Forest Fridays are published weekly by the PA Bureau of Forestry, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
by Ryan Reed
Roughly 17 million acres of Pennsylvania are covered by forests; approximately one third of which is publicly accessible. We should all be thankful for these facts for so many reasons, including benefits of clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and so many more.
One reason to be thankful for forests, which I don’t often encounter in things I read, is much less quantifiable and admittedly abstract, but I would bet that many readers feel the same. I think I speak for many of us when I say that I’m thankful for our forests for the sense of wonder they inspire.
When I occupy our built environments, I generally do not get that same feeling. There’s just no wonder in observing the old gum spots on the sidewalk and the same old, boring sights of strip malls and subdivisions. When I look around these places, I know exactly what I’m getting, and my mind stops to ponder very few of the things I see. It’s quite the opposite in the forest.
In the woods, I see a tree cavity and wonder what’s in there, or perhaps a “new” species I haven’t yet observed. A fallen oak log inspires more ponderous moments. When did it fall, and why? How old this behemoth must be! How many squirrels and birds nested in it and how many deer did it feed? If the tree could talk, what stories could it tell?
Once the questions start, it’s hard stopping them. In the forest, my mind engenders a spirit of innocence not unlike that which I observe in my young daughters. In short, these things are just plain fun.
“It’s a shelf fungus.”
“That one is a turkey tail.”
“Why did that tree grow like that?”
“Probably because it got more sun on that side.”
“Daddy, how long do you think this stump will stay here? Do you think other people have sat here? Maybe other animals sit here too! Oooh look! There’s a tiny hole in the ground. Do you think a chipmunk lives in there? Does it have a family, too?”
Many answers I know, and some make me wonder. Some I will never know, and there’s beauty in that too. What a pleasure it is to experience these wanderings together that produce so much wonder. This Thanksgiving let us all reflect on and give thanks for those priceless moments of wonder in Penn’s Woods.