What happens to all of the dead leaves?

On a cool afternoon, I enter a shaded path leading into a small nature preserve near my home in southern Maine. I tread slowly beneath the pines, eager to explore beyond the confines of my pantry and home office after weeks of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

As I crunch over dead leaves into the shadows, I’m pulled farther in by the sound of rushing water, and soon a wide stream emerges to the left. I have never visited this seven-acre patch of woods before, so I soak up its newness. The moist twigs lit by dappled sunlight, the large clumps of dead leaves damming up eddies: They relieve some of the weight of the pandemic.


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