Living in a somewhat urbanized environment, I find it difficult to stave off the feelings of being suffocated by too much that is manmade, stark, grey, ugly. I daydream about time spent elsewhere, in more rural and wild places. But such as things are, I’m here now and as my children guide me through the day, I find ways to discover natural wonder in the wilds already surrounding us. To borrow the phrase from Tom Brown’s Field Guide to the Forgotten Wilderness, it is easy to forget that there are things of value to learn and observe just outside of the door. We crossed the street this morning to sit and watch a cicada slowly vibrating out from its nymph skin, clinging to the brick, stretching legs and wings like unfolding origami. Where it could find no tree or stone for its ecdysis, it chose the first vertical surface nearby, the side of the house.
We walked the dogs down to the end of the street sometime after breakfast, skirting the long, low fence to the dog park as we have a hundred times previous. The smell of freshly cut grass still hung in the air, clearing the ground for a fresh sprout of mushrooms, likely to be washed away in the rain of the afternoon. I’m no mycologist, but they look to be Chlorophyllum Molybdites, commonly known as False Parasol or, more aptly, Vomiter—aptly the most frequently ingested poisonous mushroom in North America (no, I didn’t try them).
The day went by slowly and not without its sense of crossing things off the list. The sky had cleared and much of the humidity brought in by last Friday’s storms disappeared by early afternoon. The sun was out and breeze blowing and I’d strung the hammock between the corner post of a fence and one of the Lobolly Pine standing, outstretched, over the back yard. I often think of it as the ugliest of the three trees that separate my yard from my neighbor’s; the other two stand taller, their branches more like arms drawn in close to the body. The tree closest to the northern eave is crowned with a (literal) crow’s nest, its inhabitants calling out from time to time. I imagine them complaining of encroaching squirrels or mockingbirds. But the middle tree is short, curved, with irregular branches that jut far into the yard to rain needles and cones down into the lawn below. It is to this trunk that my hammock was tied, and I noticed something—two-needle clusters, each growing out in pairs, tufted along the low branches. A rare quality, an exception to the telltale three-needle cluster of the ubiquitous Loblolly. This one sapheaded tree was unique in a small but unexpected way.
Lobolly pine is actually one of the most common species of tree in the United States. In the thousands, they compose a forest. In triplet, they demarcate my property. And like any other, my meager woods provides food and shelter to crow, mockingbird, woodpecker, squirrel, and insects. It’s where I “camp,” if only for a lazy afternoon in the hammock. It’s where I collect kindling for the fire, stock for pine-needle tea, find shade from the sun, wall to the wind, and the arched spine of a root peeking from the surface of my lawn every few feet or so. The trees are different. The trees are the same. Each bears its sentence, its confinement to the world of hedgerows and stunted grass; each bears its own sense of wild.