, summer pace. I feel wrapped in a summer embrace of warmth and humidity, along with an orange newt resting on some moss; a fat frog hunched down motionless next to the quarry pond, watching me with big eyes; and countless mosquitoes, gathering around me when I pause on my walk.
June 4, 2014: After the Rain
1.72 inches of rain fell last night, drenching the forest. Water drips from the trees but as the clouds dissolve, the sun shines down, lighting up the warm, soft, humid air. The green, wet leaves seem to glow amidst the dark, rain-soaked trunks. If I stay in one place for long I’m enveloped in clouds of mosquitoes. Diving into the pond is a welcome, if temporary, escape from their persistence.
June 1, 2014: Dense Forest
Bird calls flood the forest in the gray light before sunrise and then two barred owls erupt into an excited, hooting-cackling conversation just ahead of me, drowning out everyone else until they move off up the valley. At my sunrise lookout I’m immersed in a leafy sea of green, so lush I feel like I could swim through the leaves. If I could make a grand leap out into the forest canopy before and below me at my lookout, it seems like I’d land in the leaves and be held, high above the forest floor.
By 6 a.m. the sun, already well up into the sky, sends its light filtering down into the forest, and the dawn chorus fades as the birds get on with their day. A woodpecker hammers hurriedly on a tree next to me and small birds vanish and re-appear amongst the leaves high overhead. One drops out of a tree and seems to nearly fall straight down, so fast I barely see him, as he heads to someplace lower in the forest.
Go to May 2014