To everything there is a season. Add to that environment, weather, and serendipity. Think you’ve seen everything in your wild neighbourhood? I doubt it.
As an author who respects setting, as I wrote my fiction, I became a keen observer of nature in some highly opposite places, from the boreal forests of Northern Ontario to the Utah desert to the tamer Michigan woods, and finally to the rainforest on Vancouver Island.
Because I have spoiled and demanding dogs, I am out every day, rain or shine. We do have the occasional hail, but I draw the line at that. Of course we get plenty of winter rain on the magical island. For the five years I had been treading these paths, I thought I had catalogued everything. How jaded of me. I was wrong. And I will be wrong again.
This particular trail east of Victoria, which I call the Anderson Loop (named for the century farm on the perimeter), goes through former clear-cut left alone the past forty or fifty years, gauging by the size of the Douglas firs. Years ago someone brought a long white bench to a now overgrown view of Muir Creek far below. The bench still stood like a white pew, the pain peeling, the supports weakening, until a year ago. Then someone in a four-by-four ran over it. Don’t get me started on those who ravage the woods for their own malevolent pleasure.
When I arrived fresh from the Nickel Capital of Sudbury, I was keen to learn about my new land. Spring’s first freebie, the salmonberry, followed by the tiny and so sweet ground blackberry, the thimbleberry, the salal, and the Himalayan blackberry, which sends the fat bears to semi-hibernation. I marvelled at the western St. John’s wort, the fringecup, the purple digitalis, the vanilla plant, and the gigantic hogweed. Mushrooms were scarcer, so were jellies, but oh, the saprophytes.
Saprophytes live parasitically on forest waste. Indian pipes and pinesap are most common, along with earth tongues and antlers. My prize candystripe plant didn’t even look real. I thought I had seen everything. Then last week I came across something new. Even after five years. A gnome plant. Had it been there before? With my keen eye to the ground on hundreds of trips, I doubt it. But thanks to the exact amount of rain, temperatures, time, forest-bed food, and an errant spore or two or ten, there they were in all their pink and warty splendor. I felt blessed by a wonder few have seen. And only ten minutes from my house. How fortunate I am to have a schoolroom in the woods.