January 17, 2023

English ivy adorned oak tree, mid-winter.


The Earth created magic to protect the magic that is the Earth.

-Sarah Warden


Today, I communed briefly with Gaia, and listened carefully to what she had to say, but she had no dramatic news to report, so it didn’t last long.  Winters are like that, for me anyway.  Nature slows to a crawl – what’s vibrant with life during the rest of the year is quietly slumbering during the frigid months.  Even the noonday sun only barely raises itself from the horizon, casting cold long shadows even when at its zenith.  One day seems so much like the last, and the next, that the season seems to last forever.  But one year is not like another.  Some years, I’m trying to walk with Waldo in a foot or more of snow.  This year, the ground is still snow-free, and the temperatures are in the low forties, yet it’s already the winter solstice.

I’ve noticed some surprising things because of the lack of snow.  One day, I’m walking along the rail-trail and I notice there are still a few small autumn olives sporting green leaves, then a hard freeze comes along, with temps in the high teens, and they seem to disappear.  The same thing with the small bunches of garlic mustard.  The temperature rises, a rain comes along, and low and behold, a few autumn olives with drooping leaves reappear and the garlic mustard pokes its leaves through overlying dead leaves.  Maybe it’s just that I haven’t noticed they were there because their numbers have decreased.  Except for the garlic mustard.  Just the other day, I didn’t see any, now there are places where it’s easy to find, not in great abundance, but it’s there.

This spring-like resurgence of leafy green has made me more observant.  Today, I notice a few fronds of intermediate wood fern poking out from beneath tawny fallen oak leaves.  Ferns in the last days of December.  Who’da thunk?  With all the rain we’ve gotten recently, and the warmer temperatures, the gametophytes of the mosses alongside the tarmac have grown tall (for them), giving them a thickened fluffy appearance.  Noticing all this heightens my curiosity and awareness.

Now what is this?  In the periphery of my vision, I spot a large mass of dark green.  It stands tall and is definitely not a conifer.  I move closer and stare in wonder.  Healthy dark green leaves of English ivy densely cover the bole and branches of a tall dead oak. The vine winds its way around the trunk and limbs of the tree like tinsel garlands surrounding a decorated Christmas tree.  Everything else around (except for the white pines) is beige and boney.  Yet here’s this vine, in the cold winter temperatures, sporting verdure the like of which I’ve only seen in the warmer months.  It boldly stands there in stark contrast to its surroundings and I’m in awe that I haven’t noticed it before.  Maybe all the rain we’ve had recently has infused it with new life, causing it to burst forth with plump foliage.

Waldo and I have been walking nearly daily on this trail for almost four years and yet this is the first time I’ve noticed anything like this.  It forces me to wonder just how observant I am.  Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also breeds ignorance – when I’m familiar with something, I tend to ignore it.  And yet, I know, from prior experience, each day out here, in any season, bears something new and different if I just look for it.

Waldo, of course, knows this well.  He is constantly trotting along with his nose less than an inch from the tarmac, seeking and, no doubt, finding new and interesting things to sniff.  And when he finds them, he spends long moments carefully smelling them out, and their surroundings, in order to discover all the nuance they have to offer.  I can tell he is truly fully engaged in the search.  Oh, he misses stuff too, not because he’s not paying attention, but because he’s so focused on what’s new right before his nose.  I don’t know, but I’d bet he’s sad about the lack of snow, though – he’s so enamored with rolling around in it and making snow doggies.

So, maybe my feelings about winter being merely a time when the natural world waits for spring is simply wrong.  I think it more likely that I’m suffering from seasonal complacency disorder and just miss a lot that’s happening.  There is a lot going on, it’s just not conspicuous, especially when much of it is buried under a thick blanket of snow.  Today, there’s no snow out here, so I can see it, I just have to look.  One thing for sure; I’m keeping my eye out for that dead tree and its English ivy tomorrow.

You know, Gaia is talking to me even when I’m not paying attention…


Garlic mustard, mid-winter.

Leave a Reply