I watch as pieces of my breath leave my body and form puffs of clouds against the cool morning air. I can't see the sun, only the golden light cast upon the sky which announces its arrival and spreads over the heavens like a canvas splashed with streaks of pink and violet light. I feel the cold clear beads of dew sink through my white sneakers and warm socks and into my soul. The trees form black silhouettes against the golden sky, their branches like arms outstretched straining to capture the first rays of sunlight. The sound of birds chirping pierces the cool, silent air as they call to each other and awaken the world like Aurora. Crimson and pink and yellow light gather near the horizon and slowly trickle through the blanket of golden sky. I watch as the painter splashes his canvas with violets and reds, trying to decide which will make his masterpiece better.
This is my cappuccino for the day. My body and mind awaken and stretch themselves open like the branches of the trees, trying to absorb everything. Only the echoes of a dog barking and the revving of a car engine remind me that I'm not deep in an African jungle. The deep colors fade and give way to white clouds and a blue sky that foretell the humid October day.
Later, the hot afternoon sun stands still in the sky, penetrating the dense mass of weeds and shrubbery, making my eyes water. As I walk along the bayou, I am surrounded by the remnants of summer. My arms are alive with the scratching and buzzing of mosquitoes that cling like humidity. I watch a slender, delicate dragonfly balance itself on a tiny yellow flower that sways like a ship of hair. I watch a yellow butterfly with red spots on its wings flutter away like my thoughts. In the bayou, a green turtle pokes his head above the water, then falls back and travels down the stream faster and more gracefully than it ever could on land. It swims past broken pipes and candy wrappers. It narrowly avoids hitting an abandoned tire, and finally disappears to continue fighting its man-made adversaries. I watch as more dragonflies, the color the muddy water hover above the bayou in search of food. I stare so long I can't tell the real dragonflies from their reflections. They are carried away by a gust of wind they fruitlessly try to fight, and when the wind stops blowing, they travel back to their original spot, like Odysseus who eventually made it home despite obstacles.
I look into the mud pit filled with water and strain to see the serenity of nature and the depth of Walden swimming with pickerels and echoing with the wild laugh of the loon, and see the coldness and hardness of nature, the struggle of one-inch long green stems and three-leaf clovers to live among pollution. This is my place, a nook in the world run over by dead minds but teeming with life.
One day I look up and realize that autumn is here. Winter has blown her cold kisses upon the leaves of the trees leaving them yellow and red and brown - the colors of a sunset. Shattered pine cones run over by cars crunch under my feet and sound like someone biting into a jaw-breaker. One tree's leaves are completely red and dangle like drops of blood. That's what it feels like, like all of nature's blood has come to the surface to be drained away. Slants of sunlight illuminate the leaves and I see the remains of an abandoned spiderweb blowing in the wind. The wind sounds like an airplane taking off and the crumpled, brown leaves that cover the floor make a tapping sound, like fingernails on a desk. The blue sky is hidden by thickets of white clouds that seem to lift me by the shoulder the way an eagle captures its prey. I look up at the sky and it seems filled with emotion and spirit. I see the waves of an ocean rolling behind them. I see lightning illuminate the sky for a split second like the fleeting of a bird, and I see the greatest poker player hiding her hand, holding me in suspense, showing her full house, and dealing the next hand before I can catch my breath.
My legs kick something and when I look down, I see ferocious red ants devouring the carcass of a bird. The ants ignore me and continue their work. This is the ferocity of nature, the cold, hard struggle and will to survive and the delicate balance of life. In this place I find beauty and humbleness, and life. This place has helped me do what Thoreau wrote about in "Conclusion." I have turned inward and have begun to contemplate my thoughts and questions, and though I have not found answers (and don't know if I ever will), at least I have gotten rid of the candy wrappers, abandoned tires, and broken pipes that pollute my mind and nourished the soil beneath them, so my thoughts can grow. ^
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
A Nature Walk [a descriptive essay]
The ground beneath the stiff leaves is frozen. The cold, brisk air invades my lungs, I exhale, my breath visible. I step over fallen branches and tugged by thorny vines. A red tail hawk screeches overhead, this is a sign of good luck. There is no path, no trail to mark our way, just an old, flat railroad bed surrounded by walls of shale, blown up for the path of the train so long ago. The only ties to remind of the rail are the rotting, moss covered ties that once were a part of a bridge that would have carried the train over a small creek between two steep hills. I see a fox burrow, and it's escape hatch is one of the hollowed railroad ties. I want to be a fox... The trek down this hill is not easy, thorny blackberry bushes and fallen trees impede progress. At the bottom, the small, bubbly creek is frozen at the edges, traveling under rocks and continuing its ancient path. I look up the hill that I just descended, and wonder how the return will go. Keep moving. The next hill will be easier, there are no thorny tangles, just treacherous leaf