Sunday, January 25, 2015

Resurrection Fern

One of my favorite places to let my imagination wander is among the branches of this old oak covered in lichen, moss, and ferns. Though I've only visited visually from the ground below, I feel like I could wander and explore this self-contained, arboreal ecosystem for hours on end.

Especially intriguing in this tree is the Resurrection Fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) that lives upon the branches of this ancient oak. This remarkable fern grows on the limbs of large trees and occasionally on rock surfaces. Although not rare, it's really not very common in this area either. Living on the branches of another plant may be normal in rain forests where everything is routinely bathed in water, but in middle Tennessee (and most of the rest of the U.S., for that matter) the branches of a tree are routinely very dry—not exactly a good habitat for ferns. This fern has found a way around that problem. The Resurrection Fern gets its name from an ability to survive dry spells simply by withering when dry and then seemingly coming back to life when suitable moisture returns. From what I read, the Resurrection Fern can loose up to 97% of its water content and still survive. By contrast, most plants will die after loosing only 15% of their hydration. This remarkable ability to withstand drought makes the Resurrection Fern ideally adapted for life in a climate that is periodically wet but commonly dry.

I would love to have the opportunity to learn more about this amazing fern that defies all odds and finds a way to adapt and survive where others could not. Perhaps we all could use a few lessons in being adaptable.

Resurrection Fern

Resurrection Fern

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Snow!

As we readied for bed last night, the silence of snow falling only amplified the notes of two owls calling through the darkness. It was peaceful and calm, and it made drifting off to sleep simple thinking of wet snowflakes collecting on a branch around a sitting owl. I looked forward to morning, and prayed the temperature would stay low.

I was not to be disappointed. We awoke this morning to a world transformed. Maybe it's because I don't see it often enough, but I am always amazed at how instantly and completely a snowfall changes everything. A saunter through the woods at dawn felt like we were walking through a world made of lace. Here are a few pictures from the morning.

As I post this, it is 12 noon and the snow is nearly gone. Moments of beauty are often transitory. If you live in middle Tennessee, I hope you got to see it.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Compass

One of the key attributes of an experienced explorer is the ability to navigate and find his way. I need to know not only where I'm going, but where I am at the present moment. This is where a good map, a simple compass, and the skill to use them come in handy. A map and compass make my hike easier and then help me return safely home. I would never consider a wilderness journey without them.

But, important as they are, neither compass nor map get to the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter goes more to the spirit. Carrying a map and compass may tell me where I happen to be, but they do not reveal why.

No  matter where I am on the trail, it is my love of all things natural, wild, and free that brought me there, and I must always be mindful of that truth if I am to feel gratified at the end of the day. This love is what drives me, and without it any trail threatens to become a drudgery of mere miles and pounds and minutes. To loose sight of this is to ignore an internal compass that compels me to wander and celebrate wild, natural landscapes one step at a time.

Checking map & compass while hiking with Scouts at Montgomery Bell State Park
(photo by Mike DuBose)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Owl Song

Barred Owl in our woods,
April 7, 2013
No matter how many times I hear it, an owl calling in the forest will always be wonderful, wild, and mysterious. Owl song resonates within me.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Aldo Leopold’s birthday

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” — Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949).
Happy Birthday to Aldo Leopold, who was born Jan. 11, 1887. He was one of 20th century America's most influential conservationists. 


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Morning Light, Common Beauty

Beauty is all around us, if only we will see. Like a million sparkling diamonds, dawn shining through frozen branches reveal a common treasure in my front yard. And in the same morning sunlight, in our backyard illuminated tree trunks at the edge of the woods nearly glow in sharp contrast to their shadowed background. This light makes the forest appear somehow more than three-dimensional. When I notice from the kitchen window, I feel like I'm glimpsing a reality normally unseen. All of this happens nearly every clear winter morning.

If only we will see.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dust to Dust, and Tree to Tree

Blown down hickory
Maybe I'm weird, but I am completely fascinated by rotting logs. One could spend a lifetime studying and marveling over the way a log dissolves back to earth. A single fallen tree is a microcosm of whole life-cycles and ecosystems and the ceaseless circle of life and death. Indeed the line between life and death becomes quite fuzzy, suggesting life giving way to life. The fallen living tree does not become "dead," but becomes beetle, fungus, and moss instead. Over time these become humus and a soil more alive than the living tree ever was. This soil then feeds and nourishes the next tree. Viewed through a different timescale, it is as if the fallen tree merely melts into the earth and becomes another tree. But, of course, I can't really think on that sort of time scale. My perception of time completely fails me.


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Mossy log


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Weather Reminders

[Response to the frigid cold that has plunged into much of the United States from the arctic this week.]

Truth be told, I kind of like it when nature intrudes on our lives. It's as if nature grabs us by the shoulders and demands our attention.

