Tuesday, May 30, 2006

May 25th


This morning business brought me to the south side of town, and so I took the opportunity to explore one of the southern entrances to the park and trail system. I had only ben to this particular entrance once before, and then only breifly, so I was really looking forward to this time in the woods.

It was humid but cool, moisture was so thick you could see it in the air, and the skies threatened to rain soon. I entered under the canopy of trees to an eerie chorus of frog, singing in alternating pitches, high then low, high then low. I kept an eye on my feet as I walked, trying to avois needlessly stepping on any anthills built on the path. As I moved down the path, the anthills gradually changed shades of color, first black, then black with tan specks, later mostly tan. Ants, I thought, were smart to build with local materials at hand, but thier choice of building location was often not as wise. But that is the insect's lot in life, I suppose, to constantly have the big crushing foot from the sky hanging over your head.

I stayed on the main beaten path, resisting the many tempting and less well beaten offshoots. I followed my course down a steep hill until I came to a little plateau, where the trail split in two, each path breaking off from the main trail at a 90 degree angle and each heading in an opposite direction. And at this path intersection, I noticed a wooden bench situated as though in front of a scenic overview. At first I couldn't see the over view due to the foliage, but as I walked up to the bench I recognized the sight below as the Kinnikinnic River, and I realized I had been at this very spot last winter, though I had arrived here by route of the trail that runs by the lower falls.

Seeing that no further exploration was warranted, I climbed back up the trail, making my way to the minor paths I had passed earlier. On my way uphill, I recalled the events of the past couple days. I had found a tiny bit of pot that I had stashed away a while ago...I'm not sure why I had the notion to squirrel away weed, but I suppose that's something addicts do. I tried to put off smoking it, to save it as some sort of reward, but within 20 minutes it was gone. I did have a couple revelations when I was high, chief among them that any idea that I had any control over my addiction was pure illusion. I also realized how hard it was to be kind, but that I really ought to make every effort to be so, otherwise my life could be rightly described as a waste. Weed offers you a sort of filter or lens, a differrent way of looking at things, which is part of the lure it has over me, I suppose. But my addiction makes me far too weak and undisciplined to make much use of these insights, so then and there I decided not to get high again until I can achieve Enlightenment, a likely unattainable, but certainly not impossible goal. I thought that the only way I could handle weed responsibly would be from an Enlightened mindset, and it also occured to me that upon attaining Enlightenment, with its einherent shedding of desire and attraction, weed would lose all allure for me, and so in this way I could compartmentalize weed out of my life forever. But by putting it in my head that I could possibly have weed again if I struggled through to true Enlightenment, I was hoping to make my weakness a driving force towards my struggle, a sort of mental jujitsu.

As I reached the top of the hill, I saw a small path and followed it for a short while and found that it ended at another overlook. This overlook had no bench, but it did have a nice rocky outcropping that you could sit on and enjoy the view. I could hear the faint sound of flowing water in the distance.

Beyond this rocky outcropping, the trail continued, winding its way down a steep and treacherous rocky hillside for another twenty feet or so. I followed this trail which seemed like it was cut more likely by water finding its way down hill than by human or animal means, until it dead ended and the top of a cliff. Looking down below, I saw the river and the firepit I'd found on my last trip to the woods. I stood there in silence for a while, appreciating the quiet, until a wasp interrupted me, buzzing by my head.

Deciding that I was not in a good place to be dodging wasps, I turned to leave, but first noticed the heron flying out over the river. I froze, the noise of the wasp seemed to fade away as I caught view of the graceful heron moving through the sky. I wondered if there was more than one heron...I'd only ever seen one at a time and just assumed it was the same one.

Once the heron had disappeared from sight, I climbed back up the steep craggy incline. Near the top, I saw what looked like it might be wild marijuana growing between the rocks in the path. I looked at it longingly for a moment before shaking the thoughts from my head and walked back out onto the main path. Walking towards the spot where I entered this part of the woods, I followed another trail, one that looked like it ran along the edge of the woods that bordered the housing development that had sprung up recently.

The path stayed between ten and twenty feet from the edge of the woods, and the foliage was thick so that places where you could see through the trees and out into the backyards that lined the woods were few and far between. The path was lined for much of the way with beautiful purple, pink and white flowers, but I noticed with some distain that it was also lind with grass clippings. Apparently, local residents had taken to disposing of their yard waste here rather than carting it responsibly down to the compost site.

