Early Spring Hike up Sapsucker Forest
April 27, 2014—the temperature is in the low 50s and the sky is cloudy threatening rain; it feels penetratingly cool and damp. I’m not surprised the only birds I am seeing in the woods are a few hermit thrushes looking in the wet mud for worms. Flocks of more than 50 robins are gathering at the edge of the woods where the pasture is muddy, trying out songs that will, by the end of summer, be so familiar to us, we won’t notice them. Sapsuckers haven’t begun tapping on tin roofs yet; warblers haven’t filled the woods with high-pitched songs. Except for the stream, the woods are quiet.
What I am noticing through all this absence is the forest. The old road I walk follows a stream that runs through the valley. To my right lies the north-facing hemlock forest, and to my left, the south-facing hardwood forest. The hemlock forest is thick and dark and wet, with minor logging scars showing. The southern hills are dryer and thinner, with frequent stumps; most trees are less than twenty years old.
I see moss covering all the downed trees in the hemlock forest and think of how important the forest is for the hydrological cycle, trees pulling water up with their roots and respiring it most of it back into the atmosphere. I stumble upon a body of water that I had never noticed before, off into the woods. Looking closer, I find wood-frog eggs and feel so happy to have discovered a previously un-mapped vernal pool, two of them in fact. Pulling up my pants legs, I wade out into the water to get photos, something that has become familiar to me now—something I would never have done before having learned about vernal pools.
Climbing higher into the woods, my legs begin to ache; I eat my last tangerine and climb on. As I approach an old shack, porcupine teeth marks on a nearby tree warn me of the presence of the growling porkie who makes its home underneath. Looking around, I begin to wonder about my assumption that this was a sugar shack; after all, there are not many sugar maples right here, in fact, I notice many old pines, which tell me this was once a field. Stone walls indicate this remote hillside may have been farmed. Climbing yet higher, I finally come to the crest of the hill and discover the sugar grove. Three old metal buckets lie abandoned in the woods; also the remains of a farm truck…just the big, rubber wheels and the axel half-buried. My assumption may have been right after all.
The snow is mostly gone from the woods, only hanging on to a few sheltered, north-facing rocks. Trout lily is underfoot; it’s impossible not to step on their emerging fish-like leaves. Wood ferns seem to be reaching up after loosing the weight of the snow. Huge swaths of club-moss looking like miniature pine trees cover the forest floor. Could this be where the elves live?
The remains of a deer lie curled, beautifully, like a fetus, with her head arched back and her face still recognizable. Ribs cleaned and empty inside show nothing goes to waste in the forest.