Nature Morte

3 April 2011


Today I took the dogs for a walk into the woods, expecting to see (and to photograph) some signs of spring. The air was thick with the scent of skunk cabbage, and I did see them in bloom, but spring seems to be coming late this year.

It has been rather wet, though far from the wettest spring I can remember. While in Portland many cherry trees are in full bloom (I saw several blossoming trees yesterday), here in rural Clatsop County, on the other side of the Coast Range, it is both cooler and wetter and spring comes later.

Though I went looking for signs of spring, I saw more signs of death left over from the previous year (and sometimes from a hundred years previously, as in the case of the old growth cedar stumps that are still scattered around the woods) than signs of new life from this year.

The signs of death were everywhere I looked — dead leaf litter covering the ground, dead leaves at the bottom of a puddle in the road, dead branches littering the road, and a rich mass of decomposing conifer needles under the trees, slowly and silently transforming themselves in loam.

One might formulate this distinction between new life and old death as the distinction between natura naturans and natura naturata. And while I few tender shoots of new growth poked up from the death littering the ground, natura naturata definitely predominated over natura naturans.

The biomass covering the forest floor will soon feed the new growth of life. The lifeless husk will feed the next generation of life in a recursive food chain that is the true Great Chain of Being. Life comes from death; death comes from life. Natura naturans comes from natura naturata; natura naturata comes from natura naturans.

And for Chloe the outing was a pure joy.

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