The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Cabin Fever is early this year

Cabin Fever is that mid-winter ailment that forces one, eventually, to either leave the house or kill everyone too slow to escape. In some ways, I feel as though the ailment arrived shortly after Christmas a year ago and never really left.

The weather – and maybe my aging biology – have conspired the past few weeks to keep me off my favorite mountains. When it was warm enough to enjoy the trip, rain was just enough to be bothersome. Cameras, even those claimed to be “water repellant” – not at all synonymous with “waterproof” – do not take kindly to being carried in the rain.

It’s not much of a mountain, compared to some I’ve hiked or driven, but it’s reasonably close to home, and not unenjoyably populated. Time being a little short, I likely would drive, stopping a few times to get out and look closer at various eye-catchers. On the other hand, at this time of year, the woods is a quiet place, especially on the ground where, in warmer times, I would be seeking mushrooms and other denizens of the planetary surface.

I let my mind wander to a previous mid-winter cruise along one of my favorite two-track roads. A parade of turkeys wandered just out of camera range, close enough that I could see the bright beard on the lead gobbler’s head. Bushes whose raiment would in a few months thwart my ability to focus the camera now stand nude, their leaves covering the ground with the coming spring fertilizer.

I try to follow the gobbler, in hopes of a clearer shot. He toddled off, maintaining distance until I looked down to place my feet on some stones and when I looked back, Mr. Turkey was gone.

Back in the present, the evening sky takes on a beautiful deep cobalt blue from which a slivered crescent moon hangs by invisible threads. But the beautiful sky also announces cold nights as the region’s heat – what there is of it, radiates into space from the unclad earth.

The TV weather guy says we will see a couple inches of snow where I live, but by the time we have measured it, rain will have turned it into a layer of ice.

A large bird, a flash of black and white in the corner of my eye, lit high in a partially dead oak. I stopped to look for it, employing a trick I learned long ago: Look in a general direction, but at nothing in particular, and wait for something to move.

There! In the fork of the next tree to the right, a Pileated Woodpecker, black and white with a bright red, crested beret sweeping off the back of his head. Woody Woodpecker was a Pileated Woodpecker. He was smaller than the one I saw.

As I tried to maneuver for a shot, the rascal launched through the treetops, across the road, and gone.

Easier to track was a Downy Woodpecker, high up in a deader tree, tapping away, trying to scare up lunch. He must have been successful; he allowed me several frames before deciding the snacks would be better at the next diner.

I am happy to report there is plenty of wild in the life on South Mountain. That’s the thing about wandering in the woods: when for some reason one cannot get there, one can pull out a video of past trips.

I have wandered in many cities, and remember snippets of museums, train rides, and other experiences. But none of those are as rejuvenating as a wander in the woods, even in mental replay.

Thanks for coming along. Please take a moment to share the ride, and to leave a comment.


  1. Thanks! A fine reminder that I need more ‘woods’ time!

    • Even my wife says my demeanor improves markedly after a few hours in the woods. And during the past few years there have been a few research projects that show I’m not particularly unique in that regard.

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