And this, as I see it, is the main problem with building these housing or retail or industrial developments near our treasured resources...human nature dictates that some, if not many, people will pollute or degredate it for their own conveinience rather than take care of it out of a sense of communal responsibility. Their lawn clippings are full of nitrogen and other fertilizing chemicals, and they are dumped back on the valley that leads down to the Kinnikinnic River, polluting what is arguably this city's greatest natural resource, all for selfish conveinience. I followed the path to it's end, at a lavish backyard with a pool, sauna and trampoline.

I retreated to the wood's exit, and left just as it started to sprinkle.

Monday, May 29, 2006

zen garden diary 5/27/06

I'm planning to have a theme of threes in the garden:

3 plants (painted fern, cedars bonsai and cherry bonsai)
3 sandstone rocks (1 big, 2 small)
3 other rocks
3 "rivers" will run through...actually, one river w/ 3 branches

I plan to have some height in the back left corner, where I will dig in the big sandstone rock, and the painted fern will cascade over it.

As for the rest of the details, I currently have no set plans.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

May 19th


This morning I got it stuck in my head that I would explore the lower trail system of Glen Park, returning to the fork where I had turned back last time. This time I remembered my camera, to help me with my recollection as much as for documenting my travels. I retraced my familiar route to Glen Park, crossing the bridge over Lake George and past the first falls, then crossed the swinging bridge into Glen Park proper. While crossing the swinging bridge, I looked down to see if there were any easy paths that would allow me to walk upstream towards the college, but I couldn't see any. Nevertheless, I thought, I would one day try to make my way up that part of the river.

I got down below the second falls as quick as I could, half jogging and half sliding down the step gravelly trail. I avoided all of the side trails and soon made it to the pole bridge. During all of my previous walking I was single mindedly focused on crossing that bridge, but as I finally arrived there, a bit of curiosity gnawed at me and I instead took a path to my left, the ran upstream along the smaller eastern branch of the river. I walked along the path worn by trout fishermen, heading eastwith the river on my right and the big cliff on my left. I eyed the cliff, looking to see if I could find a relatively safe way to scale it, but it was nearly shear and, beinng made of sandstone, I wouldn't really be able to trust and footholds I maight find.

A little further down the river, as the shear cliff melted into a steep hillside, I saw a large fire pit, filled with grey ashes. I noticed with some impatience that the area around the firepit wasn't cleared, and tall prairie gasses grew up right along its border. Most likely, I reasoned, the idea of drunken teenagers. I looked past the firepit and saw what looked like it might be a small alcove cut into the face of the cliff, right at the base, but there was no path that led there, and the way was strewn with thorny vegetation. Besdies, it was difficult to tell if it was a small cave or just the result of shadows, so I decided to look at it some other time, when I had on junkier shoes and wore pants instead of shorts.

I continued down the path until it stopped. A small path that was probably used by small animals went on from there, but it was clearly not a path suitable for humans. Looking across the river, I noticed that the path continued on the other side of the river, which was easily crossable as it was less than a foot deep at that art of the river. But I did not wish to continue slogging through the woods all day in soggy shoes, so I turned back towards the pole bridge. On my walk back, I was entertained by two small white butterflies chasing each other. They started up out of the grass on my side of th river, then crossed and entered the woods, only to return out in the open a few moments later, riding and dancing along on the breeze. They then turned and chased each other back upstream and out of my sight.

I once again tested the strength of the bridge with my foot before I put my whole weight on it. I suppose I never will entirely trust that bridge. Once on the other side, I again took a small detour, taking the middle path rather than the main path on the left that led directly to the fork I sought.

The midle path lead into the trees abd then to a clearing. In the clearing there was a makeshift campsight set up, with a bench fashioned out of fallen trees and a small fire pit. I looked around the sight for any marijuana growing, as I thought that surely some kids had been there at some point, and surely they left some seeds behind which may have grown...then shook my head, trying to scatter the thought away. I continued immediately down the path, back into the woods.

