Fierce Green Fire: Finding nature’s ballet in the middle of a thunderstorm

By Jonathan Hicks
Staff Writer

It was a dark and stormy night. Or, at least it had been. By this point, the lightning was struggling to break through distant clouds, and the thunder was smothered as though an ethereal engine was being muffled. The half moon had moved into view, and the calls of nighthawks and crickets began to grow louder. It was well after midnight, but implored by the steadily increasing quietude, I sleeplessly wandered into a local park.

The park was nothing special, just an assortment of a few old trees and a bed of infrequently-mowed grass. I found myself sitting comfortably at an old wooden picnic table tucked beneath a large oak tree. The table’s brown paint had been mostly chipped away, leaving behind a surface that was a well-camouflaged mosaic of shade and texture. Lovers and friends of long ago had left their names and initials carved deep in the wood, though most were difficult to read, if not worn away entirely. I wondered to myself if the relationships had lasted as long as the carvings.

Beneath and all around the table was a season’s gathering of leaves, twigs and acorn husks. Some grass grew through the surface layer, but for the most part, the ground resembled the picnic table; lots of textures, but only a few shades of brown. This was actually how a forest floor should look—except for the picnic table, of course.

It was not long before my mind stopped wandering, and my senses took over. The scents of various woods in equally varying stages of decay were beautiful, brought to life by the earlier rain and the slightest of breezes. The sound of thunder in the distance had disappeared, and the moisture of the still rain-soaked picnic table had begun to seep through my jeans. The air was cool, but comfortable on my exposed forearms.

Only when the birds and bugs had gone silent did I hear the most peculiar of noises… a tiny rustle in the leaf litter below. Though I had pinpointed the sound, I saw nothing. Focused on the ground, I noticed the slight movement of a stick. A moment later, the rustling was accompanied by the shifting of a leaf. Could it be a mouse or mole? Perhaps a small snake?

First directly in front, then all around me, I became acutely aware of every sound. I was unable to identify the source of the activity until for just an instant, the tiniest ray of moonlight showed a glimmering streak alongside a nutshell. There were earthworms emerging from the ground, perhaps emboldened by the storm.

The ground was alive with the sound and movement of the worms, as though the earth were tickled and twitching. I could not take my eyes away. While I initially focused on individual movements, my scope eventually began to expand as I took in the full view of the ground in front of me. This strange ballet was completely random, yet somehow rhythmic. There was a tiny display of chaos right in front of me, and yet I found myself strangely calmed.

I am not sure how long I sat there that night, but eventually, I walked back home. As I did so, a thought occurred to me: A small but dramatic change had occurred right before my eyes, and though I had been to that park dozens of times, I had never taken notice. It reminded me of the dynamic nature of life, and dynamic life of nature. No doubt about it, things are always shifting, moving, and changing…even if we don’t always take notice.

From the June 23-29, 2010 issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!