A Walk in the Woods

A short nature trail loops around a long-abandoned field behind my house near Lake Bellaire, a little northeast of Traverse City. This morning, as an intermittent breeze tried to dry the remains of the morning’s rain, I took a short stroll to see what nature had to offer on this early August day.
The breeze in the aspen trees makes a whispery sound; always there – sometimes soft and other times unavoidable. It is somewhere between a sigh and saying the sound of the letter ‘s’ – a variable and gentle sound today. On the path up the short hill, a single, red-orange big-toothed aspen leaf lay on the dark soil, half a dozen small drops of rain beaded up on its surface. The leaf seems out-of-place; not a harbinger of autumn, but rather a single leaf releived of its duty two months early.
It has been a few days since my last walk, and an old, mostly decayed aspen trunk broke off 12′ above the ground, the two halves of its branchless top lie askew across the trail. Shelf fungus and many woodpecker holes attest to the long process of decay and infestation that lead to its fall. What is it that determines when such an old tree trunk finally gives in to gravity? It seems most common after a rain. Maybe the added weight is just enough to tip the balance in favor of prostration and eventual incorporation into the forest floor.
The trail leads under the spreading branches of large, old red oak and red maple trees along the creek bank before curving south across part of the field now occupied by a few remnant Baldwin apple trees and numerous autumn olive bushes. A few uneven, small green apples suggest a limited harvest for the squirrels this fall – and fewer for me if I can get to them first.
A few strides bring me under the wildly spreading boughs of some large white pine trees, likely the very first seedlings to come up after the logging era here in 1895. One bough reaches to the middle of the trail, its every needle tipped with a half-round drop of rain. How many thousands of drops grace this one tree? How many millions grace this forest? Nature is remarkably liberal with her gifts.
Returning west toward home, the damp forest floor gives off a mild, humid, earthy/woody smell. It is not the smell of spring soil, nor the smell of autumn leaves. It is the scent of a working place, where all of the energy is put into growth. It is easy to miss amid the other senses, the different shapes of leaves on all sides, the wind in the tree tops.
I step carefully over the red-orange aspen leaf with the rain drops on it and back to everyday life, and wonder what nature will show me tomorrow.

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