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.

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