The last time I took a hike at Mianus River Park it was early summer. A gentle summer rain fell on a thick canopy way above my head. Everything was green – even the air felt green. Everything was young. Everything filtered through that canopy. The promise of adventure lay ahead. The way it has every summer since I was a kid released from school.
And as they do, summer’s days passed. Slow and lazy at first. Then picking up speed until you find yourself sliding out of control through August. Labor Day coming at you like a train. Then it’s over. Back to work. School buses trudging along backstreets. I’m in a daze of transition. The rich memories of my overseas travel – exploring new countries, eating new foods, finding new time-flows all begin to fade like old photographs.
But now it’s October. The weather is mild and sunny, the air noticeably different. Again the woods call me out. I stuff my trekking pack with towels to simulate the load I will carry on an upcoming trekking trip in New Zealand. I lace up my boots, unscrew my trekking poles, and head to Mianus, my old friend. It’s past noon. The early birds have been there and gone. A few afternoon strollers, joggers, and dog walkers dot the trails. Now and then a mountain biker passes like a shadow.
The canopy is still there but now more sun dapples through it. The light coming in on a slant, from the South. Yellow begs to show itself among the fading green. A loosely-woven carpet of early autumn leaves covers the ground. A reminder of the approaching “fall.”
As I bend to take a picture I am startled by the sight of new lifeforms. Fungi in all shapes and sizes have sprung from the rich mix of the forest floor, now in the early stage of decomposition.
These lifeforms surprise me. I don’t know why. But it appears suddenly. (I forget for the moment that it has been four months since I was here last.) It takes the most wonderous organic forms and colors – tan, white, brown – and it exudes rich earthy smells. I am drawn to it. With each step I find a new form, more luscious than the last. Large-capped mushrooms are almost invisible against the dark earth, itself almost undiscernible from the small tree branch disolving into it. Some look spongy, some look fragile – like fine china.
Mianus River Park, Stamford, CT
Some are small and grow close together, almost obscuring the soft rotting wood that is its new home, finely textured, like coral. They look like they would dissolve under my touch… But I don’t dare touch…
Some are large – one is huge, like an elephant’s ear. One species spaces itself sparsely on what’s left of a mature tree, most of it shorn off unexpectedly. There it stands, alone in a little clearing, as if the other trees don’t want anything to do with it, seduced by its new best friend. I have the sense that this lifeform will, with stealth, multiply until it consumes its lover and the trunk will, like its cousins, topple and dissolve into the earth from which it grew.
For a few moments I am lost in this world of mysterious life forms. They seem to have sprung from some deep ancient place.
Further down the trail, the river runs slower than it did in June. There are places where it does not seem to move at all. As if waiting, not sure where to go. Waiting for its next cue. A display board at the end of the trail shows the park in its many seasons. Soon the yellow will take over and light up the woods. Stealing the spotlight from the dark mysterious fungi.