Signs of Life, by Dan Trees

Today marked my first return trip to my mandala since discovering it last week. As I ventured out into the woods and the noises of human activity started to fade into silence, a relaxed feeling came over me. My breaths started to become deeper and calmer. Similarly to last week, the sky was blanketed with clouds, nothing but bleak whiteness in the sky. As I continued my walk to my mandala I noticed how the ground was super saturated from the past weeks’ snow and rain storms. Only a few small piles of snow remained. Small tributaries on the trail were flooded with rain water and snow melt, determined to find their way down to the creek.

Seeing all this standing water around the trail to my mandala made me stop and think about the types of plant species that thrive in this area of the park. There must be a reason that birch and beech trees thrive here as opposed to pines and maples. The fact is they are more suitable to environments with lots of water. I also took note of the various species of moss as well as clovers that were growing just above the level of standing water, desperate for even the slightest bit of sunlight. The mosses varied in greenness, some a rich dark green, others a light, lettuce-colored green. As David Haskell describes them, “moss bodies are swampy river deltas miniaturized and turned vertical” (Haskell 37). The closer I observed them, the more I agreed with his description.

After my trek through the mud and standing water, I finally arrive at my mandala eager to find even the smallest changes from what I observed last week. The water level of the creek is noticeably higher from all the snow and rain the past week. The water sounds louder as it rushes over the old dam. I still see many vines, specifically Multiflora Rose, entangling the trees and bushes around me, making it hard to see deep into the woods. Water droplets from yesterday’s rain hang suspended on the ends of the branches of trees and bushes, paralyzed in a sense. I turn around in a circle slowly to try and get a complete view of my surroundings and suddenly my attention turns to a rustling noise off in the distance. I notice a white blur, then the object comes into more clear focus, it is a white tail deer. Quickly, the deer runs off into the distance in search for food.

Up in the sky I notice significantly more bird activity than I did in my last visit. The temperature is slightly warmer and there is less wind, which shows even the smallest changes in conditions can lead to visible differences in nature. In the foreground, a male cardinal flies from tree to tree, scoping out his surroundings in search for an afternoon snack. In the dullness of winter, his bright red color stands out from afar. I then see him settle atop one tree branch and begin calling for a friend, perhaps his mate. He calls out for several minutes, unfortunately there was no return. Up higher in the sky, a group of three turkey vultures soar in their distinct circular motion, scanning the ground below for a meal. I stay and watch them for a while, until their hunt takes them out of my field of view.

I noticed in my venture this week that even a small increase in temperature brought more life out to my mandala than I observed last week. Last week it felt like the area and its inhabitants were frozen with winter, unwilling to burn even the slightest amount of energy at the risk of becoming too cold. This week, milder temperatures brought out birds and deer on a search for food. I am excited at the idea of what more signs of life I will find in my mandala as temperatures continue to warm. Until next week.

The Melody of Water

The ground cover is littered with brown; brown fallen leaves, brown twigs, and brown dirt.  The closer I look I see specks of green popping up, to my left there are small sprouts peeping up between the different shades of brown.  To my right, sits a bed of moss, completely content to be providing the eye something to catch onto as it wanders the landscape. The closer I inspected the landscape I saw that there was more than just shades of brown but oranges as well. Looking up into the nearby tree I could see many orange leaves fluttering in and out of the sunlight, these leaves were sporadic amongst their branches, almost as afraid to stay too close to on  another. Once noticing the orange leaves on the tree I started a scavenger hunt with myself to try and find them amongst the rest of the dead leaves on the ground.  While the orange leaves were few and far between they were present and once they caught my eye I felt a piece of satisfaction as completing amongst my little game. As my eye continued to wander searching desperately for something that had any other color it settled upon a small patch of snow.

This patch of snow was settled upon the base of a tree that extended outward toward the water.  It’s closeness to the water is presumably what has allowed it to hold on to its last stage before melting in the 60 degree weather we were experiencing that day. The snow was crisp on its base layer but surrounded by a layer of moisture making it so you could almost see through the individual flakes.  It felt that if I had sat there for the rest of the day it would have been possible for me to witness the entire snow patch disappear.  But in the small period of time I was observing it I was unable to see much change. With the warm temperature and sun it was inevitable if I were to come back in the evening this little patch that had been hanging on for dear life, would have completely disappeared.

It soon became difficult to focus on the landscape as two geese floated down the river and then stopped directly in my line of sight. One of the geese pulled over and stood upon the small exposed patch of dirt that created an island for the geese. The other goose continued to move with the flow of the stream, but every so often had to swim backup to stay close to its companion (is there any way to know if they are friends or mates, I am unsure).  The goose that remained in the water appeared to be giving itself a bath, continually splashing its feathers in the water creating larges ripple effects, and causing the other goose to squak, seemingly annoyed at the bathing goose.  The goose atop the island would switch from standing to sitting all while waiting for the goose to finish its bath.  This bath took much longer than anticipated perhaps due to the current that kept dragging it down stream.

