An Emerald Forest

There is a small stretch of Carolinian forest, thousands of miles from where I now live, that has as strong a hold on my heart as almost anything in my life.The truth is that the thought of the place rarely ever leaves my mind but the pull is particularly strong in the Spring and, I find, even more urgent around the 24th of May.

It is an extraordinary spot, bursting with new green life at this time of year. There is a creek that burbles along..nothing much more than a muddy brook…but when I was a child I thought it was absolute magic. It was full of crayfish and rainbow darters and water spiders. There were painted turtles in the side pools and sometimes I would lie on my belly, eyes barely above the greenery, trying to be as quiet as I could, while I waited for those frightened turtles to resurface. There were always raccoon tracks in the mud along the riverbank. I remember taking a cardboard collar, mixing up some plaster of paris and making casts of those tracks.

There are undoubtedly still mayapples on that forest floor. There are wine-coloured trilliums in amongst all of their snowy-white counterparts. There are jack-in-the-pulpits and lady slipper orchids. And I can state, with absolute confidence, that the fiddleheads have already pushed their way through the paper-like sheaths of last year’s crowns. I used to plug my nose from the smell of skunk cabbage and snap the stems of the bloodroot to watch the orange sap flow.

In another week or so the undergrowth will be so lush that all of the rotting leaves from last Fall and the broken twigs from Winter storms will be obliterated by this unstoppable vegetative carpet.

Morels in May

In the sandy loam, near the base of the wild grapevines, there will be morels. My father showed me my first morel when I was not much taller than the ferns and he instilled in me a kind of natural awe for wild mushrooms ( both in the dirt and the frying pan) that lasts to this very day.

I had profound solitary experiences in this forest. I stumbled upon a bee tree once, jammed a big stick up into the trunk and withdrew a sopping, gooey branch just loaded with honey. I found the creek so full of suckers in the Spring that I could almost walk across their frantic wriggling backs. I still remember my heart leaping into my throat when a big ring-necked pheasant exploded from under my feet one quiet morning while I was poking through the underbrush. I can hear the cry of blue jays in the branches overhead. I can still see the fireflies appearing in the gloom between the trees as I hurried home too late after dusk.

This is the Eastern forest of my youth. When I moved my family to British Columbia I was flabbergasted by the coastal counterpart. You feel insignificant in a West coast rain forest. The trees are impossibly big. The ferns look like something out of  The Lost World. You are walking inside an Emily Carr painting. It is indescribably beautiful but, at least for me, it was never truly embraceable. I wanted a forest I could feel part of. I wanted to be able to connect. As I say, that stand of timber is a long way away but when I close my eyes I can be there in a flash.

I visit this place every time I go home..for it still feels like home though I haven’t lived there for decades. It’s my pilgrimage. It’s busier now. There are bike paths and joggers and lots of people walking dogs. I see that the city is thinking about putting a small concrete bridge over the creek.

But despite the inevitable congestion it is saturated with memories. I saw it at its a time in life when it seemed to be mine, when I was naive enough to believe that I was the only one who could know all of its secrets. We should all be so lucky as to feel this connected to one spot. If you go back and find that some trace of it still exists…you are blessed.


10 Responses to “An Emerald Forest”

    Beautifully expressed.

  2. A beautiful spot and love the photo of your forest. The green is ah well, it is my favorite color, is gorgeous. I love the forest too. Many of my photographs are of the forest. Nice blog to read.

  3. lovely

  4. This has definitely become one of my favourite of your blogs. What you described is the ingredient missing in the lives of children these days. Brilliantly written.

    • Thanks j.d. Boy, you said a mouthful. I feel sorry for kids who can’t find much measure of comfort unless it’s somehow electronically connected to their thumbs.

  5. Grant Bowen Says:

    Sounds like the forest behind my childhood home in Oakville, Ontario. We used to go out there and build dams on our creek and roast apples…

  6. Don Whiteside Says:

    I can hear and smell it right now! Sublime!

  7. Your Secret Garden Shared, thanks for taking us there! Nice blog!

  8. “I want a forest I could feel part of. I wanted to be able to connect.”

    There’s really no substitute for the land you’re in love with, and I hear you about feeling a part of the carolinian. When you’ve taken the time to get to know it, learned about the different plants and creatures and communities, then even small scraps of wild become deep with richness and meaning.

    The area has changed a lot here in the last few decades, but the painted turtles still peek from the shallows, even in the don river. You mentionned the rapid growth of human populations here — there are many more edge communities now, places where the carolinian interacts with urban or rural human land use to form new and interesting arrangements. But it is increasingly meaning that it’s harder to go back to those forests of your youth.

    If you’re interested in some nature writing coming out of the Carolinian zone, check out our site. Our goal is to explore how an intimate knowledge of the land can advise activism.

    good adventures,


    • Thanks for your comment. You are right about the changes to these treasured sites. Sometimes a good part of them exist only in the mind’s eye. It’s a thrill, though, when you can find some tangible measure of it waiting to be rediscovered.

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