It almost sounds like the beginning of a comedian’s gag: a naturalist, a science writer, an environmental science graduate student, and two science teachers walk into the woods…
Nah. Too wordy.
But walk into the north Alabama woods, we did.
We walked among the loblolly pines and the towering oak trees, discussing the life cycle of elephant mosquitos and the way rainwater dissolves limestone to form caves.
We climbed hills of sedimentary rock that showed the record of an ancient aquatic past. Along the way we talked about the difference between shaggy and scaly tree bark, and examined Aralia spinosa, commonly known as the devil’s walking stick because of the needle-sharp thorns that cover that tree’s trunk.
We hiked among the red cedars and the red buds, shaking our heads at the difficulty of distinguishing between green and white ash trees. We cursed the presence of the invasive honeysuckles while praising our native, albeit absent-on-that-trail species, the scarlet honeysuckle.
On hands and knees, we confirmed that trillium flowers smell like bananas and examined horn coral fossils formed more than 5 million of our lifetimes ago. We traced deer tracks with our fingers and looked under the leaves of mayapples to see if they were boys or girls.
As our boots traversed miles of trail, we pondered the hybridization of white oaks, listened to the distant call of a barred owl, and discussed the merits of modern day forestry practices.
We talked of children and grandchildren, of books and teaching and writing and sharing, and we enjoyed the company of like-minded friends. We walked, content in the moment, in the foothills of the Appalachians on a gorgeous afternoon in the month of March. No joke.