On Wednesday afternoon I breathed in deeply and smelled cool, damp earth…somewhere other than my own backyard. It felt as if I had been resuscitated.
There are days when I am so overwhelmingly happy to be permitted to keep Benjamin out of school and Wednesday surely qualified as one of those days. We are fortunate to have a lovely state park near the base of Blue Mountain (within only a half hour or so from our home).
While the park consists of 230 acres, we tend only to visit a series of walking trails around the 85-acre lake’s dam...and on this particular afternoon we were standing at the base of that dam when the most extraordinary thing happened: Benjamin spotted a water snake moments after catching its prey!
Like a couple of six-year-olds, he and I had been trying to catch diving beetles in a Tupperware container…he had captured one, scooping it up for me to photograph. I was busily attempting to capture an image of the whirling aquatic insect when Benjamin calmly said to me, “Don’t be alarmed, there is a water snake behind you. It has a fish in its mouth.”
I was alarmed.
I turned slowly and sure enough…about 25 feet behind me was a large Northern Water Snake, motionless in the flooded overflow area. In its jaws, a still-living fish. As I was a bit unnerved, I looked quickly around me and surprise…there was yet another water snake right at my feet! I stepped up a nearby rock and Benjamin and I stood watching the first snake hold its prey up out of the water until it suffocated and went limp. The snake slithered toward the treeline…the other snake - the one contentedly coiled less than a yard from where I stood - ignored us completely.
We walked, excitedly taking turns re-telling the story of the water snake with a fish in its mouth to one another as if neither had been there to experience it. Each uniquely coiled root re-ignited our thrill and awe and spurred one or the other of us on to tell his or her version of the story again.
When finally we calmed to a saunter again, I found dozens of fresh turkey tail mushrooms. They are a common discovery, but always delightful. Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) are proven to improve immune function and are now commonly used in conjunction with cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. Brilliant!
Tiny orange, club-shaped species and delicate moss-associated fungi dotted the forest floor. Along the water’s edge a troop of mushrooms caught my eye; I crawled beneath briers to reach the bank where they grew. I whooped and hooted with excitement at every new discovery.
When we reached the end of the trail, and the lake spread out before us, Benjamin pulled out his specimen cups. While I ogled plants and insects, he studied freshwater snails and fishes. Finally, we started back to the van…
We drove in relative silence, listening to the beautiful new album by Gregory Alan Isakov. Driving through the south-central Pennsylvania countryside, gazing out over golden fields to the right and the left of us, it is easy to forget we live on a planet with a rapidly deteriorating existence.
Ireland’s former leader, Mary Robinson, recently told The Guardian, “Future governments won’t be able to do what governments now have 11 years to do. In the future, we will have these tipping points – the Arctic will be gone, the coral reefs will be gone, the permafrost will be dissolving ... all these things will just spin us out of control.”
It is easy to forget we are responsible for it all: the loss of the Arctic, the death of the coral reefs, the declining temperature of the permafrost. We are responsible. We - the citizens of Earth.
By the next morning I am remembering. More media outlets are discussing the report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Hurricane Michael has leveled much of the Florida panhandle and more rainfall is flooding the recently Hurricane Florence-devastated south.
Fewer than twenty-four hours prior, Benjamin and I were splashing in water, and crawling through briers…acting every bit as untroubled as two six-year-olds playing in a creek. Everyone believed climate change was reversible, Floridians were bold and hopeful, southerners were resilient and rebuilding. What a difference a day makes. Our very existence is imminently threatened.
Within hours my parents arrive. My mom mentions the photos I posted to Instagram and I giddily begin recounting my carefree day in the woods, “Oh…it was so nice! I haven’t been to the woods in months.” From the kitchen I hear my mom’s overtaxed reply: “You’re preaching to the choir.”
It is easy to forget: we are older. I am not carefree. She is significantly less care-free. The reason for our Wednesday get-together? A family dinner the evening before placement of the apheresis catheter in my dad’s chest. He is having a stem cell transplant this coming week.
By the end of that dark and dismal Thursday, I was reminded I have indeed grown older. Pity. ♥
Jessica Allen explores the fields and forests of Pennsylvania with her artist-husband, Michael Allen, and their son, Benjamin. She shares her observations through words and pictures of everyday magic and beauty she sees in her world.