Thursday, December 22, 2016

A walk in the woods, the naturalists have it (Yorktown, 12/22/2016)

I have been reading a lot about nature.  In fact , as a biologist I consider myself a naturalist, or maybe an amateur naturalist.  I write a lot about nature in my blogs; it often revolves around the interaction between us humans and nature, or what I have started calling “nature deficit disorder.”  It is a term I stole as most of my readers are aware (there are now 30 posts on this blog where I talk about it).  

In the distant past I have wanted to become a naturalist writer.  But I am not sure if I have the quality to be one or to become one, so this blog will have to do, at least for now.  Among my favorite naturalist writers are John McPhee, Gretel Ehrlich, Sue Hubbell, and Edward Hoagland, among others.  Naturally, I devoured writings by Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold. 

The last quick read I had was Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.”  A friend of mine tried to convince me that it was Hemingway’s way of telling us that a man can be defeated but not be destroyed, or as he said, maybe that it is a metaphor for Apostle Paul’s writing when he describes that outwardly a man can waste away but inwardly he is being renewed.  Santiago was reborn as a legitimate fisherman; the book ends in him regaining respect from his colleagues and of course having respect in him self.  Hemingway himself claimed there was no symbolism in the story.  I mostly read the story because it is on a list of the top 100 books, as a lover of the water, a sailor, for entertainment, and as a naturalist (I used to fish when I was a teenager).

I have so many unfinished books.  That is not because I don’t like them, but it is partially because of my varied interest and because the only time that I can read is in the evening after work when I am tired.  I usually do not read novels, but read, you guessed it, naturalist and non-fiction books.  Right now I am trying to concentrate on a book on human psychology (Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahneman) hopefully it fits in with my study of humans and the idea of nature deficit disorder.

To me nature is very important for the human psyche; whether it is that freshly fallen sassafras leaf in the fall; the timing of the pine pollen in spring (mostly on my Instagram Pictures); my frequent walks along the New River Trail in far Western Virginia (7 entries); being out on the water in my kayak or my sailboat (too many to count); or examining a pine tree that apparently snapped in a recent storm (during my latest walk).  I like it all and I need it!  I like to take my time and enjoy taking it all in; the sights and sounds; the feeling of just being immersed in nature, being one with it.

Sunrise on the trail in the woods behind our home.
Take this past Sunday.  It promised to be one of those rare early winter days when the temperature was going to be above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  We decided that there was no better way to get our spirituality that day then to get out in nature and we went for a two hour hike in the woods behind our house (no church for us).  We went off the beaten track on a trail that is not traveled on by many people.  

The trail leads from our home by some ephemeral ponds that so often write about.  This time of the year they are not as full other years.  They were fuller a month ago, and the water level has slowly been dropping.  These ponds are groundwater fed, meaning the water level in the ponds are as high as the groundwater and we've had a dry month and a half.  Groundwater levels usually rise in the winter and reach their highest level around the middle of February.  All trees are dormant at this time and throughout the winter.  There is little transpiration from plants and the evaporation is at its lowest as well.  By early April the groundwater levels and the levels in the ponds start dropping and the ponds dry up completely by mid to late June.  By that time the water level has dropped almost 6 feet.

Examining a pine tree that must have snapped during a recent storm this past Sunday.  This was on the trail.
The rest of the walk takes us by very young pine forests where the woods were cleared in 2003 after Hurricane Isabel devastated a certain area, through a shallow stream valley, back up to what is my favorite area: a wooded section with huge tulip popular trees.  I would estimate that these trees are close to 300 feet tall and probably more than 100 years old.  After that the trail descends into a mixed forested wetland that is often difficult to cross.  It is wide, dark and wet and often has shallow running water in it.  After passing through the wetland it becomes a fun trail and passes by a heron rookery that appears to have been abandoned in the past two years, and a large swamps where we love to watch redheaded woodpeckers and all kinds of ducks.  Eventually the trail end up in the Battlefield National Historic Park and from there the hiking and biking choices are limitless, but well defined.

A piece of broken off bark covered with lichen that I found lying on the forest floor.  I just loved the color contrast between the bright green and the leaves.  I want to bet it was knocked off by a woodpecker of some kind.
It was a great day for a hike!  Walking around you find all kinds of treasures, large and small, up high and down low.  Getting back from the hike I had my daily 10,000 steps, but the exercise was not the most important.  I felt mentally and spiritually recharged.   

Try it yourself, get out.  It is not scary out there; if you have not done it in a while, start in small doses or just go for a walk in your neighborhood and observe people's yards, the plants, trees and birds.  Take it all in.  Cure your Nature Deficit Disorder!

Just standing still and looking up in the woods is nice!

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