A Year of Watching

april's spot

A couple of years ago, I read about a man who identified a small piece of land and then observed that spot at regular intervals over the course of an entire year.  On each visit, he made notes on the changes he observed.  After the year had ended, he wrote a book about the experience of getting to know a place in every season and weather.   I don’t remember the name of the man or his book, but the idea intrigued me.  

So a year ago in June, I chose a small spot in the forest near my house and began making weekly forays down into the woods.  

Full disclosure requires me to confess, though, that my project got off to an inauspicious start.  I chose a spot, made some notes, and then couldn’t find the place again the following week!  So I had to choose another spot, one that was easier for me to identify!

My new spot was triangular in shape, bounded on two sides by long logs.  And I could always locate it because nearby was a dead tree leaning against a living one.

So for a year, once every week (except for the few occasions when we were gone for the entire week), I visited my spot in the woods.  There I sat on one of the two logs, looking, listening, taking notes and sometimes photos.  On days when the logs were wet or snow-covered, I stood or squatted as I watched and listened.

Well, my year of visits to that spot ended in June, and I have two small notebooks full of a year’s worth of ‘noticings.’  I will share here some of last summer’s notes,  from mid-June through the end of July.  And from time to time over the coming months, I will share noticings from the rest of the year as well.   

JUNE

  • When I took my glasses from their case, I let it snap shut.  Instantly, a deer leaped up from just the other side of a nearby oak.  Frightened by my loud noise, it bounded off.  I had no idea a deer had been sleeping so close by.  
  • I notice my first Indian Pipes of the season.  They are shaped like tiny croquet hoops with both ends in the ground.  I assume the top ends will soon emerge, and the little plants will assume their usual cane-shape.  I’ve never noticed Indian Pipes at this early stage before.
  • Out of the brown, leaf-strewn ground are growing lots of plants: several small bushes (I never was able to identify them); numerous baby chestnut oaks, each sporting two bright green leaves; and several tiny red maples.  The leaves of the very young maples seem to be longer than the wide leaves of mature trees.  Then there are acorns scattered about, in various stages of decomposing.
  • Mosquitoes whine near me, and the air is never empty of birdsong.

JULY

  • The Indian Pipes are changing.  One clump is withered and brown.  Another clump, still whitish, is missing all its caps.  I’ve never seen a bunch of Indian Pipes without their flowers.
  • The birds are quieter today.  I hear fairly steady chirping, but not the full-throated singing I heard here last week.
  • The baby oaks are thriving.  Many have sprouted another pair of leaves, much lighter and brighter than the first pair.  Might any of these baby oaks actually make it to adulthood?  Near one of them is a split acorn.  And inside the empty shell is attached a little film or net.  On either end is a big hole.  What tiny animal has made a home of this old acorn?
  • After a night of a good soaking rain, it’s a wet morning.  Every breeze is accompanied by one of my favorite sounds–raindrops blown from the leaves above onto the dead ones below.  In my space is a full, healthy-looking mushroom that was not there before.
  • There is no sign of most of the Indian Pipes I saw here before.  Only one of the clumps is visible at all, and the pipes are dark and shrunken.  They would have gone completely unnoticed in the dead, brown leaves if I hadn’t been looking for them.  Amazing how many plants–animals too, I guess, come and go without leaving a trace.
  • No more new, baby green leaves on the tiny oaks in my spot.  In fact, a few of the young oak leaves already look ragged and beat-up.
  • It’s a warm, humid morning.  Birds are singing casually–a phoebe and another I can’t identify.  The plump, damp mushroom that looked so healthy just a few days ago has vanished.  I know roughly where it was, but now I see no sign of its ever having been there.  The leaning, dead tree that last week was black with absorbed rain is paler now;  it has dried some.  I think a pileated woodpecker has been working on the log where I sit.  The bird bored such a long, deep hole that the log is cracking underneath.
  • The longer I sit, the more I hear.  A woodpecker tapping in the distance.  A bird chirp that I cannot identify.  An insect flying by.  The growing buzz of mosquitoes in my ears.  Then a shadow of a hovering insect appears on the open page of my notebook.–April Moore  

 

 

 

 

 

4 Responses to “A Year of Watching”

  1. Todd Waymon Says:

    April, Try “The Forest Unseen” by a David George Haskell. It may be what you are looking for. I keep it by the bed, makes a nice end to the day. Be well, Todd

  2. Linda Shaw Says:

    A year of birdwatching.
    on the same lines as watching the same patch of land, we watch the family of birds that frequent our yard. By taking photos I am able to identify the one female (she has been bald for 3 years) and her family. I learned that she has mites and while it makes her up do a bit unsitely and worrisome she is perfectly able to mother a brood.

    My piece of land is our back wooded yard. We have had many changes in the wild life patterns in the past 5 years. It comes with the development and the amount of rainfall etc.

    Thank you for this post.. It is yet another reminder of how the art of listening and watching helps us to notice the most beautiful part of our life… nature as it unfolds.

  3. Patsy Wagner Says:

    How fascinating! Your experiences make me want to try something similar myself. I will look forward to the next episode.

  4. Tanya Says:

    Fascinating project, April. I look forward to future installments.

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