Here I am with a pitch pine branch and cones, the bait lid, and birch bark.

In my workshop, Writing from Nature, we spent one morning collecting. Collecting can mean picking up some things like pine cones, leaves, bark, or acorns or it can mean drawing or taking photographs of plants, animals, trees.

When we got back from these solo walks, we set out our collections on tables and spent 20 minutes writing. We then gave the others guides to our collections and the ideas they’d inspired.

Here’s part of my field guide.

1. Birch bark. For 40 years I’ve considered birch bark a leftover…. ¬†Something I write on or put on my shelf, admiring its papery greyish texture. It draws me closer to the woods. But the bark I collected that day lay on the ground where a log had fallen. I looked closely at how the bark covers the tree. The bark was all that remained of the log, which had decomposed just where it had landed. The shell log still covered in birch bark reminded me of bones. Something dynamic had happened there in the forest a year or two earlier. When branch or tree falls, it releases tremendous energy.

2. Cone from a white pine (I think) still attached to a branch, with needles. Needles looked brown prematurely. Something was stressing this tree. All the pines had sections of brown needles.

3. Pine cones. From the forest floor. The shape pleases me. Dark and light interplay. Each seed in the cone opens and waits until the day it breaks off and scatters. Each seed is triangular with light sections on the top.

4. An old lid from a bait container. “12 Canadian Crawlers. Keep cool, 40 degrees F. Please Do Not Litter. Product of Canada.” A drawing of a leaping trout with water splashes behind.

5. Photos of a giant sugar maple tree next to cottages that are named “Maple Shade” and “Sugarbush.” One tree is outfitted with sap-gathering apparatus.

6. Various photos of birch bark on the ground still in the shape of the branch it covered. A world lives in side the composted center of this downed log.

7. Photo of a spider on a plant. It is doing what it needs to do, and I don’t know what that is, but I know that a little miracle is going on here.

8. Another birch log: this one at the bottom of Squam Lake, near the dock I stand on. I can sense the wind and rain that sent this into the lake. The clear water barely obscures the outlines of the bark.

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