The path bent through the woods, and over to my right I could hear the muffled sound of water. I ducked a little ways down an animal trail, and saw the little stream that ran by the peninsula on which I had stood a few days before. Funny, from the other side, where I stood now had appeared to be unexplored wilderness. I left the animal trail and continued down the path, traveling north now, consciusly stepping as silently as I could so I could enjoy the sound of the water.

My every movement stopped as I crested a small hill and caught glimpse of a fisherman. He stood serenely in the stream, and I kept still until he turned his head away, at which point I slowly and silently turned around and made my way back to the pole bridge. As I walked past the campsite, my eyes scanned the ground for weed but my pace never slowed...until I spied a small trail at the back of the clearing. I went over to investigate.

Only about the first five feet or so of the trail were clear, and just barely at that. It lead from the clearing into somewhat denser vegatation and then into thick woods where, if not for my experience in the woods, I might have completely lost the trail.

The animal trail would sometimes end when a tree had fallen across its path, and then pick up again several feet away. Often it was difficult to tell if I was indeed on a pth or if I was just on a random patch of forest floor that happened to have nothing growing on it. There were even times when I began to wonder where the heck I was, and began to feel a kernel of panic begin to grow inside me, but my faith in my instincts in the woods quieted the fear. I kept moving in a south easten direction, towards where the main path must be, and eventually I caught sight of it.

AS I got up onto the main path, I found some flat sandstrone and stacked them to mark the animal trail. The trail was nearly impossible to see from the main path, I had walked by it twice last time I was here and completely missed it. Finishing my stack, I walked up the incline of the path towards the fork. My eyes scanned the edge of the path for the rock stack I had made a few days ago, and I paused breifly to admire my handiwork once I spotted it. Moving on, I soon came to the fork in the path.

I took the right path, which lead down the hillside for a short ways before going back up again. This part of the woods was mostly made up of birch and ferns. Many of the ferns were truly giant, nearly as tall as me, and a fair number of the birch had fallen and lay rotting on the ground, sprouting moss and mushrooms.

A woodpeckers drilling filled the woods as I walked along. The whole atmosphere seemed almost out of a fairie tale, and then I saw this tree and smiled...

I imagine that in the right light and frame of mind this sight might scare the bejeesus out of you.

The path, which while going up and down quite a bit, remained quite straight for about a mile or so. Then it began to curve and swerve more and more as I entered a different part of the woods, with more hardwood trees, less groundcover and less sunlight getting through than the birchy part. Although the noise was more dampened down in this part of the woods, I would occassionally hear noises, like the rustling of leaves, the creaking of trees in the wind, and the scurrying of critters in my surroundings. Had I seen that old tree in this part of the woods, it might have struck me differently.

Along this part of the path, I came to a bench that seemed to be perched to look out over part of the river valley, but the view was obscured by foliage. I stood up on the bench to see if maybe that might get me a glimpse, but it was no use. Looking down, I saw "River Falls Coed Naked Club" carved into the bench.

Hopping down off the bench, I tried to land soft on my feet, but made a bit of noise anyway. I'd been trying to be quiet in this part of the woods, again more out of instinct than for any rational reason. I stood where I landed for about a minute, listening intently, hearing only the woodpeckers and the creaking of the windswept trees before I moved on.

I walkd along, admiring the large mushrooms along the path, when I heard a stick break. Again, I froze in my tracks, scanning the woods, trying to localize the sound or pick out any movement. Suddenly, I spied a deer sauntering through the trees less than twenty feet away. She was so close I could hear her every footstep with breathtaking clarity. I was amazed that I saw her before she saw me. She meandered through the trees seemingly aimlessly, stopping now and again to eat a few leaves or just to look around.

I stood still and watched her wander along what I assumed must have been an indetectible animal path until she disappeared in the trees. Then I slowly crept along, careful to remain silent, continuing along the path.

The path soon took a sharp left turn, and rounding it, I again saw the deer. This time she was standing right on the path, with her back to be, eating plants along the path's edge. Once again, I remained perfectly still as she continued down the path, around the bend and out of my sight. At that point, I decided to turn back, leaving the deer to her privacy.

