Sometimes I think I should write more posts about what it’s like to live in the woods.
How many people in this world still live in a forest surrounded by trees and more trees and a few more trees?
In a space carved out between poplars and maples and ravines with tiny streams flowing down to the bay about a quarter-mile away?
Tangled raspberry plants grow toward the sun providing sweet nourishment as one walks toward the mailbox in early August. Thimbleberry plants, with leaves bigger than your hand, grow tangy-sweet red thimbleberries prized by jam-makers who charge $12 per half-pint for the treat.
I’ve shared before how one lives in a horizon-less world, a world shaded and dappled. Wildflowers bloom in open spaces, now daisies and purple joe pye weed and buttercups and red clover.
The forest is always trying to reclaim its own. If you’ve built a house in your cleared space it’s always creeping closer over the years, attempting to re-populate its reign. Conversely, the large trees you left on the peripheries rarely grow strong and healthy. They were too shocked by the sudden sunlight all those years ago when chainsaws and bulldozers took their neighbors.
It’s an insect world in the woods. Mosquitoes, don’t get me started, thrive. When I complained earlier this year on Facebook about the wealth of blood-sucking creatures someone suggested that we fill the wet spots on our property, as skeeters breed in wet places. My mouth fell open in disbelief and it’s still open. Fill 23 acres of wet streams and cattail swamps? Fill every nook and cranny in this buzzing biting bursting-with-life forest?
The forest stretches hundreds of miles to the east and west. It’s surrounded by Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan to the south. It’s a wild land up here in the Upper Peninsula, a wild land roamed by black bear and mountain lions and drum-flapping partridge. Its patron saint is the chickadee, I just made that up, that wonderful black and white bird which refuses to leave during winter’s cold and cheers our January days.
Winter starts in October, OK, maybe I’m exaggerating, because those first October snows don’t stay. Winter ends in May, OK, I’m really exaggerating, because those May snowstorms are also fleeting and refuse to linger ever-long in the woods.
We usually start a fire in the wood stove every month of the year, although we have yet to determine if August will necessitate a morning warm up.
We’re actually surrounded by neighbors here in our neck of the woods, lots of them. Our road ends on the Huron Bay and there are dozens upon dozens of “camps” down there along the shore. People come from lower Michigan and Illinois and Ohio and Wisconsin to grill hotdogs and get bit by mosquitoes and wood ticks and black flies and experience North Wood living. Our tax base, therefore (spoken by your local tax collector who knows) is quite healthy.
About 400 souls live in our township. Some live back in the woods. Others live closer to the roads. One could debate if someone who lives directly on a road actually lives in the woods. How far off the road must one build to be considered a woods-dweller? Someone should write a dissertation.
My friend and reader, Fountainpen, alerted me to a cool book last month. It’s called “The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature” by David George Haskell. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and his words dance on the page.
“Haskell leads the reader into a new genre of nature writing, located between science and poetry,” Edward O. Wilson lures us on the book’s cover.
He makes me want to write nature poetry, except, of course, I know very few biological facts. He teaches the forest-loving reader about mosses and ferns and, yes, chickadee.
I learned something amazing about chickadee from his flowery pen. Did you know that chickadees sleep huddled in groups creating a ball of birds with large volume and relatively small surface area? They huddle in holes left by fallen tree limbs. Their body temperatures will fall by ten degrees into energy-saving hypothermic torpor. This behavior gives the winged ones an edge over winter, sayeth our scientific poet, and I will never forget that fact as long as I live.
We also have learned about deer who digest their food with aid of a rumen. (Who knew?) The rumen sac, an initial stomach really, allows deer to eat all those woody stalks and thriving bacteria within assist in this process. Different variety of bacteria thrive in the rumen at different times of year. Thus, plant-digesting rumen party down in the rumen during the summer and bark-digesting bacteria slug away at the wood during the winter.
When we well-meaning deer-loving folk toss out corn kernels or vegetable scraps in the middle of winter we can upset the balance of the rumen in very negative ways. Can you imagine? Our kindness may actually be challenging the deer’s stomach.
Haskell examines one small mandala-circle of forest with every passage of the book, pointing out small hidden details that any fast woods-walker would miss altogether. He returns to the same mandala day after day for a year sharing rich biological details of this world.
Part of me would like to write a forest blog. Every day (or week) share some new revelations of forest-living. Yet I probably won’t, so don’t get too excited or dismayed.
It’s time to brew a cup of tea and wander outside on our deck to sip and give thanks for this opportunity to live in the forest–and to share it with those of you who aren’t getting bit by mosquitoes.
Scratching in our Little House in the Big Woods, Kathy (OK, I’m exaggerating again. The mosquitoes are actually lessening as the summer passes. Except at night. Except when you actually venture several feet away from any clearing…)