This originally appeared on the Armand Bayou blog, Wild About, on Dec. 9, 2021.
My primary volunteer activity at Armand Bayou is serving as an assistant guide on night hikes. These hikes are a great way to enhance the experience of the natural setting; sighted people especially may not be very aware of the smells or sounds of their environment. When a guide pauses in the forest and asks the group to be very quiet and focus on the sounds and smells around us, the woods seem larger and more full of wildlife.
Recently, I went on a hike around the preserve during the day. For me this was an unusual activity because I’m normally occupied during the day with other things. It had been about a year and a half or more since I was there for any extended period of time during daylight hours. I was astonished by how different it looked. As I looked into the forest, I realized its depth and the variety of tree and plant life. I saw the prairie in a new light too, how wide and large it is, how inviting it looks with the sun shining.
I was especially fascinated by the woods during the day because I have been studying trees. I’m particularly intrigued by what happens to them when they die. It’s almost as though they don’t truly die, but instead morph into a new universe that hosts fungi, bacteria, and insects; snakes love to lay on logs and sun themselves; mammals may nest inside, including tree squirrels, opossums and racoons.
On the boardwalk, a tree that stood close to the walkway was uprooted recently, probably during a storm. I have been taking pictures of the exposed roots, hoping to document its transformation into a platform for the teeming world inside the trunk and among the roots. Of course, since I primarily do night hikes at Armand Bayou, my pictures tend to be dark, sometimes tinted with the glow of a red light if I use that to help illuminate the photo. When I saw my uprooted tree during my day hike, I saw the full length of the trunk and was awed by how strong a force it must have taken to knock it down.
I’m going to start making time for regular walks through Armand Bayou during the day. Not only will it help me become more familiar with the grounds, it will also help me learn the skills of a lead guide. It may seem like a trivial thing, but I am looking forward to daylight hours at Armand Bayou, when things are clear – where I can come upon a deer just yards away knowing that it’s there; where I can actually see the marshy forest floor; and where it’s evident how large the bison enclosure is.
I will also keep photographing the uprooted tree and its metamorphosis. I bought a book recommended by a trail guide, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and will be reading that to complement my experience of the forest at Armand Bayou.
I invite you to join me as a fan of both daylight and nighttime hours at the center. Night hikes are available to reserve and although it will be dark, I know better now what is in the woods and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.