Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What to do first?

Looking through the WildlifeMapping handbook, I realized that the first thing to do is to classify the land, and as the good book says, "the non-forest and forest classes may be the most difficult to label. Many professionals can go to the same site and disagree on the classification." Do your best, it says. Then, "recently disturbed" can mean disturbed yesterday or 10 years ago. Well? I would say the land at Belvedere is "disturbed," and not just by the development. It certainly is clearcut, and there is forest, too. There are young trees and some absolutely awesome trees. Reading through the classifications lead me to think about McKee Carson, the landscape architects who have worked hard to consider the natural habitat of Belvedere, and who are planting native trees, nurturing them in berms before planting them in the neighborhood. "There are climax species on the ridge above the flood plain," Eugene Ryang said to me. Trees are awesome, and I can easily get distracted by a handsome tree when driving. And the trees of Virginia are, in part, what brought me back here. The Tulip Poplar, with its funny shaped leaves and blossoms, long staight trunks that grow ever so fast, stayed with me during my years in hardwood forests of the north. (We have just moved here from Vermont.)

But there are surprises in this forest from the start for me. The prevalence of the Eastern Cedar, and the quality of the American Beeches. There are also many Wild Cherry. So, what is first? Classification of land, and identification of species. My eye naturally goes to the patterns on the land, the swells, the gulleys, the animal trails, the qualities of shade and sun. And it often changes, which is one reason why I love the natural world.

Out on the land today, I am walking with 2 boys, one of them is my son, William. We are exploring, looking for "forts." "Yeah," said my husband,"someone built one in the rocks by the river." He tries to tell me it is not much of anything but I shush him. "Come on kids, let's go find the fort." My companions are enthusiastic, each grabbing sticks that become weapons. My son plays Civil War, and we head down the ridge from the back of our rented townhome in River Run, a nearby perch from which we can watch the house being built in Belvedere. It is an adventure, moving among the huge mountain laurel and into the rock ledges. The boys find hideouts everywhere, I know this is what kids need. I smile and am happy, listening to them explore the mysteries of the rocks and the forest, watching 2 downy woodpeckers doing a mating dance. On the way back home, my son leaps up and says, "This is the best day of my life!" All right! I say in my mind, and many more to come.

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