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Hunting for Forest Fairies

March 22, 2012

Sunday was one of those days. Plenty to do, but it was Sunday, it was sunny, I had no visitors, and I’d woken up early(ish). So – to hell with spring cleaning, onto the bike, and away over the hills! Away to the forest!

Just when did the fields turn so green…?

Civilisation wasn’t far away, with cars and motorbikes roaring past on the road, and houses visible across the river, but let’s pretend… let’s pretend the forest goes on forever in all directions…

Unlike last year’s spring hike, this year the forest was still mostly bare, but a few things were already growing:

To my shame, I have to admit that I have no idea what this is. (Edit 2012/4/3: Thanks to a blogging acquaintance who posted about it, I now know it is Golden Saxifrage, Chrysoplenium alternifolium. Never even heard that name before.)  But there were coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara):

and butterburr (Petasites) (I think):

If I’d wanted to, I could have foraged for ground elder and chickweed. Instead, I just nibbled on some woodsorrel.

Never too old to climb on the piles of logs,

to try to keep my balance,

because I’m a grown-up now, and it’s my turn to decide what that means. (I don’t really read xkcd, but a friend showed me that strip once, and it’s just so perfect!)

A place with history…

The remains of a Roman watchtower, looking out over the river that was the border of the Roman Empire.

Nearly two thousand years ago, it looked like this:

… now only mossy stones remain.

(And even though it’s not big – how big? Eight metres? Nine? Ten? I could only measure with steps on uneven forest ground – it is a little too big to get a picture of the whole thing. Or rather, the ground drops down to the river too sharply to take another step back.)

It was impossible to get a picture through the trees, but just across the river is the castle where I (try to) go for medieval dance once a month (I often miss several months in a row, because I can’t get the car, or am sick, or have to work late.)

Heading up into the forest, there were still stacks of firewood along the paths, and occasional signposts, but still, let’s pretend there is only forest, only untouched nature.

Since I recently decided not to rule out the existence of fairies, this hike was even more fun than usual. Can’t you just see this is some little goblin’s front porch?

Telling myself that there were fairies, not mice, rustling in the dry grass – and can’t you just see them dancing around the goldenrod seedheads in the sunshine?

Even when they’re still brown and bare, beech forests are beautiful:

The Cloven Stone – I bet there are some local legends about it, I should look it up.

A few steps on, another rock with a funny, shaggy coat of moss

and mushrooms across the path:

I hadn’t met any people since just after I’d entered the forest, even when I was on one of the main paths. Apparently, I was there so “early” (just after noon), that everyone else was still at home. Now I was moving up the hill, deeper into the forest, along a narrow trail, with even less chance of meeting people, up into the darker spruce forest:

Up along a narrow stream between mossy boulders – for me,  these have such a Ronia the Robber’s Daughter-like feel to them (because of the illustrations in my copy) that I half expected some grey dwarves, murk trolls or rumphobs t0 emerge from among them.

You find these signs in the craziest places:

I have no idea where you’d have to start from to pass through this forest on your way to Santiago de Compostela. Seems a little out of the way unless you swim across the river, but what do I know of geography? Maybe it’s the shortest way from somewhere… or maybe they go for the prettiest route instead of the quickest one…

Sometimes I kind of wish I was still Catholic, so I could walk the Way of  St. James… but then, I hear it is kind of crowded (closer to Santiago de Compostela, anyway, not here in an Austrian forest), so maybe not. And I certainly don’t want to be Catholic any more.

I almost stepped on a slow-worm, mistaking it for a branch…

I’m glad I didn’t – they’re cute.

Just around the corner from where I met the slow-worm, there was a sunny and dry piece of path, where I sat down to eat something and scribble in my notebook for a bit, then went on just before a runner passed by – the first of many people I met from then on, walkers and runners, mountain bikers and Nordic Walkers with their stupid click-clacking poles.

I hunted around the hilltop for a bit, looking for another historical site I didn’t find, passing through a maple forest with the ground covered in leaves so pale that they nearly looked like snow, a spruce forest so dark and gloomy I couldn’t even get a decent picture, and a bright and sunny oak forest, found more goblin homes, and steep paths that I had to run down because I can never just walk down a hill, hit a dead end but found some flowers there:

I love the colour of hepaticas – too bad both my pictures turned out a little blurry (I didn’t take more because my camera batteries were almost empty – reminds me, I need to recharge them before Saturday!) It’s one of the flowers, one of the colours, that really spells “spring” to me.

I don’t care about cowslips as much, but they’re a cheerful colour. The forest was full of impossible-to-photograph butterflies (Common Brimstones) that were almost exactly the same colour. Brimstones are always among the earliest butterflies of the year (this year I’ve seen some Peacocks earlier), but I’ve never seen as many of them in one day – dozens of them. They probably overwintered among the dry leaves, and now that it’s warm and sunny, they’re dancing around all over the place, looking like flying primrose flowers.

There were many other paths I could have taken, more forest I could have explored, but after over four hours, I was tired, so I headed down, down, down the hill, to where I could see houses again through the gaps in the trees, past a few gardens at the edge of the forest, where I saw signposts to the North Pole, the South Pole, Moscow and New York, a totem pole and some other weird things. I came out a little too far south, and had to hike back along the road for another half an hour to get to my bike, but it was OK – I saw a dragon along the way!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Ginny Burton permalink
    March 23, 2012 01:16

    Lovely story and beautiful pictures! Thank you for the woodland tour.

  2. Penny permalink
    March 23, 2012 18:46

    Beautiful words and pictures. Reminded me of the time my 5yr old daughter came home from school, having been on a nature trail with her class that day, and telling me she saw Racket Columbus in a tree. After much head scratching (me) and increasingly more frustrated description (her), I realised that what she had seen was Bracket Fungus!

    • March 23, 2012 20:11

      Little kids and the things they say are so much fun.
      I think Kitten Cousin was around that age when she coined the term “joke cave” – we think she was trying to say, “Winzhöhle” (tiny cave) as she pointed out a little hole under a root, but it came out as, “Look, it’s a Witzhöhle (joke cave)!” Ten years later, I still call them joke caves.
      Oh, and thanks for the term bracket fungus – I’ve been wondering how you call those in English!

  3. March 23, 2012 19:18

    I can’t remember the last time I saw moss! So jealous!

    • March 23, 2012 20:13

      I bet you have other beautiful things we don’t have here (but I still don’t think I’d like living in a place without moss).

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