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Posts Tagged ‘forest’

When you walk in the woods, do you see the forest or the trees?  Do your eyes come to rest on the bark of the closest  trunk or is your vision focused on the woods behind it?

Similarly, when you’re walking on the beach, are your eyes scanning the shore for a special shell,  a heart shaped stone or a bottle with a message in it, or are you gazing at the horizon line?

It’s easier to focus on the trees nearby if the path ahead is tangled with vegetation.  The possibility of ticks in the grass or mosquitoes lurking in the deeper woods may prompt you to take a closer look at the soft new growth on the branches  within your grasp.

If the path ahead appears clear and bright, you may be more inclined to venture into the forest.

At home or at work, I often find myself caught up in the details in my surroundings.  My eyes dart quickly back and forth looking to re-arrange or make right whatever seems out of place.  However, when daily life sometimes becomes cluttered, as the beach is with seaweed after a storm…

I lift up my eyes to focus on what’s ahead.  (One of these days I’m sure I’m going to see a mermaid sitting on top of that big stone).

Our ability to shift our focus is a gift that allows us to be happy in any circumstance.  All that’s required from us is a willingness to refocus our attention, perhaps for just a moment, before getting back to the task at hand.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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For every beauty, there is an eye somewhere to see it.
For every truth, there is an ear somewhere to hear it.
For every love, there is a heart somewhere to receive it.
~ Ivan Panin

Messy woods that consist of a tangle of fallen trees are seldom considered worthwhile exploring. Yet there are wonders waiting to be revealed in the most unlikely places…

Though it’s now barely noticeable underfoot, millions of years ago, the creeping club moss shown above grew much larger.  The swamps that were filled with these club moss trees during the Carboniferous period were eventually transformed into the coal that’s mined today. 

Did a flicker make this hole? Standing dead trees (snags) in old growth forests offer places for wild creatures to nest. If flickers nest here this year, they’ll be looking for tasty ants, their favorite food, to feed upon in the neighborhood this summer.

Who treads the delicate stairs of this stair-step moss?   Utilized in the past as a covering for dirt floors and a gap filler between the logs of log cabins, it’s now being studied for its anti-bacterial properties.

The porcupine teeth marks on this tree reveal a delicate pattern.  Could we be missing a woodland delicacy by not including inner bark in our diet? It might be worthwhile trying in a survival situation.

Could this delicate creeping vine be partridge berry? Its rich red hue will turn to green later this spring when it will blend in more with the mosses surrounding it.

The forest is reflected in a woodland pool that will sustain a diversity of life before it dries later this summer. Do the faeries sit on this log at the end of day to relax and chat about the day’s adventures?

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
~ Roald Dahl

These photos were taken on a most enjoyable walk in the woods yesterday with my friend Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage who posted a very different version of our adventure on her blog :) You can read her post here.

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Although seeing a butterfly in springtime is always a joy, seeing one in winter is sure to set anyone’s heart aflutter. 

These fragile creatures, known for their marvelous ability to transform themselves from caterpillar to winged wonder, have often been employed as symbols of the soul, hope and renewal.

In late winter when there is still the threat of harsh weather, one doesn’t expect to find such a delicate creature in the woods. My grandson was turning a log over in the forest to examine a shelf fungus more closely when he caught sight of the butterfly. 

 Though its wings appeared frosted and stiff, we brought it indoors to have a closer look.  We were quickly able to identify it as a Mourning Cloak  (Nymphalis antiopa), a species that can convert glucose into antifreeze in order to survive the cold.  When its wings are closed, showing only the dark undersides, it’s also extremely well camouflaged in dark woods.

What is unsought will go undetected.
~ Sophocles

Too often, we only see what we expect to.  Adults usually don’t expect to see butterflies in winter.  But a five-year-old wouldn’t have such set expectations, so his eyes would not so easily dismiss the shape of delicate wings for dried leaves.  I wondered how many Mourning Cloaks I had missed seeing in the winter woods over the years.

Within minutes of being indoors, the butterfly was opening its wings.  Though it looked a bit ragged, it was still alive.     

The older we get, the better we learn how to manage expectations.  We don’t like to disappoint others and we especially don’t like to disappoint ourselves so we get into the habit of expecting less of everything around us.  Yet, surely there’s something to be lost in lowering expectations in order to avoid disappointment.  Besides butterflies in winter, what else might we be missing?

High expectations are the key to everything.
~  Sam Walton

Thank you to Joseph Belicek of Edmonton Alberta for identifying this butterfly’s subspecies as hyperborea.

Scott over at Views Infinitum is offering a macro photography challenge to all who are interested.  Deadline for submissions is March 23rd.  The close-up images shown above were made by using the macro mode on the Nikon Coolpix S8000.

 

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There’s something comforting about seeing small and simple plants grow down the middle of my driveway.  I get the same feeling when I see grass growing through cracks in the sidewalk.   To me, these are testament to the power of small things and reminders of man’s inability to conquer the natural world. 

