It was in the high 30's this morning when the dogs and I headed out for our first hike of 2009. Frost glittered everywhere, and patches of two-inch ice crystals that had pushed out of the ground still stood at attention with their miniature red clay caps. As we hiked we stepped over fox scat full of persimmon seeds and rabbit fur, and the deep tracks of white-tailed deer, then continued down through the Meetinghouse Creek valley. We turned back up towards the headwaters of the creek, into a wide open oak-beech forest with evergreen American Hollies crowded near the thin trickle of water. Across the creek a high, north-facing bluff held huge, mossy boulders. They looked as if at any moment they could roll down through the mountain laurel thickets below them and right into the tiny creek.
I settled to draw under the swooping branches of this beautiful old beech tree with last years leaves, now the color of straw, clinging to its inner branches. The Beech's fat, multi-trunk had wonderful shadows - its outermost branches touched the ground beside me. In the leaf litter beneath the tree grew the green, purple-backed leaves of Cranefly Orchids and Spotted Wintergreen, with white-veined leaves. It was so quiet that I could hear bugs clicking in the leaves around me.
All in all, the perfect way to start a new year.