Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Jan. 8, 1983.
THE DAY WAS NOT far spent when a small flock of chickadees discovered me walking through the woods. It was early enough so that the sun had not gained a foothold through the morning fog.
Our “White Christmas” had passed and now the ground was bare again thanks to warm soft winds out of the south. Here and there were faint traces of snow on the shady side of stones. Along the brook were rather forlorn appearing patches of ice that would not be able to stand long after this day’s sun had stretched, yawned and brightened the day. All that would remain would be damp patches on the ground.
I always speak to chickadees. They expect me to and although no one can interpret our discussion, word for word, a general understanding of friendly greeting is accomplished. It was a most satisfactory exchange and my day was greatly improved because of it. I had heard them before I saw them, for they had been hidden in thick hemlock foliage. When they did appear they twisted their heads this way and that as if they wanted to see me from all angles. Then as quickly as they had come they disappeared, taking their cheerful voices with them.
I walked on, pausing from time to time to catch my breath, for the hill was becoming quite steep. It was at one of these pauses that I heard the brook. It had been singing to me right along, but it had not got through to me. Now that it did, the thought occurred that I don’t always listen. I sometimes don’t hear people that I know are there either. Too often I take them for granted as I had the brook. I should listen more.
It also occurred to me that this part of the day was not owed to anyone. So much of our time is taken up working for someone or something that we feel guilty when we take time for ourselves. That must be where that expression “stealing time” came from. Our Puritan ethic is strong, amazingly so after all these generations.
There is something about being alone in a wood that is stimulating to me. Our world is truly beautiful and it needs to be looked at and appreciated.
By the time I had reached the top of the hill the sun still had not chased the morning fog away. I found a seat on a fallen hemlock trunk and faced the valley. It was a grand vista from south across the eastern hills and to the north, the hills of Swanzey and beyond. At the center of this panorama was Grand Monadnock, to me the most picturesque mountain in the Northeast. It is our mountain of southwest New Hampshire and is especially beloved by us natives.
I could see barely the outlines of our farm buildings. A bit to the north of the farmstead is our pine forest growing on a south-facing slope. It was free of fog — a dark green — for the sun was not yet strong enough to shine the green to a silver sheen, like a touch of moonlight.
I searched for some movement, some flight of bird or scurrying in the treetops below me, but nothing stirred. In summer, when all woods are full with foliage, much activity is hidden.
Even so, from this place I often see many kinds of birds, yes, even tiny wood warblers flying through the treetops or above. This day I hoped at least to see a crow wing its way upward from the river and alight nearby my stopping place where I could observe without being observed. That’s a situation I enjoy being in. Although I patiently waited until all the ground fog had been chased away by the sun, nothing moved.
Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at firstname.lastname@example.org.