On my way back, I stopped and tried to pick out the trail that the deer had followed, but there didn't seem to be one. The ground was relatively clear of lower growing vegetation, allowing her to wander where she felt like. I tried to follow the general direction she had taken, and that lead me to a great clearing. There was ahill in the middle of the clearing, with a long gradual slope and thick with barberry prickers, so I decided to stay on the path along the edge of the clearing rather than trudge up the hill to see what was on the other side. I thought I could hear the faint sound of traffic, but I couldn't tell, and seeing as it was getting late, I turned for home, leaving this clearing for later exploration.

I retraced my path briskly, jogging at times, trying to get home in time for lunch. I reached the pole bridge just after the noon whistle went off, and paused once again to test it before I crossed it and jogged along on my way. I ran all the way to the clearing before the narrow path along the cliff near the base of the lower falls.

I pulled up suddenly as I saw the heron, standing on a rock that stuck out of the river at the bottom of the falls. I slowly proceeded, readying my camera, trying to get close for a good picture, and trying not to scare him. He was very weary of me, though, and he took to the air before I was anywhere near where I wanted to be. I stabbed my camera into the air, trying deperately to get some sort of photo of him. The results were disappointing. He casually flew off, laboriously slow yet still graceful, following the river upstream and out of my view.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

May 17th


The next day rain was still threatening, so I resolved to explore the northern part of the Kinnikinnic woods behind the Moose Lodge again, where I would be closer to home should the skies open up. This time, however, instead of entering behind the Lodge, I entered by way of the old access road from which I had exited the previous time I was there. It took me a while to find the entrace path, because the path leaves the woods at an angle and unless you're looking at iy staright on, you just see a neverending wall of vegetation.

I walked the path to the spot where I had previously seen the heron. He was not there today, I observed not without disappointment. But since he wasn't there, I walked down that path he had ben occupying to see where it lead. The path, however, devolved from a worn path to an animal path and eventually brached off into several nondescript paths, overgrown and only accomodating to things walking on all fours, and so I turned back, making my way towards the stumps in the water, about half a mile away.

Making my way down the path, I heard peopledoing some home improvement work on the other side of the rive, at the top of the cliff, some twenty feet up. I could see them through the trees, working on taking down an old deck that overlooked the river. Upon seeing them, I froze. This seems to be an instinct in me that comes out when I enter the woods, and is very difficult to override when I come upon someone in the wilderness, though my social instincts can usually overpower it when I meet someone who obviously sees me.

I sttod still, watching them work for a short time, wishing I hadn't worn a bright yellow shirt that day. When their back were turned, I walked on.

Right before the stumps, there is a big bend in the river. I stopped at a secluded little stand of trees by the bend and saw a little beach, probably only one foot by two feet, which had presumably formed there due to the slow curreny there at the bend in the river, plus a large tree had fallen into the river on the downstream side of the beach, further slowing the current there. The little beach had a base of fine white sand, and on top of this base was a courser gravel, black, white and tan, along with a few small sticks and leaves, not to mention a candy wrapper and beer can. Everything on top of the base layer was no doubt washed up there during the period of heavy rains last month when the water level raised about a foot. Looking at the garbage, I resolved to start carrying a bag with me on my outings to pick up littler.

I went back out on the main path and walked to the stumps. The sight of them, I perceved with a little disappointment, did not strike me with the same intensity and awe as the last time I had seen them. But once this initial disappointment passed, I was able to enjoy to sight of them again, and I stepped reverently towards the stumps, intending to walk as far out into the river on them as I could.

Suddenly, as I got to within ten or fifteen feet of the shoreline, two ducks, in an explosion of activity, noisily splashed and flapped their way into the air from where they had been swimming on the edge of the river. They had been tucked away behind an outcrop of tall grass so I had been unable to see them as I approached. I took a half step back as their commotion ensued, crouching a little, my heart racing. Within moments they were gone down the river, and the flowing current erasd any trace of their disturbance in the water.

Before my pulse had slowed, I stepped out onto one of the stumps, silently listening to the water flow around all the obstructions jutting out of the river. Looking across the river, I saw that the stumps were father apart than I had remembered. To make my way further across the river would take a leap of such distance that it would be a little bit challenging on dry land, and given the small landing area and the threat of falling in the river, failure seemed a more certain outcome than success. Istood there a good long while contemplating if I should attempt the jump, and if so, what would be the best way, before I returned to the shore, figuring I would first practice the leap on dry land where a mistake wouldn't be as drastic.

