Friday, December 25, 2015

Woods-Walking on Christmas Afternoon

Late in the day my son and I took a long slow walk in the Seward Park woods. Curious that my son, who grew up in an urban setting (and who hikes/backpacks/hunts) feels like he's in the wilderness when up inside the old-growth forest of the park. For me, who grew up in a semi-rural-going-to-suburb setting, I'm altogether too aware of the larger city just beyond us. In fact, when I'm settled deep in a mossy reverie, soft earth underfoot, instead of the city noises fading, they become more acute, more intrusive. Wilderness: no. (But marvelous nonetheless.)

Mushroom season is nearly finished, but we found some impossibly tiny fungi clinging to moss on Douglas fir bark, like secrets. Miniature white caps, barely bigger than dewdrops. And lichen, of course, draped everywhere on bare twigs and branches. Complete enchantment.

I've never walked in the park on Christmas. Decades of over-spilling dinners (platters as well as waistlines over-spilling) have consumed much of the day. But today we had our feast in late morning, which left the rest of the day a wide open yawn. With about an hour of light remaining, on a whim we decided to go. And in that damp wood I discovered a peace and deep-breath contentment that I haven't felt in months.

There was a moment of alarm and disbelief when we discovered that one of the park's oldest trees had toppled in a recent storm. For a few minutes, we both denied that was the case; that indeed the old tree was just up the path. But it wasn't. Severed about twenty feet up, there was new light in the forest where the canopy had been ripped open. Everything felt askew, the balance shifted.

Did you know that the life of a forest tree is measured at 50% while living and 50% after it "dies"? My son reassured me that this magnificent old tree, easily 300 years old, would go on contributing to the life of the forest for another 300 years, giving itself as a nurse log for seedlings, fungi, mosses, insects. I've known about nurse logs my whole life, but never thought of their impact in terms of years: 300 years. That's a long time, measured by my human perspective. The fact of that settled me considerably. I will miss the vertical heft of that old tree-friend, but will now look to the forest floor to see what emerges from its remains.


  1. My favourite Christmas walk was always on Boxing Day, when we played 'Spot the Christmas present'. People would walk about in brand new gloves, scarves, and hats; some would even wear their new ill-fitting gaudy jumpers just to please Grandma. We can't play it here; there's no-one about!

  2. We walked early on Christmas morning in a drizzly haze that turned to rain. We walked by the lake that was lapping against the sides pushed by the wind. There were distant gulls and ducks being tossed like ships at sea; the walk was brisk but pleasant; the air invigorating if not a little damp.

  3. I hadn't thought about how they go on as nurse logs once they fall. That is a new term for me. I did recently find out that a dying tree will release stored nutrients out to other trees via their root networks, so you shouldn't cut down a tree that is dying but let it go in its own slow way. That feels right to me.