Friday, April 15, 2022

Quiet Times: Ferns Emerging

Ferns Emerging

This morning on my walk in the forest at Elderberry, the rustling of leaves alerted me to the swift and smooth sprint of a wild turkey across the length of my section of the woods. Of course, the turkey had seen me first. It was a nice surprise. 

Another wonderful surprise in the forest here has been the number and variety of ferns emerging from their winter sleep. The woods are full of spring fiddleheads. Fiddleheads look just like the word sounds – they are unfurling fern fronds that resemble the top of a violin.

Because I began walking these woods last winter, I was familiar with the evergreen Christmas ferns, so named because they are still green at Christmas. In fact, I sometimes accidentally call them “Christmas tree ferns!”. We have a deciduous forest at Elderberry – most of the trees drop their leaves in the fall, turning everything brown and gray. There are a few pines, cedars, and holly trees, but what puts a vibrant splash of green in the bleak landscape are the Christmas ferns and the running cedar ground cover, both of which blanket the ground in some parts of our forest.

I expected to see plenty of Christmas fern fiddleheads emerge this spring from the center of the old flattened fronds, and I have not been disappointed. However, it has been enchanting to see the delicate fiddleheads of other woodland ferns spring up everywhere – from the ground, from decaying logs, at the base of trees, and from between rocks.

I used to consider myself somewhat of a “fern lady” because I grew many different kinds of ferns in my former soggy, shady backyard. I knew each one by name because I had purchased them at the garden store. Now, however, I find myself delightfully baffled. I can maybe tell a wood fern from a lady fern, but that’s about it. This morning, I discovered a royal fern which looks different enough from the others to identify. I have no idea what the name of most of our forest ferns here are. Even the same fern looks different from day to day as its fronds spread wide, grow tall, and turn a deeper shade of green.

Ferns love damp shade, particularly near water like a creek, which we have in the woods at Elderberry. They do not bloom but spread by both airborne spores and underground rhizomes. It’s clear the forest here is a perfect habitat for them to spread both ways.

Let me show you one of my favorite fern locations in the forest at Elderberry. Click to watch the video

Words, image and video by Cheryl Lawrence

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Quiet Times: Walking Softly

I fell in love with the forest at Elderberry before we moved here. Can you fall in love with a forest in the winter, when all you can see is the bare bark of trees, roots, rocks, some rustling beech leaves, a few stunted holly trees, and some green groundcover? Oh, yes.

Since last November when my husband, Keith, and I discovered Elderberry, I’ve walked through the forest when the trails were almost hidden by fallen leaves. I’ve walked through it after a sleet storm when everything was frozen and slippery, and then again after a snow fall. I’ve walked through our Elderberry forest after a heavy rain and during a slow, drippy rain. Now that spring is here, I am falling in love with the rainbow of blooming wildflowers.

I have walked these woods in winter with one of the botanists who lives in Potluck Farms nearby, who showed me how to distinguish a sourwood tree from an oak by looking at the bark and the shape of the tree; how to identify an ironwood tree by its trunk; and how to tell apart white oak leaves from red oak leaves even when they are dead and lying on the ground. She showed me the living leaves of the tiny crane-fly orchid: green with purple undersides. She showed me a vast expanse of running cedar – green overcoming the fallen brown leaves as far as the eye could see.

There always has been a deep desire inside of me for the woods – but I was too afraid to walk by myself in the public trails near our former home in Durham, NC. If Keith or a friend didn’t come with me, I didn’t walk. I feel safe now! I can walk alone if I’m feeling meditative, or there are plenty of walking friends here at Elderberry to walk with me.

Just the tips of the trees are showing green these days, but soon there will be an explosion of green in the forest, and I will fall in love all over again. This walking in the woods is ME. This is what I love. I want to continue to walk in this forest every day, and now that Keith and I live at Elderberry, I can do that.

Words and image by Cheryl Lawrence