We went on a little research expedition last week, hoping it would trigger some inspiration and help me figure out what project to work on next. We visited the closest "old growth" forest preserve, this one at Snyder-Middleswarth State Park. It had rained all day the day before and was overcast, foggy and with a steady mist the day we went. And you know what? In some weird way, walking in the woods in the rain (which I have somehow never done before) was an oddly addictive thing. I really want to do it again, soon. Maybe it was an elemental thing. Here you had earth, water and air all around you and pretty much nothing else.
Old growth was not what I expected. I expected a dense, dark forest, but the big trees inhibit sapling growth. And unfortunately, deer overpopulation has decimated the undergrowth in a lot of these forests. Still, it was very different than many of the other state forests we're familiar with. For one thing, there was no dirt visible. As rainy and wet as it was, we emerged without a spot of mud on us, even though we slipped and fell and had to clamber over hillsides and rocks and fallen trees. The trail was either rock (so covered in lichen they were solid green) or a black peat of hemlock bark and needles so thick and soft, it was like walking on a sponge.
Oddly, it didn't smell like anything. I had gone prepared to collect sensory details and fully expected a catalog of fragrances and odors to take with me. Especially in the rain, you would expect the place to be redolent of earth and moldering leaves, spicy with the scent of fern. What it was, instead, was utterly clean.
The place was lush with ferns and a rich variety of mosses, including this wonderful shaggy moss that covered an entire hillside of rocks:
The mist and fog were perfect for the story I have in mind, almost like it was intended. We only had this one day for our trip and it turned out to be perfect weather:
The trail was challenging and made few concession to ease of hiking. You wanted to see this forest, you had to work for it. Here the trail disappears into a spring. You had to figure out how to get around it.
In other places, we hopped from rock to rock (wet rocks) and had to figure out if it was easier to go over or under trees. In some cases, neither option was ideal. And then there was this:
On the stump of this fallen hemlock, other hikers have left a cairn of stones. I don't know why or what it means, but if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's to take note of details like this because sometimes, they are a gift from the universe. And so, we'll see....
Hoping to go out again to another old growth preserve in a couple of weeks (if it isn't freezing cold.) This one definitely shook something loose and the ideas are starting to simmer. Setting was definitely a strong connection in Funny How Things Change, a connection that built the plot. And I think it will be with this idea as well.
Now as for the other front runner idea, that research is quite a bit different, and I'll be doing some of that this week.