July 18, 2023

Sunrise over Fort Meadow Reservoir.


Green is a label for a certain attitude to life, a certain kind of respect that one might have for the very source of things that we take for granted.

-Annie Lennox


Waldo and I are up at 4:30, so we can start our walk by 5.  It’s still dark out when we first rouse, but twilight arrives soon after and by the time we start, even though the sun hasn’t yet risen, it’s light enough to see quite well.  Today is going to be a “kin to cain’t” (an expression used by slaves before the civil war) day, starting just as we can begin to see and going on until we can’t.  We will be napping for a bit somewhere in the middle, unlike the slaves, though.  I am cool in my shirtsleeves and Waldo seems comfortable enough in his sable coat.  A light breeze adds to the mild ambiance.

Green pervades everything.  I can almost believe that I’m wearing emerald tinted glasses.  Every leaf of every plant now has a hue somewhere between a light pea to a deep forest green.  Chlorophyl is hard at work, using sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen, and it does so quite efficiently.  The biochemical absorbs quite well at all wavelengths except that of green.  Since it is the only visible color that is not absorbed, it is the only one we see coming off photosynthesizing leaves.  Chlorophyl is so good at absorbing light that 95% of the non-green light is absorbed in the deep woods.  Since plants cannot “see” green (in the sense that green light cannot be used by chlorophyl), it is quite dark to them under the canopy of the deep forest.  We mammals can see green quite well, so it’s not that dark to us, but it is quite shady, of course.  And green.  Waldo can’t see red and green as well as I can (dogs only have two kinds of cones in their eyes, whereas we have three), but he sees the world through his nose anyway.    Some plants have evolved to grow well enough in that subdued light, but most have not.  For that reason, forest floors are relatively barren, being covered mostly by old dead leaves and pine needles.

As Waldo and I walk along the rail-trail, this becomes quite obvious — once I find a place where I can see past all the foliage that grows beside the trail and into the trees beyond.  Next to the tarmac, and within some twenty feet or so, there’s grass, moss, ferns, Japanese knotweed, orange jewel weed, burdock and bitter dock, clumps of garlic mustard and other low-lying bushes and weeds.  The trail slices a wide enough gash into the overlying canopy where, during some part of the day, direct sunlight can penetrate down to the ground, allowing these plants to flourish.   Not just the ground-bound plants, but also poison ivy and other vines can grow there.  Healthy, older trees grow above where the vines can reach and stay alive with their high spans of leafy branches, but they are denuded lower down.  Next to the trail, vines strangle the trees and, sometimes, completely cover the lower trunks in their brand of leafage.  Beyond about thirty feet from the trail, this doesn’t happen – there are no vines, no weeds, no bushes, just brown ground.

All this makes the trail a very interesting place to walk.  There is so much more variety of flora near the trail than in the deep woods.  True, thick forests have their own interesting biomes and varieties of plants.  But I’m continually astounded by how many different kinds of green growing things I find right next to where I stand.  I’m sure that all this happens by dint of Mother Nature – no human hand has planted any of these.  And all of these trees are less than 150 years old.  I can tell that because of the diameter of their trunks.  There are only a few that are thicker than two feet, and none are more than three (the diameter of trees grow at the rate of about two feet per one hundred years, more or less).  Almost all of the trees in New England were cut down somewhere around a hundred years ago, so what I’m seeing is all new growth.

And it’s all so green!  I’m so impressed by that because I spent most of my early years out west where everything is a pastel shade of tan and yellow – it’s much dryer out there.  Oh, there is some green, but not like the green around here!  I feel like I’m awash in the color.  It all feels so healthy and alive!  There is beauty to desert, huge formations of sandstone and the rolling hills of sand dunes, for sure.  But there is something so life-affirming about fertile verdure.  It’s also shadier, which makes it more comfortable.

I will always enjoy treks into and through drier, more barren climes, but I much prefer to be here in the New England woods.

With Waldo at the end of the leash, of course.


Early morning haze due to Canadian smoke.

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