Tale of 2 Forests 

I have been frequenting a parcel of NY State land in Rural Grove that is 10 minutes from my home over the past 3 years. It is a typical upstate NY forest with areas of dense pines, more open deciduous areas, meadows, streams, wetlands, and a large swamp that graces the road 1 mile in. I have painted here numerous times and for a time this was my nearby forest home.

During my many visits it became obvious that I wasn’t the only visitor to this forest. There were signs of others. Such as the piles of wasted ammo shells along the road, a signal that there was a bit of shooting. I wanted to hope it was shooting practice, but upon noticing the empty large floating turtle shell  in the swamp I knew I was wrong. I have found many piles of shells and at this point I shudder to think of what innocent creature was gunned down on a drunken night in the woods.

Things came to a “head” last year. It was the thick of winter with the snow piled at least a foot high.  It was a great sunny day for walking my dog. As I parked my car I noticed a few large objects in the snow. To my dismay I discovered they were huge gory pig heads! Someone had dumped 3 decaying pig heads in the pristine white woods! They were HUGE, and ugly and full of death. They were obviously not wild pigs. I drew in my breath, got the dog back in my car and drove further in the park to another spot. I never parked there again….not even in 2 years.

It was awhile before I would go back to this forest. Bugs in the spring and busy life kept me away long enough to forget the horror pig head scene and eventually by the summer I would visit this forest again to seek my peace there.

Until this past month. I was there again for another winter walk with my dog. It was the very first time I have decided to park my car at the pig head spot. (It’s the closest to the road, and in the winter I don’t dare drive any further in for fear of getting stuck!) It seemed safe enough, although I admit I was uneasy and still looking towards the spot where those 3 heads were a year ago.

The dog and I began our walk on the icy road, and it was difficult to navigate. I decided to walk to the next parking spot and then turn around. I was eager to turn around and go back before one of us hurt ourselves falling on this treacherous ice. As I turned around I could see a large pile of fur, hair, bones, guts… no blood. So odd! I looked closer but at this point curiosity was turning to disgust. I saw parts and I could not even identify the poor creature. It didn’t look like a natural death, for animals of the forest use every single part of an animal and nothing but scant bones are left. This was a pile of random entrails —and it reeked of foul Human Intervention —and it was also the death knoll for me and this particular forest.

Realize that I am not immune to the life and death cycles in a woodland environment. I have spent many years in the upstate NY eco system and finding these parts and heads is just not natural. In fact, it’s unnatural and it really got to me. I have collected dear bones and animal skulls from the forest before, but this was beyond me. I vowed to leave, and never come back.

The dog and I hurried back to the car. Not only was I unnerved by the latest weird death scene, but also by the fact that I knew my love affair with this forest was over. I just had to leave this behind. I drove away and when I left for some reason I took a left instead of a right. I was on an adventure on a road I had not taken before hoping to take my mind off of my forest issues. Thankfully I ended up on a different road that I was familiar with and I headed for home and then I saw a sign for a Nature Trail. I had seen this sign before but I have never checked it out, preferring entire tracts of state land to a   mere nature trail! But I had the dog with me and we really hadn’t walked much, so I turned in.

It turned out to so much more than a nature trail! I started up the hill through a forest full of mossy stone walls, birch trees, pines, and even a pond. At the top of the hill I couldn’t believe my eyes! There was a lean-to complete with a fire ring overlooking the pond. This was amazing!Lean-tos are usually found miles into the woods and are provided as a spot for camping when in the back country. This was not too deep in the forest and it is a perfect spot to stop and rest and breathe in the sights and sounds of this wood. I considered this rare thing as a good sign, and a gift from the forest.

I was immediately obsessed. The next available day off I had, I trekked out to this new forest to investigate it’s trails and see new sights. While I was hiking, I was drawn to a particular freshly fallen tree. I don’t really understand what drew me to this tree instead of the dozens of other trees and stumps that lie on the forest floor, but I was seriously compelled to stop and take a closer look. Upon examination, I discovered it was something that I have been seeking for awhile, a basswood tree. The inner bark of the Basswood tree has special properties. It was used by indigenous cultures for lacing of baskets when rolled in the palm it became a particularly strong type of twine called bast. This tree had fallen and it’s inner bark was ripe for the taking. The forest had given me it’s second gift.

I took a few strips, only enough to use for myself, and lugged it back to my car.

In my next visit I discovered the white birch groves on the back side of the pond. The White Birch is my absolute favorite of all trees. I never found a birch in the Rural Grove forest, but here I was surrounded by them. I considered this another sign. My third gift. There are several downed birches and many standing dead ones here and I took 3 pieces of bark back home with me.

At home, I considered these special things and I felt I should make something with them, to commemorate the new forest. I want to give back to this forest what it has given me. The current political climate, the absolute desperate need to take care of our environment, my forest experience…it all has led to a life changing moment. I have decided to seriously dedicate my life to environmental awareness and immediately I have begun to implement this change in my life, in my teaching, and also in my art.

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