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.
~ Hal Borland

Due to its simple form and presence at our feet, it’s all too easy to dismiss the power of grass.  Yet, its strength is in its numbers and its ability to persist despite being trampled on over and over again.  Below, the shadow of a fox trail appears in the grass behind Rainbow Haven beach.

Grass changes with the seasons and makes no futile attempt to hold strong against the wind.  It knows its limitations.  In the winter, it hunkers down under the snow and quietly waits for spring.  When sunshine and rain permit, grass seizes the opportunity to grow to great heights in just a short amount of time, confounding those tasked with mowing it down.

It’s most beautiful when at last it goes to seed. In the early morning light, the grass in the photos below looks like a magical mist rising in the forest.

Growth begins when we begin to accept our own weakness.
~ Jean Vanier

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sensitive ferns

Sensitive Ferns

Ferns add a touch of freshness and elegance to Nova Scotia’s forest floors in late spring.  These beautiful green plants can also be found growing along ditches and in rock crevices.

Ferns first appeared on the planet hundreds of millions of years ago and are still thriving.   They reproduce by spores or rhizomes and are quite resistant to disease.  Ferns provide the surrounding soil with mineral nutrients while the structure of their rhizome root systems reduce soil erosion.  The sensitive leaves of these bioindicators are easily damaged by acid rain.

Cinnamon Ferns

Even in Nova Scotia’s temperate climate, ferns can grow to several feet in height.  Their leaf litter is so great that mounds are often formed in forest areas where they thrive from year to year.

polypody ferns

Polypody Ferns

Moisture, shade and acidic soil attract the growth of both ferns and mosses.  Polypody ferns, shown above, crop out of rocks near the salt marsh.

Bracken Ferns

In springtime, many people enjoy eating fiddleheads, the shoots of young ferns.  Ostrich ferns are especially tasty.  However, the safety of bracken ferns, shown above, is questionable.  Its consumption has been implicated in cases of stomach and esophageal cancer, especially in Japan where it is widely eaten.  Water from sources near growths of bracken ferns is also considered suspect.  (For more information on the toxic effect of bracken ferns on water, see The Fatal Fern).

Northern Beech Ferns

Shaded northern beech ferns, shown above, capture bits of sunlight through gaps in the forest canopy.  The effect is enchanting.

In Finland, gathering fern spores on Midsummer’s Eve is believed to give the gatherer the ability to become invisible.  Also, if one was to perchance acquire the elusive fern bloom on this special night, one would be able to uncover the treasure hidden beneath the magical lights of the Will o’ the Wisp.

Even if you don’t believe in the magical powers of ferns, or partake of fiddleheads in spring, they nevertheless make a wonderful contribution to the biodiversity of the forest ecosystem.

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Nova Scotia’s woods beckon in May.  They coax you outdoors and do their best to keep you engaged.  Apple blossoms call out for your undivided attention as you walk along the path.  ‘Look at us know’ they tell you, ‘we won’t be in bloom for long.’

Farther off the beaten path, bog rhodora wave at you in the breeze to come have a closer look at their petals.  Their delicate beauty is short-lived too. 

The soft white blooms of elderberry trees wink at you from a corner of the woods where mountain ash are also thriving.  These elegant trees have cropped up in large numbers since Hurricane Juan downed most of the large firs and spruce.  The lacy elderberry flowers wish to be noticed now too before they must give way to the berries.  

Down by the seashore, the story is different.  The whispers of the woods are drowned out by the ongoing moan of the ocean.  The seaweeds sway with the current below the surface but remain silent.  They want to be left alone in their muted sadness.  Only the waves seem to relentlessly rush to the shore. Are they finding comfort among the rocks that are waiting for them there?

Whether large or small, the rocks have become rounded stones, worn out from listening to the waves’ endless refrain of sadness hour after hour, year after year, age after age. 

The woods are never solitary–they are full of whispering, beckoning, friendly life. But the sea is a mighty soul, forever moaning of some great, unshareable sorrow, which shuts it up into itself for all eternity.

~ Lucy Maud Montgomery

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After numerous days of torrential rains and relentless wind gusts, it’s refreshing to get a glimpse of blue in the sky.  Could winter’s fury finally be giving way to a calm resignation that its days are numbered?

Strong winds caused many tired and weakened trees to snap.  There seem to be even more diagonal lines in the forest. 

Rain water has gathered in the recesses beneath uprooted trees and in lower lying areas in the woods.  Known as vernal pools, these temporary wet areas not only provide animals with access to fresh drinking water, but also contribute to the biodiversity of the forest.  Amphibians thrive around these pools as do numerous varieties of mosses and grasses.  They will slowly dry up, but be filled again during subsequent rainstorms.

The rain melted all the snow, which is not at all good for snowshoe hares still wearing their winter white coats.  By contrasting more with the landscape, they become easier prey for foxes, coyotes and bobcats.  Hares will begin acquiring their brown coats later this month.  Until then, they’ll just have to keep a low profile and run a little bit faster if they want to survive until spring.

