By Richard Ammon
September 4, 2010

At 0655 this early September morning a few golden rays of the sun penetrated through the earth’s atmosphere, through the forest of summer trees into our cottage and landed on the stone fireplace in our bedroom. The stones lit up with flickering morning light, a bit like those dancing squares games found in arcades. Each stone a different shape and color flickering light and dark as the wind swayed the trees and rustled the leaves outside.

I watched with a bit of wonder at this dance of light on stone, the ethereal distant and the hard local. Then it occurred to me this was the end of the trip for these few beams; they had traveled 93 million miles to land here in this room, to morph themselves from light to heat.

The time it takes light to travel this distance is 500 seconds or 8.333 minutes. Is that not astounding–to travel 186,000 miles a second across an infinity of space to stop here? Other rays of course–most–don’t strike the earth and they’re still whizzing into the ethos.

It was a wondrous–and literal–wake up reminder of the splendor of nature on this tiny patch of the planet here in the woods of western Massachusetts. Our cottage is surrounded by trees and forest shrubbery. It is enclosed by nature. No lawn, no neighboring houses, one weathered utility pole (with a couple of unavoidable wires), a scattering of boulders and rocks amid miles of mulching leaves from seasons past.

Last night I heard scratching under the house, a chipmunk or a mouse–I couldn’t tell–nesting or scavenging. It happens regularly since the cottage sits on piers with no foundation. It makes a good winter refuge from the snow for little critters.

Last year two black bears, about three feet tall on all fours, came walking up our unpaved driveway (that looks more like a logging road than a lane for cars) and proceeded on their way into the woods past the cottage. Were they going someplace in particular? They didn’t pause to glance at our unnatural-looking painted wood-glass structure with the cupola on top. One following the other up the hill and through the woods. Beautiful shiny thick fur, big feet, blunted snouts. I was so startled (I was inside and happened to look out) that I didn’t think to grab my camera that was only a few feet away. So I’ll have to make do with the remembered image–or this one from the Internet.

Occasionally a deer comes into view munching and chewing branches and leaves. We have no flower garden to offer them a sweet blossom. They stand tall and with ears cocked listening alertly for any unusual sound, eyes constantly surveying the moment. The slightest movement inside the house sends them jumping away with amazing speed despite the rough terrain and abundant trees. They never seem to trip or hit anything.

In this immediate village area of Westhampton (about a dozen houses, a church and the library), there are a couple of flocks of wild turkeys, very social birds who travel with a dozen or more family members. They travel slowly, foraging and pecking the ground. When they come to a paved road they don’t look both ways but rather wander across as slowly as in the woods. It’s not unusual to see a car stopped waiting for the train to go by. The tall males, medium females and baby chicks all bobbing their heads as they move.

There are of course our local chipmunks that burrow little holes and scamper about gathering food bits. They run short distances then stop to look around, then dart to another stop among the low-lying foliage. They and the squirrels like acorns and there are plenty of these since our house is surrounded by huge 80-foot oak trees that constantly drop their hard nuts onto our roof and on to our un-housed car, with not so quiet sounds. An inch+ wide high-top acorn sounds like a gun shot when it drops straight down to hit the metal roof of the car. Fortunately it’s an old car (’97 Geo Tracker–four wheel drive to negotiate the steep driveway) so the dents don’t matter. I don’t think the re-sale value is going to be much!

During this season I’ve have had other non-human visitors. A lone pretty gray-silver fox sniffed around the periphery of the house, eyes very alert no doubt looking for prey before it walked off among the low foliage and shrubs. My guess is his most common meal is a chipmunk or squirrel or mouse. But the squirrels are lightning fast and can climb a fifty-foot tree in three seconds. So that leaves the non-climbers as more likely treats for the foxes.

Added to all this organic life, the wind often washes through the trees swaying them around and making sounds not unlike ocean waves rushing ashore. Some days it rains and the wondrous sprinkling, tapping, and pattering can be heard through the ceiling of the house. Sometimes accompanied by lightning and thunder. Put them all together and we have nature’s crescendo swirling furiously around us: thrashing whirring wind, slapping rain, flashes of electric bolts. It’s nature giving a great performance and offering its own thunderous clapping responses.

Then there’s the fresh water reservoir swimming ‘hole’ where we sometimes swim among the floating leaves, twigs, wiggly pollywogs and bottom mosses. Swimming backstroke is the best, seeing the surrounding forest trees dense with their leafage framing the sky which changes every day from clear to buttermilk clouds to an overcast gay canopy.

It’s all quite a treat, free of charge and hands-free.