We have a saying in
By the time I got home, brewed a pot of coffee and cooked some oatmeal, the clouds had already moved in. I wanted to make this a quick trip, so I took the touring bike and pedaled the mile and a half to the beginning of the Vernal Pool Trail. This bike has fenders that were appreciated as I rode through the slush that was left over from overnight snow showers. By the time I pushed the bike up the trail a ways and traded my bike helmet for a fleece hat, it was drizzling.
I walked up the trail and in no more than a half hour after leaving home I was at The Boulders. This is a high bedrock outcrop just off the trail that I’d visited several times before. I usually sit on one of the high points on the rocks, but on this day they were slush-covered, so I went downhill a bit to find a place under the pines that was sheltered from the slush and drizzle. I sat down on an insulating piece of packing-material foam I carry to keep my rear warm and dry (Note to Self: Get a bigger piece of foam!) and draped my new fleece blanket over my shoulders.
I’d been thinking about carrying a blanket for a while. Sitting quietly in the woods in winter can get uncomfortable and I liked the idea of carrying a portable instant shelter. I might have preferred a natural wool made-in-America blanket, but I have a feeling such things are rare and expensive these days. The fleece blanket had the advantage of being warm, light and free. (It was a new-member premium from the Trustees of Reservations who manage Moose Hill Farm. Thanks TTOR!) I felt like I was rediscovering a bit of old-fashioned woods wisdom. A simple blanket could be used as a wrap, or - draped over sticks or tree branches - it could make a quick shelter. On a nice day, I could imagine wrapping myself up in it and taking a sylvan snooze. I’m sure wilderness travelers of yore never ventured forth without a blanket, but who carries one today?
After I settled in, I poured a cup of coffee and opened up the oatmeal. It was still warm from the kitchen and the raisins were perfectly plump, soft and sweet. In the past couple of years, I’ve had breakfast in the woods quite a few times, but this may have been my first lunch. I sat thinking about other meals I might bring to the woods and watched the clouds change form as the promised cold front advanced and the wind began to intensify.
I figured I should get moving so I packed my bag, wrapped the blanket around my shoulders to protect both my backpack and me from the cool air and light rain, and headed back down the trail. Along the way I stopped to examine a clump of American chestnut (Castanea dentata) sprouts. Most of the sprouts were dead and from the lone live branch hung limp, bleached, toothy leaves. I’d been reading American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree by Susan Freinkel. I thought how a century ago this tree was one of the most magnificent gifts offered by our eastern forests. It grew as much as a hundred feet tall and provided versatile rot-resistant lumber. In the fall, natural orchards dropped a bounty of delicious nuts, like manna from heaven, that fed all manner of wildlife, people and livestock. For many early Appalachian settlers, nuts harvested from the forest floor were their most reliable cash crop. The chestnut blight swept down the East Coast in the early part of the 20th century, killing virtually every tree. The tree longs to live and keeps sending up sprouts from stumps and roots, but the blight keeps slapping them back down. Even this sad little clump of sprouts bore orange fungal fruiting bodies.
I took the sprouts as a reminder to appreciate the good things we have before they are gone. I hugged my little green blanket a little tighter, as if it were a prayer shawl, and promised myself I would count my blessings. I reminded myself to recognize and nurture the good things in life. As I rolled down the hill on my bicycle, the wind was picking up and the temperature began to drop. When I got home, I brought an armload of firewood in from the shed and got a big pot of soup going on the stove. Good food and a warm house are things we might not think about much these days, but on that winter afternoon, I felt lucky to have both.