Alive: the extravagant vitality of the late-spring forest


This guest post is by Lindsay McLaughlin. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page.

The fields of our residential community: the little one behind Pinestone, and the larger one that embraces the garden and often hosts the sheep, are awash in shades of green. The grasses are growing, it seems, more than an inch every day. The hummingbirds are back, dancing in the azaleas; the whippoorwill sings like a fool in love outside our windows and doors every night. Rabbits and squirrels hop and scamper. In the garden, radishes are busting out of the earth, lettuce and kale and an array of other growing things make a thick green blanket from fence to fence. Insects buzz and hum and chirp and whirr. The wood frogs trill and the air is thick with pollen dust and the smell of warm earth. The rain and chill of only a couple weeks ago is another world.

All this heat and bother is waking up the reptilian, cold-blooded creatures in our neighborhood. Scot, who seems by some charm to find or be found by such as these, has encountered (so far) a milk snake in the sheep field, a black snake in the wood shed, a ribbon snake by his front door, and a very stubborn copperhead in the woodpile. Each time Scot tried to catch this copperhead, it slipped the noose and dropped down into the woodpile, wrapped in a cloak of invisibility.   Its disappearing act forced the practice of patience, as Scot waited for it to emerge and settle on top once more. This dance went through four revolutions until finally, after re-designing the snake stick, Scot was able to catch the snake and escort it far up the power line.

The warm-bloods are restless too. Lana, staying for a few days up at Still Point, reported,

“Billie (my dog) and I saw an adult black bear near the jeep trail to the smaller waterfall (very near the house). Billie started trotting toward it, and that’s when I saw it. I moved a tiny bit closer to see if it was a great big black Chow dog, but it was in fact a bear. It started to gently lope away from Billie, looking back every so often. Fortunately, Billie came when I called and we both walked smartly in the other direction. Billie did not bark or chase as she often does with deer, thank goodness.

This was my first wild bear sighting. It’s very exciting!

Also, I think the choral barking and yelping I heard last night must have been coyotes.

And there are turkeys gobbling all over the woods….It’s really wild out here now!”

The deer fawns born this spring are now curious and heedless youngsters, free of their mothers, and with a unfettered yen for exploration. Recently, as I walked north of the Retreat House, near the area where in the early days the community used to camp, there was a commotion and one of them burst from the abandoned cook shed, like a bronco from the holding pen, and bolted toward the field.

A couple days ago, I related these things to my son Joey, trying to describe the feeling at Rolling Ridge now. “It’s really…..” I groped for a word. “Alive?” he supplied.

Here in the northern hemisphere, we are only weeks away from the summer solstice, our planet tilting each day more toward the sun, the daystar that makes life possible. All the creatures know this, and they reverberate with that bright hot vitality. The ancients celebrated this time of year with fire feasts honoring the full force of the sun-star. That star sends glowing, molten, extravagant energy hurtling toward us through the icy darkness of frozen space, firing the earth and all its beings with life. Some days, if we’re lucky, we feel that vibrancy flaming in the darting, leaping, flowering, hovering, slithering beings around us.

It’s quite a show. On Earth Day, we posted the following passage from Annie Dillard on our new Facebook page:

“After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.”

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