At this time of year, when the startling reds and golds of a Quebec autumn are long gone, the woods around Glen Villa are grey and colourless.
At least they appear that way at first glance. But a closer look reveals all sorts of surprises.
This year, thanks to the unseasonably warm temperatures we have experienced over the last few months, the woods are full of colour. These colours aren’t all as big and showy as the patch of fungi pictured above. Few elicit the ooh’s and aah’s of autumn but the colours are there nonetheless, waiting to be noticed.
Most prominent is green.
On either bank of the stream that runs through part of Glen Villa’s woods, the woods are like a rain forest in some warmer and wetter part of the world. Rutted tracks through the woods which normally at this season are bone dry are now ankle deep in water. The stream is running almost as rapidly as it does in the springtime, when melting snow raises water levels to the top of the bank. And this despite the fact that, for weeks, we’ve had almost no rain at all.
I’m told that the watery ground is the result of the earth freezing — as it did briefly a few weeks ago — and thawing, and that the short cycle between these two extremes explains the amount of surface water. This may be the case. But whatever the explanation, the extra moisture has created a landscape clothed in shades of green that range from the dark green of Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) to the pale green of emerging spring.
Moss is the major source of green. This isn’t surprising since there are between 9,500 and 22,000 different species of moss, depending on the source you consult. I haven’t attempted to count how many types of moss grow in our woods; I haven’t tried to identify any of them by name. But based on the number of shades of green and the differences in textures that are obvious after even a cursory glance, there may be several hundred or more.
I don’t know if the plant below is a moss or if it is more properly placed in some other botanical category. What fascinates me is how different it is from other mosses that are growing nearby.
It doesn’t look at all like this two-toned moss, for instance…
or like this one, that reminds me of the brush I used to wash dried-up milk from the bottom of baby bottles.
Different types and colours of moss create different atmospheres. The glow-in-the-dark moss that covers part of the tree trunk below makes me wonder if it is radio-active.
A soft cushiony moss makes me want to stretch out for a nap.
A multi-coloured moss makes me question why the colours vary so strikingly.
Along with the varieties of mosses are lichen and fungi of all sorts. They add to the richness of the scene, bringing different colours and different textures into view. These colourful fungi covering the length of a fallen tree trunk appear hard and brittle.
These yellow growths look soft and slightly dangerous, like puffy mushroom clouds.
Throughout the forest, scenes of rare beauty present themselves. Some shout so loudly they can’t be missed…
Others are more subtle.
To all of them, I say thank you. You change a grey forest to technicolour.
P.S. I wrote this before snow fell. Returning to the woods two days later, I came across these little spruce-like umbrellas. My companion said his mother wore them in winter corsages. What a chilly picture came to mind!