These geese seemed to be at peace with themselves until a set of 2 more geese arrived. This started a squall of geese honking back and forth, as if they were yelling at each other,  claiming their territory as the newly arrived geese continued to float downstream.  All of this geese honking came at quite an unfortunate time, as I was sitting observing the actions of these geese, you could hear a woodpecker working in a nearby tree, tap, tap, tap, tap in rapid succession, a long pause, and then again tap, tap, tap, tap.  This tapping was accompanied by a Blue Jay, creating a melody with the flowing water, rustling leaves and splashing goose.

The Beauty Under Everything, by Natalie Fuhr

I’ve lived within walking distance of White Clay my whole life. I’ve run on the majority of the trails countless times, hiked with my family, biked, swam, and climbed. This park is my happy place, my second church, the biggest room inside my heart.

White Clay has taught me the beauty in silence. I walked down Creek Road into White Clay yesterday afternoon, just listening; listening to my screaming thoughts, the rare bird call, the happy runners, the steady drip of melting snow on the pavement. I’ve always been struck by the fact that despite walking down this road hundreds of times, I always find something new to marvel at, a glimpse into another world. Yesterday (probably because of my crappy mood), the sticker bushes and vines creeping up from the ground caught my attention. They were the only things green among the trees and low-lying native bushes surrounding the trees. They had an unfair advantage, being alive and awake and active before the woods had fully arisen from its long winter reverie.

It got me considering the parallels to my own life … oftentimes, I feel like a tree attempting to find a little respite from the intensity of life, only to find yet another question to answer, another financial issue, another stressful assignment or relational dilemma to consume my thoughts and energy; energy that I don’t have to give. At what point does one say, ‘Enough is enough’? When does just tired become unhealthy? When does too much stress become unrealistically unmanageable? Sometimes I feel like I’m being pulled in so many directions at once that I can’t hear myself think. And when it’s quiet, my whole being is screaming.

Vines, especially non-native species of vines, are some of the most dangerous actors in the woods for an average tree’s health. The vines suppress tree growth, they reduce the structural stability of the trees, and they leech off the tree’s resources. Trees with vines growing on them tend to die much sooner than uninhibited trees. It may take years, but the vines usually win the slow and silent battle that constantly ravages the forest. It’s even more concerning that most of the vines that wreak havoc on the woods are not native to the United States. There are currently about 150 species of non-native vines in the United States right now.[1]The fact that they are not native makes it much more difficult to eradicate them, which only decreases a tree’s chance of survival.

Do trees feel themselves being choked to death by vines and sticker bushes? Do they consider the fact of their imminent death approaching? Do they wonder what life would have been like if things were different? Do they waste away regretting the past and worrying about the future? Or, are they blissfully unaware of their own fate until it one day literally creeps up on them. If trees could talk, this is what I would ask them. I have a feeling that we’d have a lot in common: seemingly anchored but being choked from the ground up.

[1]“Vines Choking Out Trees in the Tropics.” NPR, NPR, 18 Oct. 2013,

East Coast Winters, by Faith Brown


Winters on the East coast have always fascinated me as someone from Washington state, a place of eternal green. The trees lose all their leaves and it seems as if you can see on for forever through their bare branches. So, as I walk through the forest here it feels strange that the only green I see is bits of moss here and there and little bunches of grass that have survived into the winter months. These little splashes of color, along with a few red berries here and there, catch my eye as we walk through the barren trees.

Broken branches and dried leaves crunch beneath my feet but the ground is soft as we walk through muddy areas to reach the river, wet from the recent snow. In fact, it is so soft that I slip twice as we make our way down a steep slope. I find myself covered in mud but not injured so the adventure continues.

The fall ends up being well worth it as we find ourselves in front of a trickling stream that joins with the river. The movement of water forwards creates an enchanting noise. The sounds of it, though it itself is not visible from the river, are still heard clearly. The water of the river flows gently as if it is in no rush to get where it’s going. The water itself appears to be almost a dark green in the fading light.

All of these factors lead me to a peaceful mind (a blessing for someone with both depression and anxiety) and I wonder why I do not venture out into the woods more frequently. I used to give the excuse of allergies, but really I think I am just so preoccupied with the busy world around me that I simply never make the time. I often find myself seeking some sort of relief from my hectic life but never seem to find it. It almost as if I create more stress in my pursuit of calm then I relieve. That’s why the Buddhism practiced in Ladakh really caught my attention. The idea of accepting what is rather than constantly being in pursuit of a fix or something better is the exact opposite of what I am doing. Yet when I follow their guidelines, finding myself in the woods just letting things be how they may, I find my mind at peace with itself. While I am by no means cured, it is nice to get a break from the fast movement of my life and take things slow. I look forward to venturing into the forest again and discovering what other secrets it, and the stories of others, can teach me.