Two Bur Oaks and a Crawdad

A group of swamp white oaks Healthy soil is important, but for whom?  In the Garden  The young bur oak would not be kept down. Yet again it revealed itself among the standing dead stalks of a large patch of purple bee balm, a good three feet tall and leafing out. In spring, a bur oak’s leaves look like sharp-edged, glossy cutouts. They are not green, but shade delicately among soft corals, tans and pinks. The green comes a bit later, like a slow-motion wave gently pervading each leathery leaf. The question, as it had been for several years, was what to do with this young newcomer to the garden.  About ten feet away and across the walk from house to garage stands a second bur oak that I’d started from an acorn some twelve years ago. I’ve enjoyed watching it grow its first sets of true leaves, become large enough to attract birds and then mature enough to bear acorns. This winter I limbed it up three feet from the ground, mainly to give the sedges and wild geraniums growing underneath a

Christmas Day in Thatcher Woods

Took a late afternoon walk in snowy Thatcher woods, rarely so beautiful. Everything white and quiet, and hardly any traffic on nearby streets--natural sounds usually in the background pushed forward and layered the air. A squirrel scolded;  I turned to peer through trees and soft falling snow to see a hawk launch heavily off a tall tree, ghostly gray.

I walked north along the path on the river's snowy, icy eastern bank. Near the railroad tracks, some teens were sledding down an old high mound, once debris, now smoothed by age and overgrowth and years of sledding. Their newly matured voices rang out, distinct in their individual, blocky tones. As I went on and their voices faded, I grew very conscious of the trees next the path--for once undistracted by summer green or autumn russet--seeing clearly their size and age--the extreme corkiness of the bur oaks' bark, all furrowed and ridged; the smoother strips of the red oak; the diamond weave that marks the green ash; the textured patchiness of the maple. At intervals, I stood and looked and listened, before walking on. No sight of the usual deer, except tracks, of course.

I have seen the river nearly iced over, but today the central channel flowed, deep gunmetal gray, fairly low, so the current rippled and eddied around obstacles; the sound of the water riffling over some rocks surprised me, for the river is normally a quiet presence in these parts. Further south is the noisy dam where people fish in summer. After awhile I reached the place where the river broadens and curves around an island, a place where many trees show the angular cuts and stumps have the cone-shaped tops that beavers create, a place where grasses flourish in an opening the beavers helped make. The snow lay heavy on what looked to be a dam across the channel between the island and the west bank, something I hadn't noticed as complete a month ago. All remained still.

Alone in the woods is very different from together in the woods. A quiet walk alone is sometimes the necessary thing. After standing awhile, dusk coming on, I turned and headed for home.

Best wishes to all for the coming year.

Update 12/28/10: Dave Coulter at Osage + Orange took a walk that day, too. He sent this picture.

Des Plaines River

Related Posts:
Gardening in Thatcher Woods With Help
Bloom Day
Behold the Inglorious Garlic Mustard


Anonymous said…
Happy Holidays, Adrian. I'm taking advantage of the Christmas break to get caught up with my favorite blogs, so it was a treat to settle down to your five most recent posts this evening. This one really resonated for me; I am a lover of solitude, and I remember discovering how much more attuned to the natural world I was when I was alone in it.
BTW, I think your new blog design is great; I especially appreciate the tab for recommended books.
I saved your post on the polyculture lawn; so much important information rendered so clearly. When I'm ready to add my small patch of lawn in the lower part of my front yard, I'll be able to come back to this as a reference. -Jean
Don Plummer said…
I love winter walks in the woods! Thanks for your descriptive writing.
Hi Jean, Thanks for the good words. I'll be adding to the book list from time to time. I hope my lawn advice works in your region.

Hi Don, I hope you have good places to walk where you live.
Unknown said…
A beautiful post, Adrian. I am particularly drawn to writers who can articulate the human-natural connection. This one is marvelous.
Anonymous said…
Your description made me feel as if I were with you. I am so glad you had that time to be in the air, and observe the woods, and enjoy the quiet and solitude. A lovely thing.
Hi Thomas, Thanks, that connection is something I value and try to remain open to. Glad to see you're posting at Grounded Design again.

Hi MRG, Thanks.
Anonymous said…
To listen to the sounds of the wilderness without the superimposed sounds of civilization is an intense experience. Winter camping in a New Mexico mountain forest, I had a magical moment hearing an animal come near the tent, breathing the cold crisp air. It sniffed around, then merged with the mysterious sounds of the forest on a snowy night. -- Judy E.