It wasn't my human neighbours I had in mind, although many of these do find the cold and wet considerably more challenging than I do in my cozy apartment. It was my animal neighbours I imagined as the thunder rolled and the rain poured down: how did they do it, out there in the forest during this storm, without roofs, walls, tents, tarps, or even a raincoat?
As I crossed the fresh wet grass toward the woods this morning, listening for what might appear, the sound of crickets surrounded me first. I don't hear them every morning, and now I thought back, trying to remember the last time I'd heard such a sound- had it also been following a rainstorm? Was there a link between cricket song and weather?
The birds had seen me coming and retired, but I surprised a jumpy gray squirrel on the way to my sit spot. At my feet, next to the log that is my front row seat at the greatest show on earth, this plant raised its rain-beaded leaves in greeting. How many times had I sat next to it without even knowing its name, only its friendly presence and the springtime memory of its small, golden flowers?
Bird calls reached my ears, not the "pip. pip." or "doo, doo, whip!whip!whip!whip!whip!" of my usual suspects, but a handful of harsh "cheeer. cheeer." calls from the meadow I'd walked through earlier. As I watched and listened, a mid-sized brown bird appeared in a grove ahead of me, ten feet up and facing away. It looked down from its perch and made the same sound, very loudly and clearly indicating its displeasure with whoever was in the thicket beneath. I couldn't see, and so I had to wonder, who was it?
Restless now, I got up and began exploring, stepping quietly but casually, with my toes first and my weight last. The five-leafed Virginia Creeper was just beginning to turn its fall rust-red. I stopped in a glade of reaching yellow flowers, their brown eyes gazing sunward, and wondered who had parted them to form the path that opened at my feet. More importantly to my mind just then, what would that path look like from the perspective of a person six inches tall?
I stood again and looked around me, wondering now what a person six metres tall would see in this forest. I craned my neck up, up, and saw something that clicked in my memory. It was the answer to a question by now so far forgotten that it took me a moment to realize what I was looking at:
Way up in the branches, someone had built a home using the materials that were on hand, without instructions and without tools apart from hands and teeth and wit. This home would last through thunderstorms and snowstorms, and it would be sturdy enough to raise a family in. It was my neighbour the gray squirrel, whom I had so startled on my way in, and who was likely keeping an eye on me still.
I decided to head back to my own warm, dry dwelling to start my day of work among human people. My morning wander had given me one lucky answer and a host of new questions, all crowding in to take the place of the one that had been answered. The forest does that to you: you go in with questions and come out with more questions; you go in seeking silence and come out overflowing with words.
Cross-posted to KW Forest School's blog