Never before had I stood among so many beeches at once, at least not that I can recall. Many of them bore weathered scars inflicted by arrogant lovers, but still stood sturdy, smooth, and tall. They cast a mottled but respectable shade over the ground, working with the maples to crowd out older oaks and hickories. I couldn’t help but marvel at how green everything was! The sun, well into its daily procession, painted the canopy a dazzling emerald. The trunks holding up the canopy like elegant pillars touted a range of every shade of brown, accompanied by the ashy charcoal of the beech. The roots disappeared into a floor littered with leaves in varying stages of decomposition, sometimes wrapped in a blanket of wildflowers. The wind set everything to a gentle sway, such that the whole place seemed to breathe as one being.
Knowing the age of the place I liked to think that there was indeed a presence there, a slumbering consciousness that could only arise from a prolonged, uninterrupted existence. There seemed to be a succession of natural processes to an extent I had never seen– trees grew of all ages, with many examples of fallen logs decomposing, and a transition of forest type from sun-loving oak to shade-tolerant maple and beech. There were many sites where many different kinds of mushroom and fungi could be found simply along the boardwalk, with more bound to be hiding elsewhere in the woods. There were no tangles of kudzu, no thickets of honeysuckle. This was a free place, different from the cultivated and constrained landscape of the College of Wooster.
The mushrooms of the Woods especially stood out to me, not because they were foreign but because they were allowed to live. On more than one occasion I had been on my way across campus only to be taken aback with the realization that what once was a happy colony of mushrooms sitting below a tree had been poisoned by the grounds crew. At Johnson’s Woods there were no trustees who decided what creature could grow where. The mushrooms served their valuable role as decomposer and nutrient distributor in the ecosystem without interruption. Some bubbled a brilliant orange, others flared a powdery white. Some poked out from fallen logs or the trunks of a few trees like spongy shelves, and others stood straight from the forest floor, towering not in stature but in glory. Each had a part to play in this place that looked like a painting, and each knew its value.