Whether it's a snowstorm, piercing cold, or a fierce thunderstorm, one of the great things about weather extremes is that they remind us we are not in charge. No matter what our plans were, no matter what luxuries and conveniences we own, a little wild weather can trump them all in a moment. Along with trees, birds, whales, flowers, salamanders, and all other creatures, we are earth's inhabitants, not its masters. We live only at the mercy of nature, and we are fools when we try divorcing ourselves from her.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Lunar Perspective

Although I know it is not so, the moon appears caught in the trees of my forest this morning. Perspective is everything. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sauntering Simply

The view ahead
"Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter." — John Muir in a letter to his wife, Louie, July 1888, The Life and Letters of John Muir, edited by William Frederic Badè, 1924.

Leaves in stream

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sauntering in a New Direction

As you might expect if you've read any of this blog, I spend a lot of time thinking and dreaming about backpacking. I think of places I'd like to see, new gear I'd like to be using, trail meals to cook, and what it feels like to be deep in the heart of forests and mountains. As you might not expect, I don't actually get out backpacking all that much. I hike the woods around my home often enough, but the truth is I want get away and do more wilderness backpacking. It's a sad to say, but I spend a lot more time dreaming about backpacking than actually doing it. That needs to change, and it needs to change immediately. Beginning now I will be far more intentional about making time for hiking and backpacking. As I envision it, my backpacking will mostly be solo; but I want to share the experience with others. Like John Muir, I want to be an evangelist for nature.

For years now I have wanted to do more backpacking than I do, but other things always come up, and way leads on to way, and opportunity never seems to knock. There's nothing wrong with this. Things that have kept me busy were always good things, and I regret none of them. But still my dreams of walking mountain trails have always remained.

Also on my mind is the simple fact that I'm getting older and I can't seem to do anything about it. Next month I will turn 55. This clearly limits how much more opportunity I have. I figure about 10 years if I'm lucky. That means I have to stop dreaming and start doing. Backpacking trips don't just happen. I'm only going to spend more days and nights on the trail if I make hiking a real priority.

To this end, I plan to begin spending a weekend a month backpacking or at least taking full-day hikes. This is going to require reordering a few other things in my life, but I realize I have to do this. Once I get in the habit of backpacking regularly, we'll see where it goes from there.

As I've said, I want to share my love of hiking and nature with others. One way I've been doing this is through Scouting, and I would definitely want to continue teaching in that way. I also want to share the natural world with my best friend and most enthusiastic supporter, my wife, Beth. We hike together often in our own woods at home, so I'm sure she'll want to see some of these wilder places I've told her about. Beyond sharing the trail physically with others, I want to share through my writing on this blog. As I learn and grow as a backpacker, I plan to share what I'm learning here. My greatest hope is that others will be encouraged and take to wild trails themselves.

I will spend some time sharing equipment tips and the like, but I don't want to get caught up trying to cover the same material that is covered much better elsewhere. There are lots of good books and online resources to teach you how to backpack, so I won't try to do what they do. Blogs and websites about hiking must by their very nature include quite a lot of instruction filled checklists and equipment recommendations. A few resources helpfully focus on where to go hiking with tips for route selection and trip reports. But I hope not only to tell you where and how, but why. I am convinced that once you feel the pull of wild nature and become enchanted with her beauties you will have little trouble figuring out how or where.

God seems to have made me to be a witness, a celebrant, of his glorious creation, and I aim to see more of it. The natural world is marvelous and cries out to be explored. I hope you will join me.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Wild Whispers

No matter who we are or where we live, I believe we all hear the "call of the wild," though it may be faint and hidden. Listen. It can be heard in the whisper of leaves and in the searching knock of the woodpecker. Do you hear it?


Friday, January 2, 2015

Waiting for Spring with the Bloodroots

Sometimes during the cold winter nights I am comforted to think of a clan of Bloodroot plants I know and how they patiently wait in the earth for the coming of spring. These plants (also known as Sanguinaria canadensis) live in a little forest community, a Bloodroot village, on a sheltered hillside along the trail leading from my house to the nearby Harpeth River. I often think of them there, my Bloodroot neighbors, lying in the earth, waiting until the time has come to herald another spring.

When the nights are frozen and my fireplace blazes, I think of the Bloodroots waiting patiently underground in the cold clear moonlight that stripes the night forest with shadow. Silently in the dark they wait. Beneath a gray and brown quilt stitched of leaves and humus, they wait. Snug in their forest bed, quiet as the night, the Bloodroot waits for the first hints of spring.

Though the nights are long and the cold is deep, winter does not last forever. The seasons cycle endlessly as the earth circles round its star and tilts this way and that. The days grow shorter, then longer, and the Bloodroot waits.

Year after year, night after day, under stars and moon, the Bloodroot waits. It waits as I wait (though perhaps the Bloodroot waits more patiently). Through the long winter, we both wait, the Bloodroot and I, for the warming sunny days of early spring and the party to follow.