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Pastor's Blog

The Oldest Leaf

July 8, 2020


I’m reluctant to admit that I was glad to see that the trail through the recently clear-cut woods at the Navarino Wildlife Area had been re-opened.  Why tidy up all those limbs that had been hacked off living beings and strewn about?  Through a killing field, I’d rather stumble and stagger than stride. No longer shall the trees of that field clap their hands. 

I happened to have read on one of the educational signs along the way last Friday that the practice of clear-cutting sections out at Navarino helps keep the forest young.  What’s wrong, I asked myself, with an old growth forest?  In some circles, old growth forests are extolled, admired.  Here, inexplicably, not.  I guess we do live in a social order where young revelers are oblivious to the fact that infections picked up at their COVID parties might find their way to the innumerable places where they come into contact with vulnerable elders.  Like grandma.

I do appreciate the fact that the trail through the clear-cut woods is a handy one, since it’s a direct route to the trails along the southern border of Navarino.  It also leads directly west to Highway K.  In the midst of a deer fly frenzy last Friday, I was glad to move at a pace that made me less of a target.

There were a few deer flies two Fridays ago.  But last Friday, their presence and that of many mosquitoes made it seem like all the molecules in the warm air were visible, were palpable, so that the air was no long an invisible, intangible substance, but was more like water which, when you’re in it, you constantly feel.  And hear.  The air was abuzz with bugs, bouncing off me, crawling all over me, a cloud of villains sucking my blood.

DEET and a mosquito net kept things tolerable.  I remember a youngish fellow I met out at Navarino on another day the deer flies reigned.  For some reason he was very anxious to let me know that his hatred of deer flies had inspired him to design a hat covered entirely with fly tape.  He gloated about how effective it was, covering his head with a coating of dead and dying deer flies. 

Who are quite remarkable creatures.  The blood they obtain from biting you is necessary for laying 100 – 800 eggs on plants near water or mud.  This fact made me wonder who sat in a hot swamp one day to wait for a deer fly to lay eggs.  This person waited long enough, apparently, to see several deer flies lay eggs, so this person was able to note the extraordinary range of deer fly egg-laying capabilities.  This person waited long enough to count 800 deer fly eggs.  All the while the air itself was alive with deer flies. 


That kind of focus and patience seems to me to be of Divine origin, since there are also a lot of sparrows, and not one of them falls without God taking note of it.

There are likely even more deer flies than sparrows.  When deer fly eggs hatch, the larva live between one and three years eating tiny creatures and decomposing matter in the muck.  Deer flies are old souls then, overwintering as larvae and then as pupae, born again to the last stage of their life only when the sun heats the air to 71.6 degrees.

Which at 6:30 a.m. last Friday was about as cool as it was going to get.  I stopped to take a picture of orange butterfly weed (which I had seen in a few places around Navarino) and to note the names of all the near mid-summer flowers blooming:  milkweed, mullein, butter and eggs, daisies, fleabane, knapweed, yarrow, hawkweed, clovers of all colors, and brown-eyed Susans.  I tried several times unsuccessfully to take a picture of butterflies that looked to me like Baltimore Checkerspots, one with a torn wing.  The heads of all the grasses are nodding already, gone to seed. 

Walking north on Highway K, my plan was to try to find the sandy trail that headed back to the Navarino Nature Center, which turned out to be pretty easy.  Their palmate leaves prostate beneath a bumper crop of fat, three-inch long, furry, sage-colored seed pods, native lupine covered the hot sandy trail.  Apparently roasting in the sun causes the pods to explode.  (Oh, to be able to wait to watch that!  Another thing for the bucket list!) 

When I saw a sandy field of these flowers over a month ago, I did think they looked like lupine but I never had a chance to confirm it.  The lupine Liz and I saw on the Pacific Crest Trail last summer grew thick in the ash-colored sand hills covered with stands of trunks charred by forest fires.  Their fragrance, unlike most of the flowers we saw, rose up often enough that we could detect it: a light, grape soda smell easily swept away by the slightest breeze. 

In order to get home on the sandy trail last Friday, I knew I needed to make a right turn somewhere and head up a hill.  The blackberry thicket that I remembered marking the turn was now a waist high wall. To tear through those blackberry thorns piercing my clothes, I had to surge forward pretty quickly, so I don’t recall whether they’ll be bearing berries this year or not. 

Ferns took over the trail near top of the hill; low branches reached across the trail; nothing looked familiar at all after a landmark maple at the top of the hill.  It was hotter than hell, and my attention was waning, so I took a wrong turn. It wasn’t long before I suspected as much, and I turned to my tormenter the sun, whose reliable position in the sky set me on the right path again.

Further east, at the bench on the 80 Acre Flowage, heal-all blooms.  A member of the mint family, one of its many names is heart of the earth.  Tea made from its leaves is extolled world-wide as capable of treating many maladies and healing wounds. You can learn how to brew this tea by watching a video online.  Who wouldn’t like to try a tea steeped in leaves of the heart of the earth?  Still, googling the instructions for a tea of such gravity just doesn’t seem right.  I wish I knew an elder, bewrinkled and brown, who had been taught the technique by his grandmother who learned it from her grandmother, who boiled the water with wood-fired heat, who knew just how long the leaves needed to steep, and how long they had to dry in the sun before being cured enough to heal.

At the end of the trail, I came upon the leaf pictured at beginning of this blog.  In this fallen leaf abides the mystery of the end of all creatures.  I’ve never seen a leaf stricken in this way.  A virus can do this to roses or fruit trees. Fungal infections in oaks occasionally have the same effect.  I found nothing on the internet that offered a satisfactory answer to the questions why or how a leaf might come to look like that one.  It seemed as though something burrowed or flowed into its veins cutting off nourishment to its extremities.  What was malnourished, died, ashes to ashes gray.  With all the gray leaves around it, the heart of that leaf still somehow holds its early autumn yellow glow.  It was the last, apparently, to perish, lying as it does on top of layers of leaves not like it at all: the oldest leaf infused still with life.

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange