I have not written in a few weeks as this is the time of year where I must be out and away, especially from things that are inside. Whoever invented backpacks and boots, thank you. Simple, durable and fixable with thread and duct tape. Able to be stored by the door with extras available in the car in case one needs to get out even quicker.
I committed myself, this year at least, to my humble section of Reddy Branch; at least until the summer. I have committed myself to learning the lexicon of these woods-the language of spring more than any other season. Summer, with its infernal heat and humidity, so quickly equating to exhaustion, finds me avoiding the pestilential mosquitoes and other biting insects of the Maryland woods. The season where cycling and its breeze makes so much more sense.
I have wandered the woods for a quarter century now but I have been at best a peripatetic learner of the language of the forest. I was and still am more interested in discovering new places, but my life’s circumstances have encouraged me, for the foreseeable future, to discover in place. To shave close to use Thoreau’s words.
What do I mean? Like most hikers and backpackers, I seek all of the usual things when I strap on a backpack at a trailhead, the silence of the woods, the beauty of a creek, a glimpse of a beautiful bird or some other creature. And I’m usually aiming to get somewhere and usually rather quickly. Burnin’ daylight as John Wayne would say. I rarely stop to examine the minutiae of what I see. I see the forest but don’t necessarily focus on the trees. Ask my hiking partners. I’m always ready to move on to something else and with haste.
So, here I am, forcing myself to slow down. At first glance, the understory of Reddy Branch is a mass of rose, honeysuckle, bittersweet, and fallen branches. I decided to start down by the creek as I had noticed a massive Japanese honeysuckle in the winter that was dominating too large of an area. I pushed myself through the mass of rose to get to the honeysuckle, and, in the midst of being stabbed, I happened upon a small spicebush. It wasn’t much to look at. But, here, where it seems so little actually belongs here, it was a minor victory.
With its ephemeral yellow blossoms which are little more than fuzz sporadically placed on its thin branches, the solitary spicebush is hard to see from a distance. In a healthy forest, it masses and creates a yellow haze in the early spring. The C & O Canal National Park, deserving far more accolades than it receives, is alive with color in early spring. For miles (184 if you are up for it), you can walk or ride with the simple beauty of the spicebush near at hand. And, if you go in April, you will have the spring wildflowers as added companions. I went for a ride after my work at Reddy Branch and was rewarded with miles of early spring color. I also posted a photo of Virginia Bluebells, a common sight this time of year.
Lindera Benzoin, the American spicebush, is a lowly plant, both in stature (it grows to 15 feet) and in importance. It has little commercial use and can be found in any high quality woods in mesic (moist) soils. Its range extends from the Hudson Bay in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River. So, here in the East, it should be found in any forest near to water-I’m going to work on that. Its primary importance seems to be to the spicebush swallowtail butterfly which I have not seen here. Perhaps not anywhere. I will have do more research and observation.
So, I find myself on another quest-to uncover the spicebush in the hope that it will spread and in the even more ridiculous hope that a butterfly might find its way to these woods.
My work continues.
My photograph does little justice but this is one of the larger specimens I uncovered.