I made my way to the bottom of the hill behind the Moose Lodge. This was where I had entered these woods when I first explored them two days previously. I continued west, upstream, to explore further. The hill on my left remained steep, and got closer and closer to the river, until eventually the path left flat land and found its way along the hillside, making the walk more difficult. This part of the path was obviously mainly used by animals, as it was narrow and less trodden. I continued on, however, making use of the trees and rocks embedded along the way for balance and leverage.

I maintained my arduous course for about another fifty or sixty feet until I came to a storm sewer drain that emptied into the river. The hill side had been excavated to install this drain, resulting in a sheer cliff rather than a steep hillside, and a little bay had formed in the few feet between where the drain emptied and the river bank started. Paper cups, chip bags and even a shirt were among the many pieces of garbage that had gotten hung up on the rocks between the drain and the river in theat bay. The drain itself was fairly well hidden by large sandstone boulders and rocks, which I appreciated from an esthetic point of view, but it still made me sad to think of all the litter and things that get washed into this great resource.

The bay looked difficult, even treacherous to cross, an obstacle to my travels not entirely unlike the stumps I had visited earlier. It would be hard to even reach the little bay, as I would have to scale down a five foot sheer drop off onto pointy, unevenly spaced rocks. I decided against crossing it today, for much the same reasons as before, and I retraced my path and left the woods, trying to figure out in my head how I would train for the crossings.

May 16th


The next day, I decided to return to the vast trail system that lead off from Glen Park. Passing through the park, I noticed the women with their children playing and chatting by the jungle gym. I slowed my pace a little to remain behind two old ladies, eavesdropping on their conversation, which was surprisingly racist. Having had about enough of their hate-speech, and being of the mind that they perhaps were not in possession of all of their marbles and thus didn't need any confrontation from the likes of me, I reumed by brisk stride and, making my way around them, I entered the forest.

The sounds of cars, lawn mowers and children's screams were replaced with a cacophony of bird and squirrel sounds, and the faint rush of the distant falls as I walked down the tunnel-like canopied trail. It felt several degrees warmer and much more humid here among the trees than it did out in the park, but only enough to summon the faintest traces of perspiration.

Down at the base of the falls, I saw a trout fisherman standing in the stream, twitching his pole lazily. I did not make eye contact with him, as that might elicit within each of us a compulsion to acknowledge each other, and I was sure that much like me, human interaction was not what he was here for.

I negotiated the treacherous mini-pass, and made my way down the worn path and out into the rest of the woods, pausing every so often to admire a plant or a rock or the sight and sound of the Kinnikinnic. I decided, on a whim, to take one of the minor trails down to the banks of the river, where I encountered another fisherman. We nodded to each other, but said nothing, and I quickly and silently left him to his privacy, following a few animal trails until they eventually led me back to the main path.

I followed the path and came to the small clearing out of the woods by the river, where someone had set up a bench where you could sit and relax and enjoy the water. On the path in this clearing, ants like to construct their hills, which seems to me a horrible plan doomed to ensure an ant civilization a history of footstep catastrophes, but I suppose that that is an insects lot in life. I left the dirt of the trail and walked on the grass growing off the trail, not wishing to crush any ants if I could at all help it. I decided to sit for a moment and listen to the river flow past the small island the bench overlooks, when, looking up, I saw the profile of the heron flying along the river, back towards the falls from which I had come. My eyes followed the figure until it disappeared behind the trees, and then I got up and continued walking.

I walked the main path until I came to where the river branched off east and west. At this branch, crossing the west branch, there is a makeshift bridge made of a fallen tree, which is nailed into stumps on either bank, with a few 2x4s nailed onto the tree to provide a little additional width. I had encountered this bridge before, in the early winter when I was on a hike with my son. Over my son's objections, I had deemed it too rickety for us to cross back then, worried that he might fall into the icy water, with temperatures hovering near freezing and us miles from home. Now, however, in this much warmer weather, I thought I would try it out.

I carefully eyed the bridge over, looking for potential weak spots and hazards. I tested its give with a couple of taps from my foot. I stepped up onto it, still not yet over the water, and tested it a little more, then, looking it over one more time then keeping my eyes on the opposite bank, I walked forward smoothly as possible. Halfway across, my shoe caught just a little bit on a nail head that stuck out slightly, but I did not panic, and I safely completed my journey. Three different paths lead off from the other side of the bridge, and I took the one most to the right, which ran along the westward branch of the river.

