Here on the farm, September is still hot and very dry. The only hint of fall are Dogwood and Tulip Poplar leaves turning yellow and red. This is a transitional month that won’t totally let go of summer but a bit of a taste of autumn. But, the last few years we have been using the dry early fall to get some work done in the forest.
My father-in-law was obsessed with trees and bought acreage many decades ago so that he could have his own forest and farmland. Now that we live on the old farm, we are also obsessed with trees and forest. Our mile-and-a -half trail through the woods and along the meadow gets used multiple times a day. Caroline never misses a day in the woods—rain or shine, heat or cold. She considers her daily walk to be essential as food and oxygen. Hamilton usually walks before lunch and lets me know that he is off to the “enchanted forest”. I use my time on the trail as meditation, usually with some sort of soundtrack to accompany the whispering trees.
Not long after Caroline moved to the farm in 2016, she started to roam further into the forest and found all the wonderful patches of wildflowers, mushrooms and lichen. As she combed every inch of the land, she also found cave entrances and oak and cedar trees grown together as well as the unique winter phenomena, frost flowers. At the beginning of the 2020, we built a footbridge across the fair-weather creek so we could get to the trout lilies and phlox that bloom in March, the most magical time in the forest. But all the seasons provide their own unique beauty and difficulty. Spring brings beautiful wildflowers but also ticks. Summer has the lush green trees but a trail full of spiderwebs to negotiate. Fall has the beautiful golden leaves but is very dry and the creek disappears. Winter is enchanting with an occasional crystalline snow, but the trail can be very muddy. Our forest is beautiful but there are also problems with invasive species plants that make the forest floor too crowded with non-native plants.
This time of year, the creek and the trail are very dry and we can get vehicles deep into the forest. So for the past few weekends, Hamilton, Caroline and I have gone armed to wage war on the invading plants and big snags blocking the flow of the creek. Hamilton loads the chainsaw, two different types of weed-eaters, lawn mower and chains in the bucket of the tractor, I drive the farm pick-up, and Caroline wanders over after her morning coffee. With all the proper tools we set to work on the invasive privet and downed trees. Hamilton mans the heavy equipment and Caroline and I wrangle the offensive brush into an enormous pile. We had two particularly challenging areas over the creek where trees had fallen, backed up the stream and were causing erosion. The tractor and the Bobcat made quick work of the snags and the creek will be able to stay in its banks this spring. More snags need removing in the future but this will be a big improvement for this season.
Very quickly we have cleared big areas of the creek side and our forest is shaping up to be a delightful open space, still with plenty of trees but now room to wander around and admire the flowers. This summer we added a picnic table near the footbridge and it has become our favorite place to sit and listen to the creek, read a book or chat with friends. The forest is our beautiful outdoor home, and of course I like to make it tidy and inviting. We take pride in maintaining our land and love sharing it with our deer and turkey families. I also like knowing the I can get in and do some hard work and drive the big truck off road. Maybe next year I will learn to drive the tractor. The forest needs me, and I in turn need the forest.
As I was sorting through the last remaining books from my parents, I came across a real gem, The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd Olson (1899-1982), a Swedish-American nature writer. His beautiful writing is a gentle exploration of nature and our amazing wilderness. “These are days of quietly falling needles when after each breath of wind the air is smoky with their drift.” If you love nature writing like I do, Sigurd’s writing is perfection. A final quote that really reflects my love of forest and land: “Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”