Quiet Beauty

Sixty-five degrees in the shade. Time to shed a few layers. And so I did before I stumbled through the snow to my sit spot. I didn’t feel like wearing snowshoes, so it felt like I was digging post holes again.


I set up camp at the opening of the cowpath. Shades of green, brown and white surrounded me. Once in a while I spied a touch of contrast–one red berry on a Wintergreen and a few weathered purplish-red berries of a Canada Mayflower.

canada mayflower

The deer had moved through yesterday afternoon and again this morning. We watched them cross the field, which is still snow-covered. They paused by the stonewall to browse before climbing over it and into our woods. Their presence was noted everywhere.

stone wall deer

juniper 2juniper 3

Before moving on, they stopped at the junipers that grow along one section of the stonewall. The shrubs are filled with berries–green, blue and even gray. I find it curious that these berries are supposed to provide food for deer and yet, there are still so many there. All of the exposed juniper bushes are laden with berries.


Right at the opening of the cowpath is this decaying log. I’ve observed the life it supports for the past few years. It reminds me of a similar log below a tree in my childhood backyard. My two playmates and I named the tree “Treetonic” and we each had a chosen branch that served as our home. Mine was the lowest one–I was the more cautious of the three. We used to dig small chunks out of the log below to create our “meals” of meat and vegetables. Wow–I can’t believe I remember that.

Back to the present–two years ago I found a couple of tiny white pine saplings growing on this log, but today there was no sight of them. Often, I’ve discovered acorn shells. And once, close to Halloween, I found plugs of red squirrel hair–lots of it. It was extremely soft, about an inch or more long, white at the base, then black, and topped with reddish brown–which had some black specks. I called it the Frankenhair Mystery in honor of Halloween and the fact that “Frankenstorm” Sandy was on the horizon.

Today, it was the mossy mat that made me pull out my colored pencils. A tree dies, falls to the ground, begins to decompose. Lichens colonize it, blown in as spores in the air–a topic for another day. Moss grows over the lichen, taking advantage of moisture trapped in the organic matter. Eventually, the moss adds to the organic material and helps build a soil base. Once the moss mat is established, grasses, sedges, ferns and herbs invade–arriving by wind-borne spores or seeds (or perhaps even via rainwater and spring tales, aka snow fleas, as suggested in “A Chemical Romance . . . Among the Mosses” in the winter 2012 issue of Northern Woodlands magazine.)

common haircap

The moss mat, like that created by this Common Haircap Moss, takes on vertical complexity–soil,  moisture, organic matter all build up. Plant richness increases. If the soil builds up sufficiently, it can support more extensive root systems of woody plants, like the white pine sapling.


Common Haircap Moss grows in thick patches everywhere I look. Using my hand lens, I can see that the narrow, lance-shaped leaves have toothed edges. I love getting a closer look through the lens. I can see how the leaves clasp the stem. Then I looked at the spore capsule with its copper-wiry stem and four-sided hood that looks like it’s seen better days–because it has.


I’m not sure about this photo–I thought I was looking at two different mosses, but it may be that one is a moist form of haircap and the other is a dry form, with the leaves drawn in–but it does seem to have a wilder appearance. What wowed me when I looked through the lens was the color of the stem. Without the lens, it looked like it was basic brown. A closer look revealed reds, and pinks, and yellows and greens. And scaly leaves hugging the stem. Maybe as time goes on I’ll have a better idea of what it is–but I’m so glad I took the time to view it up close, where it quietly revealed its beauty on a day dedicated to quiet reflection.


Days when I make time to wander and wonder and discover the quiet beauty that surrounds me are my favorite kind of days.

Thanks for tagging along to enjoy today’s wonder.