litter that will give under my feet if I don't find the right footing. The trick is to dig my boots into the ground as if I'm on steps. These hills are steep. Finally at the top, I look back at this little spring valley, I'm not that high up, but what view. Here, there is a dilapidated tree stand, falling apart from years of neglect and weather. Surrounded by deep leaf litter, there is a patch of rich dark earth, a buck has marked his spot, his round pellets are nearby. The saplings catch my hair as I walk by, and at these moments I am thankful for this cold snap that took care of the ticks. A creepy feeling takes over me, so thankful for this snap. A few feet further, as I watch where I am walking, another tussled bit of earth and I notice some interesting scat. It's furry and light grey; I poke it with my stick and find a small skull when I turn a piece over. Owl. I continue my walk, I didn't come here to play with poo. The last time I took this hike was three years ago, on a similar frigid day. It was a lot easier to make it through the shale valleys. Last summer, a wind storm felled trees and took out power for two weeks. The evidence of that derecho is clear here in this untouched forest. I remembered a tree, which now is a fallen giant, that had lost it's bark. The bark had separated and laid around this tree like a woman's skirt around her ankles. Now the tree lies with it's bark. I pass another tree I recognize whose branch extends out but zig zags up and down, as if it had three elbows. The tree signifies my next move, to descend from the flat railroad bed, down to a creek that flows through the tunnel that would have carried the train. The creek is considerably larger than the last creek I could step across. Descending towards the creek leads me over moss covered rocks and limbs, still bearing snow. Outside the tunnel, the hill walls are large stones, covered in a thick layer of moss, some of which has started to fall off due to heaviness. There's a sort of ice shelf in the creek, it's three layers thick and can support my one hundred and twenty pounds. Laying across the creek is another derecho-felled tree. Some sort of critter has crawled on this, using it to avoid the water below and as a short cut up the hill. His claw marks are covering the the limb, a few are more clear, it looks as if the creature almost slipped off. His claw marks show a desperate cling. I walk through the tunnel, in the mud and water; the creek echoes inside. I look above. There are drainage holes lining the ceiling, one is clogged by a giant icicle. I imagine the train that used to ride over this tunnel, I pretend to hear it and feel the rumbling. The last time we were here, we found cow skeletons. We placed a few heads on branches and one over the tunnel. We stuck a jaw, complete with herbivore teeth, into the mossy wall and a hip bone on a sapling. The hip bone reminded us of Predator's mask in the movie. All these bones are turning green. When I was here before, there was a bone half submerged in the creek; I had taken a picture of it but today, it isn't here. I'm sure it was washed away. After our exploration of the previous visit, we turned back. We are cold again, can't stay in one place too long. I climb through the deep leaf litter and over the rocks back to the railroad bed. Passing all the things I've already seen and spotting things I missed. I find two more fox burrows. They utilized the shale rock and burrowed underneath the jutting formations. Hidden coming from the south, the gaping openings seem welcoming from the north. My friends, the spelunkers and climber, want to descend into the darkness but I remind them, it is an hour to sundown, our trek is hard enough with overcast daylight. Wisdom prevails. We pass a tree, we didn't notice before, that was struck by lightening. The cedar tree was split in two and fell down the shale wall. I see the evidence of the burn and a smoldered residue at the base. Nature has a cruel way of recycling. The downed tree still has snow on it and the path of a raccoon is visible, I like the paws of coons. Though the way is flat, the walls of shale tower above us, limiting routes. At one point I can't see through the fallen trees I have to pass through. I have to crab walk under, crawl over, duck again and find my way around the thorny collections of bare black berry bushes. Finally into a clearing, still surrounded by sharp shale, there is another wall covered in inches of thick, healthy moss. I place my hand, taking time to stroke the furry wall. My hand leaves an imprint. I wonder how long that will last.. Back down the steep hill up and up the thorny tangle. I know I'm on the right path up, I see the fox's hole through the railroad tie, and his entrance burrow up the hill. Going down was definitely easier. The summit is literally overgrown with thorns, there is no clear path through. It is, again, impossible to see through the tangle of limbs and saplings and more thorns. Somehow we make it through. We are close to breaking off this path. We know this by the remains of a cow skeleton that more than likely fell from the top of the shale cliff. Femurs and ribs and jaws abound. On the last trip, we placed a hip bone in the "Y" of a sapling. The young tree has claimed it, growing around it. We add a piece of jaw to the tree's ornamentation and move on. We climb down from the railroad bed to our car - parked on the side of the road with a white towel in the window so that no one suspects a group of people walking through private property, past faded NO TRESPASSING signs.
When I undress for bed later, there are many small scratches up and down my legs from those damned thorny vines. I'm okay with that, it's better than searching for ticks in my head.
I couldn't write a 'poem' about this hike. It was too full of nature.