Overcast days make me feel like I have two personalities.
On one side, there’s the “me” who dislikes the dampness of fog, the one whose joints ache, and who misses the usually clear air of Colorado. The sun in this dry climate is a blessing; I love the sharp relief of leaf against leaf, stone against stone, and I love the warmth of the colors here, especially in fall. On foggy days, those colors are dulled, and pain seeps in with the cold.
Then there’s the other “me”–the one who loves the gentle, watercolor blur of color from tree to tree, who savors the dampness that nourishes frizzy hair and scaly skin. This “me” loves the feeling of mist on her face, and the gentle glow of light filtered through fog. There are no shadows on a foggy day; only light and color.
Given those two choices, I obviously opt for the second “me.” She has a much more positive attitude.
So that’s the one I took for a walk today.
It’s really, truly fall now, so I layered a sweater and jacket over my shirt for the first time this year. I pulled out my hiking boots, too, to stave off the damp and give me traction on the slippery rocks. And of course, I called the dogs to come along, as guardians, companions, and playmates.
Stepping outside into the light, I tramped up the hill, intent on photographing fall color, knowing the bright leaves would glow against the dark, damp earth.
But my attention was hijacked–again!–by the little things, the mosses and lichens, the tiny plants that are starting the process of recolonizing our damaged forest.
Like many Colorado forests, the woods here were beset by bark beetles some years ago. These creatures burrow into pines like ours and eat the layer just beneath the bark, killing tree after tree. Though many of our trees were saved thanks to the efforts of the people who owned this place before us, the process of removing infected trees left the forest floor littered so densely with wood chips that there’s no undergrowth.
It’s undergrowth that makes a forest home for wildlife. Our mountain lion needs cover so she can lie in wait for dinner to wander by; on the other hand, the rabbits and squirrels and mice need undergrowth so they can hide in from the hawks that circle the trees, and from the foxes who search the ground for snacks. Undergrowth provides forbs to nourish the deer, and ferns and brambles to complicate and enrich my woodland walks.
So I’ve come to love the tiny things that colonize the damp earth. Their quiet lives and unheralded deaths create the organic matter that hopefully will nourish a new generation of trees and bushes, flowers and grass, ferns and forbs.
On damp days like this, the moss seems to brighten, and the pale lichen stands out against damp bark and wet rocks. I can’t resist taking pictures, and I resolve, again, to find a really good book that will put a name to these delicate, complex nuggets of creation.
Meanwhile, Jesse and Chloe got good and wet, and smell richly of dog now that we’re back inside. And though my boots kept me from slipping, they didn’t keep me from stomping clumsily into a hole while I was looking at something other than my feet. It was a hard, sudden step, and it seemed to jar everything from knee to hip to back, so there may not be a walk tomorrow.
Maybe that’s just as well. I can’t afford to answer the call of the wild too often or I’ll never get my book done!