Tom Stock

Poet, Essayist, Photographer, Naturalist

The Hills In Early Summer: July 6, 2107

I walked around the edge of the parking at Manorville Hills County Parking lot to pick up litter while awaiting Mark’s arrival. I found a Deptford Pink plant near the kiosk. This flower is a tiny pinnacle on the very top of a tall grass-like stem. Unless you are curious with good powers of observation and always looking for a new discovery, you’d probably miss this plant. I didn’t. The tiny pink, five petal flower is a shock because it is so small. It blabs its minute spot of color. I always look closer. The petals are pointed. Although it is a non native, I readily accept it as a native. It comes from the British Isles named after the town of Deptford, north of London.

Mark arrived and we set off on our jaunt. We followed the Paumanok Path eastward, our usual route. I noticed tall knee-high grass in the meadow. I wanted to check out my bench. “You’re likely to pick up ticks.” Mark called. I wore gaiters and had light tan pants tucked into socks. The bench was almost hidden. Never have I seen so much grass in this meadow. Of the many times I’ve been here, this is a first. A likely explanation is several heavy rainfalls over the past three months. Usually at this time of year, dry conditions cause mosses to shrivel. Not now. Mossy banks bubbled with turgidity. We crossed through the pine plantation and climbed the hill where another of my benches is located. We rested for a few moments, and then pushed on.

We crossed trail number five. There are six north-south trails with numbers that the county has marked for emergency rescue. Mark checked his smart phone. We knew we could bail out and return on Hot Water Street when we reached trail #6. The woods looked different, fresher, cleaner, and healthier. We found ourselves in a grotto of widely spaced Oak trees and a Bracken Fern understory. Picture a forest with no shrubs, just huge swaths of ferns and trees. From the trail, I felt like I was in a green ocean. I’ve never seen such a sight in all the years I’ve taken this path. We paused and scanned. The green carpet hovered 2 ½ feet above the ground. I felt light, buoyant, and startled at the beauty I was part of. The overcast sky was a factor. There was even light, no dapple, and no overexposed spots. Is this a dream? The slopes rose and dipped exactly revealing the topography. There were no shrubs to break up the view. A sea of Bracken fern with their perfect triangular triple triangle fronds looked like a lacy sheet of green. Our narrow trail was bounded by fern on both sides. It was a wonderland. The ferns have responded to lots of rainfall. Normally, the Pine Barrens are dry and never this wet. I wanted to stay.

Back home, I fished out my fern identification book to Bracken Fern. I bought this pocket ID book back in the mid 1970’s and took it to the Museum Of Natural History where I met the author, Farida Wiley. I found her office and asked her to autograph my copy. “Ferns” was published in 1936. I’ve only used it a half dozen times. The book describes 220 species of ferns of the New England and Middle Atlantic States. Wiley led nature walks and taught teachers how to include nature study into their lesson plans.

The book has illustrations done by Wiley, scientific descriptions, and remarks. Here are a few notes on Bracken Fern: stipe not round (the stem); bundles spread (a cross section of the stipe reveals spots where the vascular bundles –the conducting tubes – bring water and nutrients up to the frond; more than once pinnate ( the indentations in each frond); found almost throughout the world; coarse; common almost everywhere.

I collected three samples of bracken, green, yellow, and brown. This shows the process of change as the season wears on. Bracken is a preferred food of deer. “Most of the deer have been hunted” Mark surmised.

I found a barn owl feather in a pool as we headed back to the parking lot. The feather is extremely soft because when owls fly, they need to be silent fliers so they can ambush their pray.

his was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had in nature. It inspired me to write a poem titled CERTAIN PEACE. My certainty is the hills themselves. To have a place like this almost entirely to myself is a miracle on Long Island. I thank my friend Mark for the photo he took that accompanies this photo



Poor Little Tree


Certain Peace


  1. I love ferns…it is easy to picture the scene with the description “a green ocean”.

    This seems like two different entries: the fern experience in the forest and the second the attempt to save the baby bird.

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