You bushwhack through the woods until you hit a slow-moving river. There’s an old log there. Makes a good place to sit. You go often enough, and the place starts to feel familiar.

Kentucky author Chris Offut wrote a book about spending his mornings by a river. Gave him a chance to think. (The book is “Same River Twice,” in case you’re interested).

Sitting in one spot is a way to see wildlife. There’s a chipmunk that comes around. Usually I see a coiled snake sleeping near the log. Deer walk by. There’s a Belted Kingfisher watching the water from an overhanging branch.

There are Red-headed and Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Swainson’s Thrushes and occasionally I see a Woodcock. You wouldn’t see them if you were on the move. But you’re on the log.

The idea hit: this little spot is a neighborhood.

It’s a neighborhood just like the kind you find in cities. New York isn’t one big city, it’s a hundred little cities. The neighborhoods are defined by streets and El tracks.

It’s the same in the woods. This half-acre by the river is defined by a stand of trees to my left, the log by the bank, and a little creek on the right. Within those perimeters, it’s a neighborhood.

I understand now that it’s not a different chipmunk every time. This guy lives here. It’s the same Belted Kingfisher on the branch. His branch. Same coiled snake. Same neighborhood deer herd. The woodpeckers and Flickers live in those trees; this is their turf.

That’s my sighting of the day: an idea. The idea that the woods aren’t an expanse of wildness, but a collection of well defined turfs. And when you get to know one, you go back to it. And you like it. You’re not just experiencing nature. But human nature, too.

One Response to “Turf.”

  1. Greg says:

    While photographing birds in Costa Rica in the early 90s, I spent some time with a couple of researchers who proved that the Swainson’s Thrushes that winter in the mountains near Monteverde each year are the same birds…each year.

    Each one travels thousands of miles from a staked out nesting-turf in Canada that it defends against other thrushes, to a staked out winter-turf in Costa Rica that it defends against other thrushes.

    It was an amazing revelation.