A Morning Birthday Walk
The older I get the less birthdays mean to me. All I wish for is a quiet day, a meal with my wife and a few friends and time for contemplation. The kids and siblings will call, and I will sing along as my sister croons her rather comical version of “Happy Birthday” over the phone.
Last Saturday I celebrated a milestone birthday that included a newly minted Medicare card. My advancing age didn’t bring it on, but for some reason the morning found me anxious and full of uncertainty. Months of witnessing the tragic consequences of the global pandemic, rising death toll, resultant economic downturn and the “new normal” of social distancing, face masks and hand sanitizer has weighed heavily on my psyche. If that wasn’t enough, the wrenching explosion of unrest and violence due to our nation’s systemic racism and inequality has me holding my breath for what may befall us next. I needed to clear my head and take a walk, even if just along the road outside our house.
My work as Ranger Bill takes me into nature on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that also brings me into direct contact with many non-native invasive species of plants that are devastating our region’s forest and field habitats. A walk or drive along our local roads is to bear-witness to the reality that our native plants — the ones that evolved here for millennia — are under constant attack. The woods of my youth are not the same.
My birthday morning walk along my road to clear my head instead found me cursing at the row upon row of invasive plants lining the road. Everywhere I looked burning bush, also known as winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus), Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) grew, overcrowding the native vegetation. However by the time I returned home there was a spring in my step and the warm feeling of hopefulness. Let me explain why.
With nesting season in full-swing the morning avian chorus was bursting in song. I am not very proficient at identifying birds by their songs, but I did recognize cardinals, robins and a solo wood thrush amongst the many birds accompanying me on my walk. I think my mood began to change as soon as I heard the wood thrush. Its ethereal flute-like melody is one of my favorite sounds in nature.
I chuckled at the pair of young squirrels quarreling from the high branches of a tall white pine. They ceased their chattering when I stopped to check out all the commotion. Quickly moving to the opposite side of the tree trunk, they waited quietly out of sight for me to move along – much like boisterous children at bedtime interrupted by an annoyed parent.
I stopped to look out over a corn field that borders the road’s edge. The farmer uses a no-till style of planting and I stepped into the field to check the progress of the corn. The recent warm weather had done the trick, and two to three-inch green shoots emerged from the soil. It is hard to imagine in early June that by the end of August those little seedlings will be more than 7 feet tall. I turned for home thinking of the summer ahead. What the next few months bring I dare not imagine. The one thing I can rely on is the farmer will return to harvest the corn, and the seasonal cycle of our region’s agriculture community will continue.
On my walk home I scanned the side of the road where the woods end and the tangle of invasive plants begin. Rising from a carpet of poison ivy I noticed two blooming wild flowers I did not recognize. One was about a foot tall with small lavender blossoms and the second had stems of about two feet with small yellow flowers that resembled a dandelion. I plucked a few stems of both and brought them home.
With the help of online sources and a handy smart phone app called LeafSnap I identified the plants as wood-cranesbill or woodland geranium (Geranium sylvaticum), and green crepsis or smooth hawk’s-beard (Crepis capillaris).
My birthday bouquet was complete. At this writing it sits on my desk, a silent colorful reminder that nature is a constant gift, that it will endure, and that no matter what each morning brings, every day is precious.
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. It invites us to wander and explore, to enjoy it, care for it, and pass it on. I hope you’ll join me.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at email@example.com
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