Out on the trail today in unnaturally warm weather for this time of year. It’s the benevolent phase of autumn, when the sun angles through the colorful leaves and illuminates them like fire. We were cleaning drainage ditches on the Pete Lake trail. I whined when I heard this was our destination, because we make many trips back and forth on it every summer. Because it can be buggy and muggy and tedious and crowded with recreationists. But today we had it to ourselves. There were no pesky insects. Recent rains have dampened the soil so that it is a perfect consistency for digging. The deep shade under the big old hemlocks and silver firs was rich and sheltering. Sunbeams pierced the tree canopy, lighting up patches of the forest floor. The mosses are plump with moisture and glow like emerald green velvet. Once in awhile a bird fluttered overhead, and a varied thrush tried out a rusty call. Every sort of fungi has popped out. Some are old and flopped over, moldy and melting back into the soil. Others are just emerging firm from the carpet of needles.
I found a golden chanterelle at the end of one of the ditches I was working on, and that put my eyes on alert for the rest of the day. I peeled back layers of damp dirt from the drainages, smoothing and sculpting it so that it will divert water off the trail when the rains come later this fall and when the snow melts in the spring. Running water is the mortal enemy of trail tread. Growing up in a rainy place, playing in the water was second nature. I spent a rubber-booted childhood making dams and canals, watching what water does. So digging drainage delights the eight-year old in me. It is also the child who hunts for mushrooms, ridiculously pleased when I spot their orange funnels poking up. There are lots and lots of mushrooms, but I know these will be a delicious treat when I get them home. Essence of the woods!
I don’t like to see the light go at the end of the day, but this afternoon I found myself anticipating the slanting sun because of the brief burst of flaming color. We walked back along the road and stopped to admire the glowing vine maple leaves and brilliant gold cottonwoods. The conifers are dark and mysterious behind this short-lived riot of reds, oranges and yellows. Even as we marvel at the color, decay is at work and will prevail.
But for now–this shining now–the sky is blue and dry and the world is filled with wonderments. I feel as if I have been released into the real world after spending days caught up in human concerns and abstractions like money and plans for the rest of my life. None of that matters very much when the leaves are turning and my body is upright and breathing on the trail, and the air is intoxicating. I have discovered the secret of happiness, and it is nothing more difficult than deciding to be happy.
And I am.