In these woods there are innumerable nooks and crannies, mysteries and secrets waiting to be uncovered. This is how I remember these bottomland forests, as a place to disappear lost in the joy of an imagination as dark, pungent, and rich as the thick undergrowth. I’m all grown up now and these woods may not, but I am rediscovering them with new eyes and senses.
It is dry this summer and many of the stagnant streams have withered. The main stream though still gushes a thin and constant rivulet of water collected now in pollen covered pools above the beaver dams. The banks of the creek are bushy and overgrown, as is the old path, though I can still find the way. Leopard frogs dash from the banks and squeak into the muddy depths while river turtles might break the surface waters for a gulp of air. If you are patient you might see more wild things also, utterly candid. I have silently watched beavers paddle down these watery pathways unaware, lounging on their backs. I’ve come across monstrous old snapping turtles disturbed after spring floods. I’ve startled colorful ducks in the swamp and watched flocks of cedar waxwings feed on wild berries at dusk.
I keep my senses open for all of these things as I pad through the undergrowth but I also notice the trees now. Tall stately sycamores and rigid black walnut litter the forest floor with seed husks. Along the banks are iron wood, laurel oaks, spice bush, and many more. Some evenings I walk back here with a medicinal plant guide I’ve become enamored of. I’ve discovered the joy of the trees unmoving, always growing and changing. I have been especially thrilled to discover the paw-paw, the wild custard apple (Asimona triloba). Like bulbous green potatoes their fruit hangs from the flimsy branches beside the overgrown trail. Ripe, they taste to me like a fruit I’m very fond of called Chirimoya, found in the markets in South America. They are in the same family, and the flesh IS custardy, like papaya, sweet with a touch of vanilla. The perfect accompaniment sliced on a breakfast of granola with yoghurt and honey. Who knew, my wild secret garden bearing its fruit after all these years….