Matters of scale

In the days before I met Joanna I thought a walk through the woods was a pretty dull way to spend an afternoon. The problem, it seems, was in my attention – or lack thereof – to the scale upon which I was taking in the scenery. The first image in this series represents how a northern deciduous wood might present itself to anyone on a casual stroll. [Click the image for a larger view of it.] Not very pretty and with little of interest.One of the first tricks to appreciating any wood in which you might be lucky enough to find yourself is to look up! Unless watching your feet scuffle through the leaf litter happens to have some unusual attraction for you the view above your head promises to hold more scope. Take in the color of the canopy and of the sky above. Plants you will see at this scale include mostly the deciduous and evergreen trees. Animals we have seen at this scale include all sorts of birds (including turkeys, hawks, and eagles), squirrels, chipmunks, possums, porcupines, skunks, deer, and bear.The next trick is to walk very slowly. What might you expect to see while running through the woods? Not very much, especially since the noise you’ve been making has scared off anything errant that might have been in the vicinity. Force yourself to walk slowly and you might be surprised to find that there are an awful lot of beautiful things that had escaped your attentions before. Plants you might see at this scale include shrubs, ferns and their relatives, and of course the wild flowers. You may also take note of the fungi. In addition to the animals mentioned above, at this scale you might also see a wide range of amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates (including flatworms, nematodes, molluscs, annelids, and arthropods).The next important lesson is to stop. Yes, stop. Every so often it is important that you stop … perhaps close your eyes and listen to what may be going on around you. Do you know the sound of the wind? Do you know what sounds the birds make as they go about their business? How about the tell-tale disturbances of the turkeys as they hunt about for acorns and other morsels lying beneath the leaf litter? Open your eyes and get down on your knees, sit if you like. Spend time looking closely, very closely, at what’s around you. You need to learn to reduce the scale at which you have become used to observing the world around you. What you see may surprise and delight you.The final lesson is to leave the wood just as it was when you entered into it. Enjoying the wood is a privilege, not a right. It doesn’t belong to you, or to any one of us. Woods, and every other natural environment you care to name, belong to the ecosystems of which they are integral parts. Be grateful for the time you are able to spend with nature and that healthy environments still exit. Do what you can to help preserve this natural heritage. At the same time be willing to help save those environments that are in need. Be aware that helping the natural world around us can be done by doing certain things and by not doing others. Think about it.

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