The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

A beautiful time for a drive or a walk

Mallard hen on her nestBeside a road off Pa. Route 34, somewhere north of Gettysburg, Don Yost and John Deere team up to pull a chisel plow through a field of corn stubble.

Last year was no-till for the field, and the crop was corn. No-till means the ground is left unturned, the roots of the previous crop keep the hillside from flowing to the bottom in heavy rains, and new seed poked into the earth with a tool made for the task.

This year, the chisel plow turns the ground to open it to rain and sun, and soybeans will be planted to multiply into food for chickens or oil to run diesel trucks hauling the products to market.

Pale blossoms spread across the orchards like satin waves of a princess’ wedding gown. In and around houses along the way, Redbuds and other species celebrate Spring with their earth-bound fireworks displays. A mother held her daughter’s hand as the two wandered across a field of grass and wildflowers. Farther on, a gopher stood motionless in the weeds beside an orchard.

Ghosts of orchards past hold sway next to a residential development named for the apples that, ironically, no longer grow there. But many of the trees lying bottom-uppers have simply lived their productive term and will be replaced with young specimens, much the way we humans grow old and grizzled, and move off to make room for the kids to prosper.

Soon will be Apple Blossom Festival – the first full weekend in May – check out the website at for particulars.

Along more forested byways, sunlight through newly leafed-out bushes lends an eery light green haze to the undergrowth. Layers of white dogwood blossoms form clouds over the green pseudo-haze.

Grady the Golden Retriever and I stopped near a small pond. I began to follow a trail, with Grady, as is his wont, ranging ahead of me. For some reason known only to himself, he must be in the lead. Suddenly there was a flurry of activity and a Mallard hen rushed from her resting place and into the water, where she posed for pictures and slowly swam away from where I stood.

I continued following Grady as he inventoried the many smells laid down by passersby. Suddenly, there it was, at the base of a large tree, formed deep into the duff – from eight feet away, the nest and its nine eggs was invisible, even when I knew where it was. I took a picture, and we continued on our way.

Ducks Unlimited says incubation is about a month, maybe less. I intend to keep an eye on the nest. I found a spot within range of my 300mm lens to try for pictures without having to disturb Mom-to-Be. She is far enough from my home I won’t be able to get there daily, (that probably is not a bad thing) but I will know within a couple of days when the eggs have hatched, and count the ducklings trailing her around the pond.

Back home from our drive/walk, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds appears to have finally built a nest within sight of my studio window. Three years we have been watching them arrive, look the place over, and move on. This year, they appear to be ferociously defending their chosen territory against House Sparrows, starlings, and any other miscreants who get too close.

An occasional bright yellow Goldfinch bullets across my view, and the first hummer has appeared at our feeders. Maybe this will be the year I find a nest.

It’s starting to be a good year at the edge of the woods.

1 Comment

  1. What an evocative story. I felt like I was walking with you and taking in all the sights, sounds an scents.

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