I went on a hike through the West Liberty University woodlands. It’s a great place for anyone who wants to gather their thoughts without people distractions so I knew I would be alone. As I hiked I began counting bird songs. There were many familiar voices and one new for me, at least for this year: a Louisiana waterthrush.
My physical work, while I counted bird songs, was to cut a new trail for two classes I’ll be teaching in the near future: a spring nature hike with my college students and a wildflowers and weeds class for the Master Naturalist series. As I progressed, an eastern garter snake caught my eye and refused to move far enough to avoid an imminent collision with my weed cutter. I caught the snake and gently tossed it a short safe distance away. Old friends greeted me as I continued: Virginia Spring Beauties, Bloodroot, Sharp-leaved Hepatica and others.
After my work was finished I sat on a fallen oak branch overlooking a stream. In a quiet pool there were water striders gliding and chasing across the surface guarding unmarked territories.
A thought suddenly caught me off guard and I was unexpectedly face-to-face with my mortality. The same giant, gnarled, dead, dry branch I sat on was the very same branch I had sat under 40+ years earlier. Then the tree had been very much alive and massive. Today the tree exists as fodder for bacteria, fungi and many kinds of invertebrates…and as a comfortable seat for a tired explorer. I sat back watching clouds, avoiding intellectual distractions and thinking things from my heart.