The path wound its way a long the bank of the river, but diverged from it a little when it came to a stand of trees. Following the path through the trees, I came to a small stream off of the river ran a small detour route. A little pool formed here, the bottom of which was a very fine sand. Little ripples ran across the pool, the result of the little tributary that trickled through it. I walked past the pool and continued to trace the tributary. The trail ended at a peninsula. Looking across the little stream, I scanned the other side for evidence of a trail, but it all looked pretty wild and tangled. I turned back, pausing every so often to enjoy the solitude or to explore the little animal trails.

As I got close to the bank of the big river, I froze in my tracks. I could hear someone walking, and within seconds a fisherman came into view, just on the other side of a grouping of trees. I remained motionless until he passed, and I do not think he saw me. I'm not sure why I reacted in this fashion, but I think it had something to do with the woods.

I walked back to the makeshift bridge, and noticed for the first time a great cliff that was hidden from my view when I stood on the other side of the ridge, before I crossed. It was a giant limestone slab, around forty feet tall it seemed, and it loomed over the smaller, eastern branch of the river. I stood in awed appreciation of it for a while before turning back to the three paths on the bank I was standing on. I decided, after checking my watch and reasoning I still had some time to explore, to take the leftmost path, which also happened to be the biggest and most well worn.

The trail led up a slight incline for about a quarter of a mile, with no sharp bends, thought it did turn slightly left or right every so often. At one point I ceased walking and just enjoyed the sounds of nature. There is something about the woods that brings a sense of calm and ease to me. I don't know if it's he indescribable lush beauty of teeming life in the forest, or the organic, sound dampened solitude, or if it's simply the absence of our modern conveniences that tend to nag at us like needy children. But I do know that I am at my happiest in the woods, and that my body never seems tired there.

I started walking again, and the trail got steadily steeper; nothing intimidating or anything, but enough to increase your breathing and heart rate. Before long, I encountered a fork in the path. The trail to the right led down, more into the valley, and the trail to the left continued upward. I could see through the canopy that dark clouds were blowing in from the west, and so I decided to turn back for home, but then I elected to briefly follow an animal trail to a promising overlook.

The trail faded into nothingness(?) as it reached a sharp decline into a valley, through which ran the small eastern branch of the river. I couldn't see the water, as it was obscured by trees, but I could hear it. I thought that perhaps I could blaze my own trail down the steep hillside into the valley to get a better look, but figured that that would have to wait for another day. So I slithered and slalomed down the animal path back to the main trail.

On this trail, and in fact on almost all the trails in the woods, rocks are scattered along the sides of the paths, and sometimes even in the path itself. Most are loose, but quite a few are embedded within the path itself, to large to be removed, fortunately, as they add something wonderful to the esthetics of the trails. I picked up three flat pieces of sandstone and stacked them a few feet off the main trail next to the animal trail, as a sort of sign that would show me where it was I would like to someday blaze that trail down the hillside.

I had seen something on television a few years ago about other woods-walkers who made a practice out of rock stacking. The stacks they constructed were sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate, and were generally made a few yards off of the beaten path, something made as a special treat for those observant enough to spy them.

I walked briskly down the path, relaxing my ankles so that they flexed easily on the uneven, rock covered path. Mindful of the approaching storm clouds, I focused exclusively on my footfalls, but my concentration was broken when I heard, or perhaps I should say felt, a very deep thumping, throbbing noise. I stopped and listen to the thumping noise, which would start slowly and pick up in frequency. It sounded, or felt, like someone thumping a huge sledgehammer on the ground. I listened to this sound cycle through a few times before I decided that it must be some sort of frog or something, at which point I continued on my way.

I got to the bridge as the first drops of water hit me, and I slowed to prepare myself for the crossing, again testing the give of the bridge with my foot, still not trusting it. I hurried across the bridge, staying light on my feet, and hit the other side of the river jogging, trying to beat the rain, which I didn't. Thankfully, I discovered, I have not outgrown the simple pleasure of being drenched by a spring rain.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blazing a new trail-May 15th

With the successful completion of my first semester back in school, and a brief break in the rainy weather that would have made any woodland outing a trek through muck, I found myself able today to at long last go for a walk. None to soon, as well, as I noticed my gut had begun to show this winter, most likely brought on the years of on again, off again getting high and gorging.

