Visiting An Old Friend

This fungi was spotted during a recent visit to Dobbins Woods. Photo by Susan M. Songster-Weaver

Sometimes you lose track of how long it has been since you spent time with an old friend. Work, family and other obligations seem to get in the way. Then, you find the Christmas holidays and the New Year approaching. Your mind goes back to all those beautiful memories you’ve stored in your brain of seasons past. Out of nowhere, a face or a name pops up, and you wonder how they are. Hopefully, you will be able to make a quick call, send a card or stop by to see them. Today, I made time to do just that – not with a call or a card – but with a visit. But my visit did not take me to see a friend or a relative – instead, it took me to one of my favorite places – Dobbins Woods.

Dobbin Woods is not a big, fancy tourist attraction or seemingly anything spectacular like white-capped mountains or plunging waterfalls. But to me, it is the perfect place. The perfect place to soothe my soul from the hustle and bustle of the season. The perfect place to help me ground my thoughts and rid myself of unnecessary worries. The perfect place for me to find my inner child and let myself go back in time to my happiest days while exploring the woods and being close to God and nature. It was just what I needed.

Today, in between doctor’s appointments in Erie and Olean, plus a trip to the veterinarian and a grocery shopping excursion, I decided I needed to visit my old friend on Bly Hill Road just off Route 394 in Ashville. When I parked my car and got out, the first thing I noticed was the smell of the pines, and all I could do was smile. That smell helped me remember all of the wonderful hikes I have had in those woods. Once, I led a group on snowshoes around the preserve. Several other times, I cross-country skied there. I went on a hike with Becky Nystom to look at the spring wildflowers and guided many friends around the path in the fall when the foliage was breathtaking. I can’t remember exactly the last time I was there, but I think it has been a couple of years.

While walking the trail, I noticed many great, new improvements. Large boards with something like tar paper nailed to them were placed in many of the traditionally wet, muddy sections of the trail. Those surfaces on the boards make them much safer for hikers to walk when the woods are wet. Today, though, there was a mound of snow and ice on them, which was slippery. I was using my Nordic walking sticks, so I simply walked around many of them. The ground was still frozen, so I was okay and did not sink into the mud.

Bright blue paint on the trees marking the trail really showed up in the woods, and it certainly helped to keep me headed in the right direction. There had been times in the past when I lost my way for a while because the trail markers were too far apart, so I was glad to see this change and thankful for all the volunteers who donated their time to get this improvement done!

One thing I did notice in the woods today was the total silence. Only once did I hear a “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” bird call. No squirrels or chipmunks were scampering around, although I did find a large pile of cracked nuts at the base of one tree. I saw lots of deer tracks but no sign of white tails bounding off ahead of me. It was still below freezing, and the sun was not shining, so that might have been the reason for so little animal movement. It may also have been that I did not sit still in one spot just to listen for them.

Some people might not see the wonder and beauty of these woods without the snow, fall foliage or green growth, but I believe beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This beholder saw scraggly ‘Charlie Brown” Christmas trees, lush green ground pine, small red berries hidden by dry brown leaves and beautiful ornate fungi lounging on dead logs.

This beholder saw an “old friend” and enjoyed all she had to offer.

May this holiday season bring you blessings of good health, both in body and soul!

Susan M. Songster Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit or