Symbiosis

While the tree branches are still bare, and there are no flash green plants to pull focus, I decided to spend this morning’s walk looking at evidence of cooperation at a small scale.Lichens are organisms that developed through a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. This partnership has gone on to form many variations, and the different shapes and colors add visual variety to what would otherwise be a pretty monotone winter landscape.

When I picture lichen, I tend to imagine subdued shades of olive and willow green, pale bottle green… possibly mixed with chalky ivory or slate gray.But lichens also come in bright, almost phosphorescent tones of chartreuse, and even basketball orange…
or egg-yolk yellow…and other hues that wake up my eyes to the other overlooked colors in an otherwise muted landscape.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Randi Hausken; Holly Gramazio; Kaarina Dillabough; Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCulloughAndy Armstrong; Dominic Alves; and Richard Droker© 2018 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

50 Shades of Gray

Woke this morning to a steady rain. Checked the forecast and saw more of the same until at least mid-afternoon. So I pulled on some layers, set my umbrella near the front door, helped Dash don his bright orange rain slicker, and headed out into the gray.Puddles on the wet asphalt of the Huckleberry Trail reflected the bright silver sky… in fact, the whole landscape felt a bit as if it had been plated with silver.The rain started late the night before and continued past dawn, so our local creek was full of rushing water, and the small, rocky tributaries were splashing, too.

It’s so much easier to see subtle variations of color in tree bark and the dried leaves and stems when they have a moist veneer to give them a quiet sheen. Plus, when the conditions are right it can feel like living in a cloud… feet firmly planted on land but also somehow not exactly earthbound.

I’m not sure why the phrase “gray day” is so often used to evoke sadness, or depression, or similarly negative connotations. Gray is a beautiful color and, as long as gray skies don’t continue for so long they become monotonous, a gray day can provide plenty to smile about… like the chattered scoldings of a gray squirrel, or the muted hello of a mourning dove. 

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Tracie Hall; Muddy_Lens; Mathilde AUDIAU; Caleb RoenigkLindley Ashline; and Richard© 2018 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Breezy

The trail through my local suburban woodland in Blacksburg is about as far from the coast as one can be and still stand in Virginia, but when I stopped and closed my eyes Monday morning I was instantly transported to a beach soundscape. 

The wind traced arcs through the sky with tree branches and, in the process, sounded just like a roaring surf on a winter beach.It’s hard to NOT be present to the moment, and the weather, when the mercury is hovering in the low 20s (fahrenheit) and the wind is poking and prying into every possible crack in your cold weather armor. That’s one upside of a frigid, blustery day!Another benefit, at least from a mindfulness perspective, is that on a windy day the landscape is filled with movement and motion. The staid, familiar landscape is dancing, trees and grasses are swaying to the beat of the breeze, keeping the eyes and mind entertained.
My ears are entertained, too, because along with the sound of surf I hear a kind of natural wind chime. There’s a small stand of bamboo growing along one segment of the Huckleberry trail, escaped from someone’s backyard I suppose. On windy days the stalks bump and jostle one another, forming meandering melodies.  I quiet my judgmental mind for a while and enjoy their music.The woods have been pretty quiet lately. Many mornings, Dash and I are the only ones on the trail, as both human and non-human residents hole up in their dens and nests, avoiding cold temperatures, rain, and snow. But the neighborhood birds were out and about this morning, looking for breakfast and warming up their singing voices… even though it was hard to be heard over tree limbs creaking and moaning.

I guess Spring will be blowing into town in no time at all!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Kim Manley Ort, Elizabeth Donoghue, Richard Miles., Johan BlomströmJeff Laitila, and John Carrel© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Blush

With over 2 months to go before the Spring Equinox I can already see signs of spring if I look closely.It’s the sheerest touch of red that begins to brighten the woodsy grays and browns that are so prevalent during December and January… and I don’t mean glimpses of a northern cardinals or the American robins who stick around even when the mercury stays huddled at the bottom of a outdoor thermometer.Some years, I don’t even notice this subtle change until a coating of ice highlights every branch and bud, reflecting the light in such a way that the scales fall from my eyes and, suddenly, I can SEE again.After that first recognition of the year, though, I can’t keep myself from seeing the vegetal signs of life everywhere I look.The woods are waking up, no doubt. The trees may still be in that semi-dreaming state but their circulatory system is pumping again, as the maple sugarers in the Northeastern US will soon be able to attest.Speaking of… I think I may need to have some pancakes for breakfast… a celebration of the sweetness of mid-winter and generous trees. An early morning walk makes for a hungry hiker!

Are you seeing a blush of spring in your own winter woods? If so, share your photos and comments below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: idintify media, Julie Falk, j.casey.oneill, Belinda Church, Mark Goebel, and Sylvia Chan© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]