I’ve had Henry, a big handsome alpha dog, for the last two years. People say he’s badly trained. I’m not sure. Like the other members of my household, Henry definitely has a will of his own and yanks me around sometimes on the leash, but I often find him surprisingly delicate and polite in situations where he might be expected to be difficult to control.

In any case, Henry is a big responsibility and requires a serious walk off the leash every day. So he and I generally head to the many acres of woods owned by Skidmore College.

Shadblow adding a rosy glow

Before we got Henry, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the woods. My experience of nature was all about gardening. My family would want to hike on a weekend, and I always would rather be gardening.

Even when my shovel was at rest, I always preferred being in gardens, too, to most woods–unless something really spectacular was happening, such as a waterfall beside the trail. I really like gardens, and the more artificial, the better. Some of my favorite things: hybrid tulips in crazy shapes and colors, shrubs clipped into lollipops and cubes, and outrageous tubers such as dahlias and cannas. I love vegetable gardens in part because even the humblest is intensely geometrical.

But since Henry, I’ve really been appreciating the beauty of a perfectly ordinary second-growth or third-growth scrubby Northeastern wood. Yeah, there are some wildflowers here in spring, but they tend to be of the unexciting kind, trillium rather than sanguinaria. Yeah, there are some mushrooms, but no boletes that I’d bring home for soup.

The details of this place are not very interesting, but the experience is nonetheless very nice.

Crunchy underfoot

I like the way the woods smell and the fact that even on the hottest day, the air underneath the trees is crisp. I like the woods in all seasons–and getting out into them at noon in January or February works to stave off the winter blues. I like the fact that Henry smiles when he’s in the woods.

I also like the fact that I am not responsible for these woods. As a gardener, I feel an odd sense of leisure in a place that doesn’t need me to weed or mulch it.