After every storm, the sun will smile;  for every problem there is a solution, and the soul’s indefeasible duty is to be of good cheer.
~ William Alger

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A fresh covering of white clothes the woods in perfection.  Snow drifts in the forest have created hiding places for snowshoe hares.  Low balsam fir branches  even provide nutritious snacks to be enjoyed while they’re snuggling.  Snow is an excellent insulator, as air is trapped between the snowflakes.

Higher up, even the rough contours of dead branches are decorated with filigree.  The drifts on branches make it difficult to spot the well camouflaged black-capped chickadees. 

The layers of snow are so thick on some branches that it’s a wonder they don’t break under the weight.

Even the delicate lichens don’t escape an icing of snow.  These are home to tiny arthropods, eaten year-round by the chickadees.

The old man’s beard lichens look especially ethereal.  It’s all beautiful.

I’ve always regarded nature as the clothing of God.
~ Alan Hovhaness

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Snow covers the landscape, coating everything with blue in the early morning light.  Blue can be beautiful, but it also can also make a frigid day seem even cooler.  

With the warm, rich colours of fall a distant memory and spring still many long weeks away, it’s at this time of year that many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Less sunlight and exercise cause many to feel the winter blues.  Tiredness and lethargy make some wish they would have gone into hibernation back in the fall.  Others get downright depressed.  Children become restless too and it becomes more difficult for both young and old to focus on the task at hand. 

For people of all ages, perhaps the simplest solution to the winter blues is to go outdoors in the open air and get some exercise.  Whether you go for a short walk to the end of the driveway or a stroll around the neighborhood, breathing in the fresh air and feeling outdoor light on your face is a step in the right direction. If there are trees nearby, you’ll also benefit from the extra oxygen they expell.

If you really want to lighten your spirits, and especially those of children, you could try a winter picnic.  You don’t need to pack much.  A couple of sandwiches, cookies and something warm to drink in a thermos will do.  Bring along some seeds for any chickadees you might see flittering in the trees.

You need not stay out in the cold for long.  Being out in the natural light surrounded by trees is sure to put you in a different frame of mind.  The warmth of the indoors will seem even more enjoyable afterwards.

Now I see the secret to making the best person:  it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
~ Walt Whitman

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There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.
~ William Sharp

With each snowfall, the forest acquires a new wardrobe.  Each branch of tree and blade of grass is covered with a new garment of white.  These evergreen branches seem to have fingers that are now gloved in snow. 

The air is cool and the snow is sparkling clean. Who would have thought that January’s white clad woods could be as refreshing to the spirit as June’s green ones? 

The positive effect isn’t just a visual one.  Snowfalls actually help clear the air of pollution.  This is especially helpful for people suffering from airborne allergens. 

Fresh fallen snow also traps sound waves between its snowflakes.  Even a light layer of snow on the landscape will absorb some of the ambient noise.  It’s no wonder that a newly snow-dressed forest seems so peaceful and quiet.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson

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Yesterday afternoon, two Bobcats came to prowl in my backyard.  It was the grey shadow cast by the first cat that caught my eye.  

Though my sons saw a Bobcat earlier this summer near the Salt Marsh Trail, I’d never seen one before.   Like all wildcats, they do tend to be elusive creatures.

Just on the edge of the woods near the house, their large form with bobbed tail and ear tufts made them easy to identify not just by me, but also by my son and my friend Sybil who was visiting at the time.  

Although I wasn’t quick enough to capture an image of the cats, I did manage to get some photos of their tracks.

Bobcats are supposed to be nocturnal but are known to hunt during the day in the winter.  They are likely here to prey on the Snowshoe Hares that live in my yard among the Balsam Firs.  I wonder if they’ll be back…

The drawing of the Bobcat, at top, was completed January 24th.  Various stages of the drawing can be viewed at http://drawingconclusions.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/bobcat/  

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The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit watch the roots.
~ William Blake

Challenged by Lake Superior Spirit to find six new and interesting views of things you have noticed or photographed before, I decided to get to the root of the matter.  Under the root to be more exact.  Since I’m so accustomed to photographing the part of trees that grows above ground, or looking at upturned trees from the outside, I thought I’d crouch under a very large Balsam Fir root and see what a small mammal might see if it was hiding there.

The first thing I noticed was how dark and quiet it was under the root.    

Balsam Firs tend to be shallow rooted and so are easily blown over during high winds. 

After falling to the ground, the roots of large trees remain intact, with some strands dangling to the ground.  Many provide hut-like enclosures that offer shelter for small animals.

Often, new trees start growing in the dirt left clinging to the upturned roots.  Over time, these roots eventually form mounds in the forest which help to speed up the rate of new growth.

Water often gathers under overturned roots.  Though presently frozen, these vernal pools provide places for amphibians to lay eggs or small mammals and birds to get a drink of water during warmer months.  The variety of life found around the roots of these overturned trees contributes greatly to the biodiversity of the forest.

For more information and photos of overturned trees taken from a vantage point out from under the roots see Pits and Mounds.

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