The woods have their secrets
This is the time to take a walk in Rhode Island woods; you’ll see so much.
It’s still too early for the soft greens of budding leaves or the singing of tree frogs from those vernal pools black with decomposing leaves and the fresh shoots of jack in the pulpits. The woods are open at this time, even more so than in the winter when you would imagine a blanket of snow would enable one to look deep into the forest.
“I think it’s the beech trees,” said my son, Ted, as we headed down a trail in North Kingstown not all that far from his home and the URI campus. It’s a walk we have taken before. It’s rarely traveled, although we found signs an all-terrain vehicle had cut through the area since the snow melted and the ground was sodden from the heavy rains of last week.
Ted was right. In the last couple of weeks, the beech trees shed their crumpled leaves that stubbornly hang on through winter and dance like sequins in the wind.
“It’s probably the new buds that have freed them,” he said.
Nash, Ted’s Cavalier King Charles, and Ollie, our rescue coonhound, both know this walk and were anxious to get started as Ted and I looked into the woods. We saw remnants of stonewalls from a time when this land was clear cut and cultivated, although given the terrain it must have been a tough life. On previous walks we found the stone foundation of a house and the rusted remains of farming equipment. Without the leaves of the beech trees we could see the rocky outline of the walls and the swales where the water ran off the hills to pool in those natural depressions that are life incubators. It was like a map before us.
The dogs were intent on whatever dogs find so intriguing. Both were on leashes, which was the only way of ensuring they wouldn’t take off in pursuit of some scent. Ollie would stop, riveted to a spot, laboriously sniffing the ground until I pulled him away. Then it was off to the next discovery and I’d have to tug on the leash again. Nash was much more the adventurer, yapping to urge us along and plunging with abandon into pools where rivulets were impeded by sticks, leaves and acorns.
We cut through some briars that grabbed at our jeans and tugged at the leashes before arriving at a collapsed wall. Larger rocks were encrusted with flaky gray and green lichens. The dogs knew the way, climbing over and between the rocks to come upon what surely had once been a farm road. At one time it had been traveled, but now its shoulders sagged. A giant white pine, perhaps stuck by lightning or maybe just of age, had fallen diagonally across the path. It had been there for a long time. The bark had scaled from the trunk and the branches spread out like broken ribs. We skirted the fallen sentinel, arriving at the bank of a gurgling brook. Nash went right in, lapping up the water. Ollie waded in, let his feet cool and waited for me to jump to the other side and resume our walk.
“See, it’s right there,” Ted said, excitedly pointing toward the tops of the trees. “It might be an osprey or a hawk.”
I aligned my eye with Ted’s outstretched finger, but whatever he was seeing eluded me.
“Right there,” he said. I kept looking and then silently the bird swooped to a nearby tree. We moved on, the sun bright, casting pencil shadows through the leaf-less trees. I wondered whose land this was and what it had been like when farmed. There was a story here, but where can it be found?
We turned back, warm and invigorated. Ollie picked up the pace, straining on the leash.
And then from the path ahead the sun reflected off tufts of white. I stopped to investigate. Ollie sniffed the area intently. I reached down and lifted a clump of deer hair. Had a hunter made a kill here? Had there been an encounter of another sort, maybe a bobcat and fawn? Or might a deer have died of natural causes and its carcass dragged off? There was another story here, but I could only guess at what it was.
The woods have their secrets, but they also have so much to say at this time when they come to life. Don’t miss the opportunity for a visit and be sure to listen to the chorus of spring. The tree frogs are ready.