THROUGH the WOODS: ‘Ghosts’

Indian pipes (“ghost flowers”). Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

IT IS NICE TO BE one of the fortunate people in the world, not rich in dollars, but rich in family who provided a wonderful place to retire, right here at home in Columbia County. The best dreams and childhood memories were always of wandering about their dairy farms and observing nature, and now it is here to do again on a secluded portion of this land. Through the woods describes the drive from the road to the house (or, vice versa, out to the world), then through the trees at the edge of the field and back into the greater and deeper woods containing several small ponds.

The entire circumference of the long, narrow property totals almost a mile of opportunity. The old wood roads/bridle trails took many days to restore to passable condition. The motion of the horse’s walk, the reflex duck, and bend to pass trees that dip down to the small stream flood back from memory by the Duchess’ grave. She was a crazy big pinto mare that no 11-year-old should ever have ridden but was too much temptation to resist.

That was more than 50 years ago. There are no horses here today, but all the native diversity of life remains and has thrived. A favorite uncle logged the main woods, which has undergone the usual cycle of growth that has almost returned it to its original state of large trees with enough brush cover for deer and other wildlife. The high point near the new house is at 1,200 feet elevation and is a solid knob of rock consisting of layers of shale and quartz topped by clay soil, berries, and wild roses that are typical of the Town of Austerlitz. Just down from the top and to the south is the old cellar hole and foundation of an early settler’s home. It is so small it is hard to believe grandfather’s tales of the Grimm family he remembered living there before 1900.

“Gramp” was the man who began teaching his 5-year-old granddaughter about the wildlife of this area and planted the larch and spruce trees near the house that stand tall to the east. He knew the winds and planned this windbreak and cover for many creatures like the owls and ruffed grouse, which has been much used and appreciated. Nearby are the remains of the old, hand dug shallow well that still fills and overflows with pure cold water. This is where the woodcock lives and pokes his long flexible beak down through the damp leaf mold to extract dinner.

To the west are the distant Catskill Mountains. Each tour about the place produces the familiar and the hope of some new surprise of the season. Today the recent rains had induced the irruption of a small clump of white Indian Pipes, otherwise known as “ghost flowers.”

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