Fairy rings

A trip to Northern California

We’re traveling for the first time since lockdown. We have rented a little room, a trail from the driveway leads to a forest dense with redwood trees, and I was reminded during a walk yesterday of “fairy rings,” the phenomenon of trees growing in a circle.

They’re easy to spot: groups of similarly aged plants (in this case all enormous trees) standing together in a circle with an emptyish spot in the middle known as a “necrotic zone,” wonderfully enough. All because, when young, a group of sprouts formed around the base of a mature tree, utilizing its nutrients, its root system, then rose together. Over time, the center tree died, fell, decomposed, but the ring of younger trees still grew, gradually overshadowing the spot where their parent once stood.

Or, it’s all the result of evil ravers. Per Wikipedia:

Their names in European languages often allude to supernatural origins; they are known as ronds de sorcières (“witches' circles”) in French, and Hexenringe (“witches' rings”) in German. In German tradition, fairy rings were thought to mark the site of witches' dancing on Walpurgis Night, and Dutch superstition claimed that the circles show where the Devil set his milk churn. In Tyrol, folklore attributed fairy rings to the fiery tails of flying dragons; once a dragon had created such a circle, nothing but toadstools could grow there for seven years. European superstitions routinely warned against entering a fairy ring. French tradition reported that fairy rings were guarded by giant bug-eyed toads that cursed those who violated the circles. In other parts of Europe, entering a fairy ring would result in the loss of an eye. Fairy rings are associated with diminutive spirits in the Philippines.

No milk churns spotted, and we haven’t lost an eye yet. But the woods are big.


What the what? An occasional newsletter by Rosecrans Baldwin of (very) short essays about things he finds beautiful. Any books mentioned are on a list at Bookshop. Rosecrans’s next book, Everything Now, is available for preorder – Amazon, Bookshop, or your local store.