Sunday, November 15, 2009

Walking in Silence

A soft warm day today, low clouds, no wind. Perfect for a hike around Mud Pond with a group of folks who agreed to walk in silence, the better to hear the sounds of nature around us. And the woods itself cooperated with our efforts to keep still. Yesterday's rain had dampened the leaves on the path, which diminished the rustling while cushioning our footfalls, and the low misty clouds rested quietly on the tops of the mountains.

Every 15 minutes or so, our hike leader, Ben, would gather our group around him and ask us what sounds or smells or sights we had noticed as we walked along without speaking. We heard chipmunks and chickadees, blue jays and crows, a woodpecker laughing, and the sound of our own breathing. We saw a deer in the woods and geese and mergansers out on the pond, and we smelled the distinctive scent of decomposing leaves.



I usually avoid hiking with groups of people because the constant chatter obliterates the sounds of the woods and decreases the chance we will ever encounter any wildlife. So I applaud Moreau Lake State Park staffers for offering this silent hike. And I'm happy to report that all the participants truly did try to honor the spirit of the adventure. Plus, I knew that two of my good friends, Linda and Sue, would be participating, and I always treasure the time I can spend with them.

My personal goal for this hike was to try to let the experience flow through me, without trying to analyze or name or hold on to events as they passed. However, when I saw this picture-pretty patch of Partridgeberry and Running Pine, I couldn't resist taking a photo.


Postscript: I received a note from a reader who calls the Running Pine pictured here by another name. As a matter of fact, this particular club moss (Lycopodium digitatum) has at least five other common names: Fan Clubmoss, Crowfoot Clubmoss, Southern Ground Cedar, Southern Running Cedar, and Trailing Ground Pine. Probably many more. I used the common name Running Pine, because that's how it is named in the New York State list of protected plants, where it is called "exploitably vulnerable."

6 comments:

Kenton and Rebecca Whitman said...

This is such a lovely way to walk through the wild places. We agree that we often prefer not to hike in groups -- humans can be so loud! But something very magical happens when we stop talking, walk quietly, and just let our senses open up. It must have been a fabulous experience =)

Woodswoman Extraordinaire: said...

What a great idea - a group silent hike. While the dogs nearly always come along on my outdoor adventures, it is sometimes wonderful to go out and just listen without any panting, snuffling, whuffling, or this time of year, incessant crunching through the leaves. At least they're not barkers on hikes. I think I'll put a silent dogless hike on my agenda... perhaps when I get those snowshoes! :)

Anonymous said...

It's sad to hear the "Running Pine" is scarce. In the 50's and 60's it was everywhere. We had a number of places we could harvest it for winter wreaths. Now those places have houses which is probably why it is scarce. We used to find "Princess Pine" along with the "Running Pine(or Evergreen) and "Squaw Berries" and wintergreen.

Lovely picture! It brings back memories of November hikes in the woods with my mom and sisters.

Steve said...

Running pine even has a new latin name - Diphasiastrum digitatum. There are only two of the old Lycopodiums which retain that genus, L. clavatum and L. lagopus. All the others are in 6 different genera now. Running pine is really not scarce but on the state protected list so people don't pick it without the permission of the landowner or they get a $25 fine per plant.

Woodswalker said...

Thanks, friends, for all your interesting comments. It pleases me no end to read what you have to say. The group hike in silence was fun and sociable, but I still prefer solitary woodswalking if my goal is to truly commune with nature. But sometimes it's fun to have fun with others. I'm not a hermit.

Thanks, Steve, for the new info on club mosses. Are they all still called club mosses or did their common names change along with the scientific ones? Are the new names posted on the New York Natural Heritage site? I like to be accurate, but it's not always possible, as the scientific names keep changing with new methods of classification. I sure do appreciate when you stop by to clue us in.

Steve said...

The common names of the club mosses stay the same. You can look up the changes on the NYFA Atlas atlas.nyfa.org but I will also email you the list of changes. I will try to put the list up on the NYFA homepage sometime. Then there are the aster changes . . .