Monday, October 6, 2008

Little Secrets of the Forest Floor

Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico

Although I was born and bred in the rolling prairies and red dirt of Oklahoma - I am at heart, and by virtue of the last fifteen years spent living in New Mexico, a high desert dweller - a lover of sage and chamisa, snakeweed and Apache plume, pinon and juniper, and the spiny goodness of yucca and cholla. In this land of little rain these plants are steadfast reminders of what amazing beauty exists despite so little moisture. Nothing is more breathtaking than looking at an infinite swath of high desert on a September day with fields of blue-green sage and buttery yellow blooms of chamisa and snakeweed flanked by purple asters and sunflowers rising up against a cerulean sky or, even better, a salmon colored mesa. The onslaught of color, distilled at 7000 feet in the rarefied desert air, tends to overwhelm all the senses at once.

Kitchen Mesa, Ghost Ranch

Now, of course, I am living back in Oklahoma and slowly getting re-introduced to the subtle beauties secreted in these fertile lands. There is spectacular beauty here as well - perhaps even rivaling the overripe colors of the high desert. But to see it requires changing the way you look at things. The landscape here does not always invite you in with an O'Keeffe-worthy canvas but rather exacts a certain respect and intimacy before unveiling her hidden gems. This budding terrestrial affair has challenged the way I once viewed the natural world and urges me to take yet another look.

The intricacy of the forest floor is boundless - full of life and flushed with both texture and color. A coral colored mushroom is the rare jewel that awaits those who seek a deeper intimacy with the forest.

Where one learns to see not in shadows of green from dark to light and in between - but instead in fleshy pinks and shades of lapis lazuli.

"Nature," said Thoreau in his journal, "is mythical and mystical always, and spends her whole genius on the least work." It is this "least work" that I find staggeringly breathtaking as I discover whole new worlds on my forest walk in southern Oklahoma. Gently I prod, and within my cupped hands rests an entire universe .

Form versus function. Evolutionary scientists tells us that function begat form. Yet it is form that seduces me and I remain transfixed at the sheer magnitude of geometry heaved up from the forest floor to be explored and discovered.

Nature is indeed the greatest artist. Should I lament my travels to museums far and wide when all all along the ultimate gallery was at my doorstep? It is here that new colors, pigments perhaps unknown to even the greatest of masters, remain undiscovered and just out of reach to those who have not yet learned to see within these verdant walls. Who could imagine such a splendid wash of yellow and on fungi no less? I can't begin to fathom the cataclysm and combustion of organic matter required to finally form a perfect yellow mushroom.

The multiplicity of from and color is infinite in the forest;

and all the secrets are hidden behind these unsuspecting veils of jade.
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