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Illuminating the Hidden Forest, Chapter 31: Summer eyes and winter eyes

But now it is winter. The forest floor is covered with a blanket of snow. The trees are bare. My winter eyes are different from my summer eyes.

To read the previous chapters of ‘Illuminating the Hidden Forest,’ click here.

Jan. 29, 2020

I first went into the forest in spring, and found a morel mushroom on my path. Before that, on casual walks in the woods, my gaze was indeterminate, generalized. I’d look at the trees, maybe notice the brook at the bottom of a hill, a boulder here and there, but nothing focused or specific.

But on that June morning, the morning of the morel, my relationship with the forest changed. From that moment on, I became a seeker of detail. As I walked, my eyes scanned the forest floor in search of another mushroom, and then, through that opened lens, my awareness and observation shifted from the general to the specific.

I discovered miniature world after miniature world, colonies of mushrooms in the crevasses of logs, decaying stumps containing their own landscapes of tiny pines, with Lilliputian ferns nestled around pebbles as pretty as stones in a river, traces of mosses in greens and blues, and jelly-like orange ribbons of fungus oozing into the air between cambium and bark. I could gaze into this pulsing, populated stump surface for hours and never see all that there is to see.

My painting followed my summer eyes into the intimate, hidden places where I discovered unexpected richness.

Winter vista through the trees. Photo: Carolyn Newberger

But now it is winter. The forest floor is covered with a blanket of snow. The trees are bare. My winter eyes are different from my summer eyes. They sweep the snow for animals up and down exposed hillsides. They travel through the transparent forest to alight on swamps and mountains miles away.

Within the forest, details are still there but stripped to their essentials: blankets of mosses on boulders; the vertical, visual rhythms of the tree trunks, dark against white snow; unexpected curves of trees that must have struggled to find light in their youth, then flew straight up as their branches pierced into the overstory.

Brutalist architecture of the forest. Photo: Carolyn Newberger

And everywhere exposed is the silent, Brutalist architecture of past lightning strikes and collisions of massive trunks crashing into aspiring saplings. Only in winter can one see this architecture, a testament to the power of nature’s forces, leaving contorted skeletons contrasting sharply with the white ground and the gray sky.

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