Lime Hollow Nature Center
Covered Bridge at the Lime Hollow Visitor Center

From My Sit Spot

by Pete Angie

ShadowsStalks of goldenrod throw back their shaggy gray heads in the wind. Crowded legions cover acre after acre, once a vibrant yellow blanket, now as muted as the silver, brown and gray tones of the leafless trees that edge the fields. Here at my sit spot in the woods near Chicago Bog the landscape is startlingly open since the leaves have fallen, and my once secluded hollow seems hopelessly exposed. The veil of foliage has been lowered, colorful piece by colorful piece, until none but the curled leaves of beeches and oaks are left hanging to shake and quiver in the wind. Today is mostly calm, however, and while listening I make a curious discovery: ubiquitous constant crackling. Dry leaves on the forest floor are adjusting themselves ever so slightly to a nearly unnoticed breeze. The “still” woods are moving.

Another movement, often unnoticed, is taking place as well. Shadows lying across the forest floor seem stationary, like the grounded leaves, but are in constant motion tracking the sun, and can act as a compass. Find the right tree or put a stick in the ground where it casts a clear shadow and sit back and watch. The dark line will slowly move eastward as the sun travels west. A few minutes of observation can align a traveler, or anyone who cares to take the time, with the land. I note the shadows around me and the time of day and figure, against my own sense of direction, that I am facing north. Pulling a compass from my pocket I see to my surprise that I am right to within a degree. Never had I paid much attention to the shadows, beyond aesthetic appeal and the alerts they can give of birds passing overhead—speeding silhouettes as black as coal.

Birds blacker than their own shadows, crows, have fully moved in to Cortland's city limits by December, roosting so thickly that some trees look like they have leaves again during these longest nights of the year. It is uncertain why they gather like this. Cities are warmer than the country side, and the street lights may help them keep watch against great horned owls, their most feared predator. Some complain about the corvid congregations, but myself and my son Odin are not among them. Living downtown, one of Odin's first words was “caw, caw” as he watched the avian activity with the wonder of the very young. The Norse myth from which he takes his name tells of two crows, Hugin and Munin, riding on Odin's shoulders. Maybe that is why he likes the birds so much, or maybe it is just a simple case of biophilia, being drawn to nature instinctively because it is where we come from, even in the middle of town.

Street lights turn on earlier and earlier while earth's orbit pushes our northern hemisphere farther away from the sun. Maybe the darkness is why we hang stings of lights on our houses and burn bright fires within. Amidst the merriment and overcast skies it would be easy to miss one of the most important events of the year, the winter solstice. It is the great turn of the corner when the northern pole starts to move closer to the sun again, marking the start of the slow lengthening of days, the official beginning of winter, the shortening of shadows. Here at my sit spot I wonder how the forest will look after another great event of this special time of year, the first snow fall that sticks, and look forward to that exciting smell of frosty air which precedes a winter storm. For now, however, I'm enjoying the sun shine while I can, and the beautiful, telling shadows that it casts.