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A blog focused on nature, science, environmental topics, and happenings at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

This photograph of the new Battery Park City was taken on my last visit to Manhattan, in the fall of 2019. The World Trade Center peeks from behind the skyscraper on the right. The dark, small, cylindrical edifice is an entrance to trains and subways.

Until this year my friend Pete and I enjoyed long walking tours of the city at least once a season. We chose this location because we had not yet walked through the new parks and residences of this neighborhood. Battery Park City had been conceived back in the 1960s to replace the moldering remains of the shipping industry, which gave the area all the charm of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Long in the making, and with a financial structure more complex than the architecture, it was finally a reality.

We were impressed. We strolled between high rises in parks carefully designed to provide residents with both nature and community. The underlying principles of the project were those of Jane Jacobs, the urban activist who successfully saved Greenwich Village from the highways and high rises of Robert Moses. One third of the area has been reserved for parkland.

The dominant feeling on the sidewalks is serenity, a rare emotion in Manhattan. One sees all the large, new condos, shopping areas and restaurants, but only as background to trees and playgrounds. It is as though the trees are a cover, making it impossible to focus on the buildings beyond their entrances and shrubbery. I took this photograph as we prepared to return home on New Jersey transit.

When I saw it, I saw a reality the landscaping had obscured. The one-third area reserved for parkland is square footage. The cubic footage of human construction dwarfs and obscures what is in fact a comparatively small amount of greenery. From any perspective beyond submersion in the project, one sees how the buildings dominate. Manhattan’s trees still grown in the shadows of the skyscrapers, but at least they are becoming part of the conversation, if only in a whisper.

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

I recently discovered a German word that describes what I experience during walks in the forest. It is waldeinsamkeit. Wald means forest. Einsamkeit means primarily loneliness, but also solitude, depending on one’s state of mind. 

Waldeinsamkeit is intended to mean solitude in the forest, a feeling of oneness, of being part of nature. It is the experience that brought most of us here, and motivates local folks to stay. We need not spend a lot of time describing this experience to each other, as it is so fundamental to forest living. The person experiencing waldeninsamkeit as loneliness will soon be heading for a suburb or a city. 

This German concept has been expressed by romantic poets for centuries. It is especially used by those who walk in the Black Forest, the setting of many fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. There is a suggestion of enchantment as the cares of the world outside the forest fade away. 

A modern Japanese discipline is similar, if adorned with New Age connotations. Shinrin-yoku is a form of ecotherapy, or healing through contact and communion with the natural world. It was conceived in the 1980s and is one of many disciplines that seek to recover health and vitality from the earth itself. 

It means “forest bathing,” walking through the forest and intentionally doing exercises to enhance one’s state of mind and body. It may seem strange that one would need a therapy or exercises to be invigorated by a walk in the forest, but when one considers how estranged many humans have become from the natural world, intentionality and discipline might be needed to recover. 

If, however, one finds oneself in the forest without the benefits of a shinrin-yoku practitioner, I suggest you take a dog. A dog will enhance your nature bathing like a loofah enhances a Jacuzzi.  A dog will reconnect you to the natural world and open you to its healing power. A dog has the power to banish loneliness while enhancing solitude. This is a special form of the German concept that I just invented, waldeinsamkeit mit hund.



A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident 

The first day that snow was on the ground I noticed a plant standing tall and strong when every other splash of green was either on the limb of an evergreen or limply hanging onto a branch like overcooked kale. It is a Lenten Rose. 

I knew the Lenten Rose was the first sign of green and color in the spring. Its first flowers pop through the snow well before the more heralded crocuses.  It is so early I have come to think of it as a harbinger of false spring. There will be more snowfalls after this bloom and real spring lags well behind. It is helpful, however, to those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, to whom false hope is better than none at all. 

Now I discover the same plant that brings the first bloom of spring also lingers longest into the winter. This is like an athlete winning both the hundred meter dash and the marathon: a constitution requiring the both the fastest speed and the greatest endurance. What kind of super plant is this? 

The Lenten Rose is one of several species of Hellebores, an herb whose name comes from the Greek words meaning, essentially, “bad food.” Aptly named, every part of the plant is poisonous. Rabbits and deer won’t eat it. Touching any part of the plant invites an allergic reaction. It was used in ancient Rome and Greece to treat a variety of ailments, none successfully. 

It is classified as an herb, though it doesn’t fit easily into any category. Herbs are usually medicinal or enhance the preservation and taste of other plants. Herbalists over the centuries have used Hellebores to both cure and induce madness. As late as the twentieth century an expert on the plant suggested that hellebore cuttings tossed in the air or spread on the ground and walked upon would induce invisibility. I intend to try this in the spring, remembering to wear gloves while scattering.

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

“Is that a spotted lantern fly?” Kathleen asked a few weeks ago. She was referring to an invasive species that has been seen as nearby as Berks County. It destroys grape, fruit tree and logging harvests. It is not a true fly, but a planthopper, using its wings only to strengthen its jumps. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture requests sightings be reported. This would have been their first appearance in Pike County and reason for alarm. 

“No,” I said. A friend in Berks County had posted photos of the spotted lantern fly. I knew this bug, though sporting a big spot, was not. Therefore, I did not kill it. 

Later I searched on line to identify this orange flying bug with pretty, dark blue and yellow-orange coloring, a big spot, and very long antennae. I failed.  My descriptions were too general. I had overlooked its most identifying feature. 

Richard Patterson, my friend and expert in the forest, immediately recognized it as a net-winged beetle, named for the ruffles and ridges on its wings. This name covers a large number of beetles of considerable variation.  All they have in common is their wing texture. One looks like a very small ear of corn.  

The net-winged beetle is like a big firefly with no lights. It has no stinger, is slow in flight, eats moderately and harmlessly, is not invasive and protects itself only by expanding its wings and tasting terrible. I’m glad I knew enough not to kill it. 

Suppose, however, I knew only that bugs with a spot or spots might be heading our way to be destructive, but didn’t know what they looked like? With a little paranoia, poor impulse control and excessive confidence in my ability to do the right thing without good information, I might have killed it. 

That would have been bad for the beetle and bad for the forest, which needs diversity. I too, would have been harmed. I would have taken one step closer to trusting fear rather than facts, not a good strategy for any species’ survival.

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