Silent Skies



For weeks the skies have been alive with squadrons of Canada Geese taking off, landing, circling, or just passing through. They never stopped flying and they never stopped talking. I would hear them honking and causing a ruckus even before I got out of bed in the morning. All day they would confab overhead. In darkness well after sundown they flew unseen, but not unheard. Sometimes they would fly low right past the house and I could observe their stiff-armed powerful wing beats and between the honking I could hear a sort of buzzing as their wings vibrated the air.

Tonight the sky is quiet, empty – kind of lonely really. I went away for a week or so on a trip and when I came back they were all gone. They couldn’t wait for me. The party is over.

I was down in the pasture making firewood out of a big locust tree that fell during a storm. Being late October, the sun goes down early so in the twilight I was collecting up my gear and getting ready to walk home to supper. I decided to have a seat on the pile of freshly sawn logs and take my ease in the dim cold light just to watch and to listen for a while.

Oddly enough in a few minutes a group of about twenty geese flew past. They were serious – all business. Only an occasional short clipped honk sounded to set the pace of their wings. They were late, no time to talk. They flew by fast and straight; desperate to catch up to the others. They passed out of sight and hearing in just few seconds.

waterfall and logI leaned back on my bed of logs and watched the sky slowly darken. The shadows warily stole out from their hiding places behind the boles of the trees. Slowly they began to fill up all the open spaces. They came and lightly covered me as well.

Most of the trees have already shed their colorful autumn dress. Tangled limbs steeled for winter’s onset show black against the dying glow of the western sky. An old sycamore, every bit of eighty feet tall, stands alone in the center of the open pasture. Many of its leaves, wide splayed, browned by the sun, curled and deeply veined like giant hands, are not yet ready to relinguish their high vantage points. They clutch at the branches fighting against wind and frost and the unrelenting pull of gravity.

Mingled with that of damp earth and fallen leaves is the aroma of the fresh cut wood that makes up my rough recliner. Each species of tree has its own unique scent just as each one has a unique grain pattern, color, and texture. I’ve heard that veteran woodworkers can identify species of wood by smell alone just the way oenophiles can identify vintages. If you think about it, wooden barrels figure prominently in the making of many wines and the type of wood used is critical to imparting just the right flavors and aromas.

Oak is hard and dense with an acrid scent. Pine is soft with a wandering grain and of course that wonderful resinous turpentine odor. To me locust wood has an earthy, mossy, slightly sweet, and almost but not quite musty scent. It reminds me of the wonderful sweet perfume of the flowers that cover the tree in white raiment each spring only it is muted and mixed with the dark richness of the soil that feeds the tree’s inner life.

Many trees have very clear structural divisions – roots, a central trunk, and a canopy of branches that are often regularly ordered in distinct patterns. Not so with the locust. It may start out as a single stem close to the ground, but it quickly splits, bends, and twists every which way it can. Branches spring out at random spots heading off in any direction that pleases them. The tree that I’m cutting up is actually just one half of a larger tree that split off leaving an oddly shaped but complete tree still standing.

waterfall and leaves

Locust bark is gnarled and deeply grooved. The wood inside is stringy and sinewy like tendons wound together. Ash logs split straight and clean, but locust cracks and tears and clings so that sometimes you have to pull it apart by hand after opening a seam with the axe. It makes me think that the locust is all root except that some of it is below the ground and some above. Sometimes I think it could be planted upside down and go on growing.

Well, I’ve wandered a bit from the migration of geese to the structure of trees. That’s the way it goes. Nature, like thoughts and like locust trees, twists and turns and sometimes goes off in unexpected directions.



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4 Responses to “Silent Skies”

  1. lookingforbeauty Says:

    You are such a good writer.
    The words just pull me along into the shadows and I can sense the odors of the earth around you, feel the crispness in the air, hear the geese honking, the rustle of leaves under foot.
    We’ve had some fine weather here, alternating days of rain and days with sun. We are in a microclimate along the Pacific coast, so our leaves have not yet quit the trees – a little, yes, but not much. The colours are tremendous.

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    So well observed… the writing is becoming like your photography, I’m not sure how to say… revealing of connections, perhaps, with a clarity that says, “look at this!”

    I enjoyed, and it brings back memories to me, your descriptions of the geese, barely honking, appearing and disappearing without a trace in the overcast; the smell of trees like fine wine; the locust tree as all root.


  3. forestrat Says:

    Thanks guys.

    I really love autumn – the trees, the birds flocking, the cool weather. It’s a brillliant time even though it is the harbinger of winter.

    I actually don’t mind winter. Although sometimes in February I’m ready for it to be over.


  4. Trees to Thoreau to Terroir « Forest Rat Says:

    […] couple of posts back (Silent Skies) I was hanging around a wood pile watching the evening deepen and I commented about the unique […]

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