I like the sneaky-pete feeling of it, the mini-dash of the forbidden. I’ve been doing it for years. If I’m trying to be accurate, I don’t think I ever stopped once my curiosity bloomed at about 12. I wanted to see things that some official said were off limits. So….slip…So….slide…and gone into the forest.
Based on what a ranger told me once about estimating the ages of local trees, the big trees on the ridge line are easily 120 years old. The beech dominate the north facing slopes, tulip poplar everywhere else except in the marshes where sycamores are primary. But the understory is effectively ruined. For section after section, growing to about mid-thigh level, Japanese barberry bushes, a poisonous green (Berberis thunbergii). They came in during the late 1800’s as an ornamental plant for landscape design because of their ability to produce leaves earlier and shed them later than native species. They change the soil, animal populations, everything. Like some awful, quiet, dystopic mob of clones — they look uniform, intent, unstoppable. The kicker — they essentially incubate ticks and thus increase the incidence of Lyme disease in a given area — white-footed mice love them and ticks love white-footed mice. Bring on the goats or fire or some barberry apocalypse.
It is rare to come across a complete skeleton of a deer, especially a doe this big. Predators and scavengers scatter the bones as they eat. Not so here.
In a section of trees this old and therefore this tall, I’m always looking up for canopy dwellers, a scarlet tanager or vireo or brightly colored warblers. Birds are not only a bright mark for the spirit but evidence of a healthy space, of breeding grounds that still function. None of those birds showed themselves this trip which only means I missed them or they have not yet arrived.
And then … two adolescent crows harassing a small raptor who revealed himself in a patch of sky as a sharp-shinned hawk, a predator of deep forest, evolved to hunt and shimmy itself through dense foliage, flying almost like water that takes the shape of the vessel it must flow through. In one of those mysterious pauses, the crows alight on high branches and the hawk as well within feet of each other and together they rest in sunlight.