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The Hopes of Ferns

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The last picture of Chet, free to run, for at least three weeks. I know that every dog owner thinks her dog is the breed standard, but my beautiful little man-dog makes me catch my breath. At 24.3 lb., he'd better quit filling out or he'll be too big to be "perfect!" (The breed standard has an upper limit of 25 lb.) Three weeks of enforced rest aren't going to do much for his waistline, that's for sure.

The surveyors who are shooting the corners on our land came again this morning and were all happy to see their "little buddy" again. Chet Baker had run himself ragged escorting them around our place yesterday. One mentioned that he'd noticed that Chet was favoring one hind leg. Yeah, I know. That's why he can't come with you today.
Chet was vexed at me for keeping him inside all day. As consolation I let him come out to visit with the surveying crew when they came back for lunch. I never cease to marvel at the speed with which Chet is able to win hearts. It was clear they wanted him along. He just makes you feel good to be with him.
And so, when I finally put my boots on and gathered camera and binoculars and notepad to take my sunny-day hike, it was very hard to look Chet in the eyes and tell him he had to stay home. He was play-bowing and wagging and so eager to go. And yet I think he understands. I keep telling him we need to rest his leg, and sending him mental pictures of himself holding it up as he walks, and I believe he is getting them.
I took a new route, something I wouldn't normally do with Chet, because there are cattle nearby. I walked north into one corner of our land, and followed a stream all the way out to a neighbor's big pasture.
There are ghosts in these woods, ghosts of the people who used to live in a white Ohio farmhouse atop the hill to the east. They've all died in that house, and the house has been bulldozed and gone four years or more, but the ghosts still wander, I can feel them. I was in a bit of a skittish mood because I hadn't been down here for at least a decade; I knew there was a big coyote den somewhere here and, while pre-Chet I'd have been eager to find it, now it spooks me a bit. I found the skull of a domestic cat at the mouth of a coyote den on our land once, and my worst nightmare would be finding Chet's little round skull on a mound of well-worn earth at the mouth of a den. So naturally, the first thing I found was a pile of bones.Even though I love a good mystery, I always jump when I find bones in the woods. I'm convinced that one day, if I keep exploring this much, I will find a human body. Deer bones are just about the same size as human bones, and there are always a few moments before I can convince myself that I'm just looking at the remains of an ungulate. Eep. I found the foreleg bones and felt my own arms to make sure they were deer and not human. The great big scapulae were reassuring.
I remembered there being a dump in a gully down here, and I found it. Old dumps aren't as depressing as recent dumps; it's not as jarring (get it?) to see glass and metal as it is to find plastic. The colors go better with the woods, and old trash almost seems to belong there. I did bring this lovely old watering can home for the stone fireplace. It's useless but evocative, and I hate to see it rust to nothing in the woods. I think of Emily Morgenstern watering her flowers with it and it makes me smile. I never knew her but I heard that she would wave from her window at the former owners of our house as they went by every morning. If she wasn't there waving, they'd check on her. Country stuff, survival stuff.
I love finding bottle gardens. And what a treasure trove I found today. It's not hard to see how gardens get started in old bottles that are uncapped. A few leaves blow in and rot, rain collects, fern spores blow in or get carried by insects; the garden begins to grow, a natural terrarium, protected from the harshest weather.
They were all cool. But you have to love this one. The only possible entry point for these fern spores would be the tiny crack in the Sanka lid. There is no soil in the jar; the fern is living just on its own rotten fronds from seasons past. You have to hand it to plants, you really do. Something in me wanted to open the jar, and free these ferns to the air and soil, but I left the garden just as it was, to return and see what becomes of it.

This one blew my mind. I couldn't find so much as a crack in the jar lid. And yet, inside there was a lump of soil, and a mound of moss, thriving in its closed environment. The only clue as to how it might have gotten there was a creeping moss frond that had worked its way through the jar lid. But the soil? How did it get in there? Beats me. And why would the moss want to work its way into the jar? Perhaps I shouldn't try to ascribe goals to moss. There isn't a reason, purpose or intent for everything. Finally I broke out into the Cut, and gazed out on what our neighbors have made of their woods. I looked back over my shoulder at the forest on our land, and realized that there's a place and a purpose for both. The forest holds ever so much more promise, though, of hidden life and birdsong. Two squirrels dashed away, spattering through the leaves, and flocks of golden-crowned kinglets followed me all the way home.


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