A Cool May at Sourwood Forest

I was tempted to draft this post on the back porch, but Mr. Wren, whose partner is nesting in the potted coleus plant nearby, stood not four feet from my chair and scolded me. The nest is holding five eggs that are getting very close to hatching.

May brought so many cool mornings, like in the old days. And today, June 1, the cool seems even more precious. That’s why I headed out first thing, with my tea cup in hand, to be in the woods at the time of birdsong and deep shadow. I’m working on a loop trail that could be used all summer, something Sourwood Forest doesn’t have. My husband and I like our woods to feel unpeopled, and trails make the presence of people palpable even when no people are there. But I think the benefits of this trail for artists who will visit Sourwood Forest justify it.

On May 6, artist Siobhan Byrns (University of Lynchburg) and poet Grant Kittrell (Randolph College) generously gave their time on a Saturday to lead an art-in-the-woods event.

Sioban had prepared materials for everyone, including specially dyed paper that, when activated by UV rays from sun, imprinted likenesses of whatever materials were captured between sunlight and paper. As we wandered into Sourwood Forest to choose our materials and create our images, we focused on the richly detailed diversity making up the decaying duff of the forest floor and delighted in the patterns of new leaves on every living plant. 

Dappled sunshine made bright pools of light into which we could set our projects to soak in the rays, as the background paper turned from blue to white. We finished the projects on the back porch of the house, using shallow trays of water to “set” the image into the paper, then hung what seemed like subtle miracles in blue on a clothesline to dry near the blooming irises. 

After lunch we gathered on the front yard deck under a circle of old oaks to hear Grant Kittrell read poetry. And we engaged in a discussion that wandered from the subject of black snakes to the powers of old trees, both real and imagined. Birds sang, a slight breeze whispered through the young leaves in the forest canopy, and the spectacular light of a May afternoon made everything (including us!) glow with the light of spring. 

I was happy to see how well the house and yard worked for the activity. And now, nearly a month later, the thought of summer inspires my trail creation. With tick season in full swing, the woods can be tricky to navigate without picking up unwanted hitchhikers. Having a trail makes it much less likely that the ticks will latch on at a place higher than one’s shoes. I put my pants and socks in the freezer as soon as I get home, a much more energy-efficient strategy for tick bite prevention than using hot water wash (washing your clothes won’t kill ticks reliably unless the water is hot) or hot dryers.

There is so much to be gained from being inside the summer forest that I’m trying to make it possible for the tick factor not to be a sad consequence of a beautiful walk. I’d lopped low-hanging branches earlier in May, and I’d raked a few places to make the duff less thick. Today I just scoped out how much I would need to do with my new battery-powered weedeater (still in its box). I was happy to find there are only a couple areas in need of mowing. Getting rid of low growing vegetation makes tick avoidance much easier. And these spots are now growing the invasive exotic Japanese stilt grass–more reason to mow.

The woods are full of beings who live just a few days or a season. As I walk and stand still and walk again, I become immersed in a place where the world is all it needs to be for all the beings there. Not that I expect they have that philosophical perspective, but how do I know? It sure feels real to me when I’m in the midst of it, even if I am pruning the occasional beech-tree finger that has reached out at eye-level into the place I am now designating as “trail.”

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