find of the day

If you judged only by the number of morels plucked from the soil, then my first morel hunt of the season was an absolute bust. I saw one small grey morel, no larger than the first knuckle of my thumb. I found three times that many ticks on my clothes–so if this was a tick hunt, then it would have been slightly more successful.

However, if you just count it as a walk in the woods, it was an unqualified triumph. I went with my brother Roger Lee, who may be a tad too impatient to be a good mushroom hunter but has a nicely cavalier attitude about being in the woods. Some people hover around you when you’re in the woods–afraid to get too far away from you, afraid you’ll get lost or they’ll get lost. Roger Lee just wanders off with the casual assumption that somehow you’ll manage to meet up again somewhere. I like that.

It was Roger Lee who made the Find of the Day. A tipi frame, almost camouflaged by being as bare as the trees around it. Centered below the frame was a small circle of rocks to serve as a fire-pit. Clearly somebody had camped there in the not-too-distant past; the need for a fire suggests last autumn or possibly even during the winter. The tipi was in a good spot–protected from the wind, a few yards away a small brook, isolated from view, far enough from the road to be inconvenient to find but close enough that fifteen minutes of steady walking would get you there.

But the tipi frame wasn’t the Find of the Day; that was just an interesting object. The woods are full of interesting objects–things that are thought-provoking but not particularly surprising. That’s one of the many reasons to walk in the woods.

No, the Find of the Day was lurking a short distance away–maybe fifteen yards–hidden inside the hollow trunk of a dying tree.

The tree itself was an interesting object. It was bent and broken–maybe the result of an old lightning strike, maybe from some sort of rot, maybe ice damage, maybe an infestation of beetles–who can say? But it was bent and broken open, and the interior of the trunk was hollow.

The natural thing to do with a bent, broken, hollow tree trunk, of course, is to look inside. Which is exactly what Roger Lee did. You’d have done the same thing your ownself, you know it. What he saw inside, that was the Find of the Day.

I’ve written elsewhere about my fascination with a chunk of curbing wrapped in a length of red PVC wire. That object must have struck a chord with people, because since then I’ve received a number of emails from people describing similar found-objects, sometimes with cameraphone photos showing bits of concrete bundled in ribbon or stones tied up in wire like some sort of primitive holiday package. I find them all strangely fascinating.

This is what was tucked away in the hollow of that bent tree:

I’ve no idea what this bluish stone is, although it appears to have been shaped at some point in the past. I’ve no idea why a length of twine is so tidily coiled around it, although the condition of the twine suggests it was done fairly recently. And I’ve no idea why it was stashed n the hollow of a dead tree trunk, although it clearly was stashed; it didn’t just wind up there by accident.

Somebody did this purposefully. Somebody deliberately placed the stone in the hollow of the tree, and just as deliberately encircled it with a length of twine. Most likely it was placed there by whoever was camping in the nearby tipi–but that’s just an assumption.

All I know is that this is strange and lovely and it moves me in some peculiar way. The Irish have a saying: Níl sa saol seo ach ceo is ní bheimíd beo ach seal beag gearr. It’s a misty old world and we’re only in it for a short, sharp while. It’s stuff like this that keeps it sharp.

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