Winter days when snow cover is missing or light are great times to get into the forest and look for things. What things? It doesn’t matter. Look for whatever catches your eye and then learn more about it. I’m still working on figuring out what the fungus is on this downed tree. I think it’s a small turkey-tail fungus, one that hasn’t reached its full spread yet, but I might be wrong. The nice thing about living where I do is that I can go back tomorrow and check it again to see if looks any different than it did last weekend.
Although the forest is mostly brown right now and not particularly at a human’s version of its "prettiest" self, it’s a really perfect time to get out into the woods and look around. What makes now so special? For one thing, I don’t have much snow cover at the moment, so getting around the forest is easy. For another, all the seasonal growth and underbrush is down, so I can wander through the woods and not have to stay on a trail.
In the growing seasons, most eastern forests, Roundtop’s among them, have a goodly amount of underbrush. Sticking to a trail is virtually a necessity if you don’t want to come home covered with scratches. Fighting through underbrush is not fun. Plus, when you’re in the middle of it, you can’t really see much anyway.
In winter before snow covers the ground to any depth, but after several hard freezes have killed the undergrowth, wandering through the forest off the trail is the one time such wandering is easily possible.
Off trail, I get to look at new things. I pretty much know what I’m going to see along the trails. Oh, there are always surprises to be sure. But there’s a lot more surprises in those places I don’t see every day. Fifty yards off the trail and I’m in an entirely different place with entirely different things to look at.
Now this is the point where I have to say that if you’re going to wander off a trail, you need to be careful about what you’re doing. Maybe at first you’ll want to keep the trail in sight. That’s okay, there will still be plenty of new things to look at. Once you know an area a little better, you can try wandering a little further, simply by using a little common sense and developing your own sense of direction and observation a bit.
Probably the best way to not lose your way is as you’re wandering off the trail for the first time, take a moment to turn around and look behind you. That’s what you should see when you head back to the trail. A forest looks a lot different on your way out than on your way in, so pay attention to that.
Another simple way is to follow a landmark, say a creek. They always stay in the same place, so if it’s on your right on the way in, it should be on your left on the way out. If you walk downhill on the way in, your should be walking uphill on the way out. I know this sounds simplistic, but in these days of GPS systems, it bears mentioning.
I can’t tell you the number of people who get lost trying to find Ski Roundtop because they can’t read a map and apparently can’t follow their GPS either. I have drawers full of maps from all over the place, yet I know I’ve spent less on them over the past 30 years than one GPS system costs. Okay, so they take up more room. Big deal.
Happy Friday. Take a little time out from holiday preparations this weekend to go play in the woods. You’ll be glad you did.