I walked Serena back to her work downtown and dropped of some mail and then turned back towards the west side of town, not quite sure where I would go. As I finished crossing the bridge, it popped into my mind that I'd walk down towards the Moose Lodge, where the roads running east/west dead-ended, to see what was in the woods past those dead ends.

I walked briskly but not hurriedly, enjoying the smell of the lilacs on the gusts of breeze that came up from time to time. Again, traffic cleared as I came to streets I had to cross, and I appreciated, unarrogantly, the path unfolding before me. Any potential obstacles melted away or were neatly avoided in step.

I finally came to the Moose Lodge, where I walked across its empty parking lot, towards the line of trees at the back of the property. At first, it appeared that the property ended at a cliff that went straight down to the Kinnicinnic, but as I walked north along the perimeter, I noticed where the river bend slightly, opening up a small swath of land at its bank. I took down a path, pausing momentarily only to decide whether I should take this path or the other, and made my way down towards the river.

Down at the bank, I stood a moment as two loud kingfishers chased each other down the river in front of me. Then I noticed that a path went along the riverbank, and I turned north and followed it. It lead to a network of pathways, some probably made my humans and others, barely discernible and shielded with low branches, obviously forged by animals.

I wondered the paths for a while, getting my bearings and trying to pick one that would lead in the general direction of home, as soon my son would be returning home from school, and I wanted to be there to greet him in case he forgot his housekey.

I stopped in my tracks, however, when I came to a clearing by the riverbank. Sticking out of the river were several similar stumps, all jutting out about eight inched from the surface, spaced in a regular pattern. It looked as though some beavers dragged some logs and sticks and set them against the stumps in an effort to build a dam, but the stumps were obviously cut by man, perfectly flat. Walking on top of the stumps, one could make their way about halfway across the river, and if one trusted the beavers, they might be able to cross the entire river on the logs that made up the dam.

I stood there for a good while on one of the stumps, trying to balance as I looked around up in the canopy of the woods and listened to the babbling water make its way past the gaps in the dam. Realizing that it was getting late, I reluctantly got off my stump and returned to the path.

I made my way south down the path, occasionally, switching paths according to instinct and visual prospects, but eventually they dwindled to one path, not very well worn at all, and I wondered if it might just dead end. As I was thinking this thought, a heron took to the air from the path, about twenty or thirty feet down, and annouced its displeasure with my intrusion. Rather than disturbing such a wonderful bird any further, I turned back.

About a hundred feet back I noticed an old, weather worn red shed, and had contemplated going up the ten foot incline to take a look at it and also to see if I might exit the woods there, but had decided against it. I returned to the shed and found that I could indeed exit there, right onto an old access road. I then made my way, on surface streets, back home.

My walk home went as smoothly as before, and I never once had to break stride. I kept his stride even as I a red winged blackbird flew not less that five feet in front of my face, having been chased off of a feeder by a blue jay. I could hear the air go past his wings and I could make out the details of his every feather.

As the blackbird flew past me, I thought about how many people would not just break stride, but stop and maybe even duck as the bird approached. And then I thanked god that I was unafraid of nature.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

the meaning of life

here's what struck me:

*given the staggering array of life forms on earth, and the tenacity and adaptability of life forms that causes them to exists in even the most harsh environs, such as polar ice and sea-floor volcanoes, it's highly probable that life exists in other forms elsewhere in the universe.

*the fact that out of all these life forms that have existed in the history of this planet, only one is sentient, leads me to believe sentient life is certainly less likely to exist elsewhere.

*if we are indeed the only sentient life forms in the universe, that would lead me to believe not that we exist on some sort of higher plane, nor that it is the logical culmination of evolution, but that our sentience is some sort of biological fluke.

*this fluke gave rise to ego, with it's never ending curiosity, which holds that we are important and thus seeks out reasons to justify our existence, to figure out why we are important.

*also in our biology is a nuturing psyche, one that makes us feel good, or important, when we help others. this stimulates a chemical reaction that rewards our brain for our nurturing behavior. this biology has helped humans survive and eventually thrive on this planet.

*it says in the bible that god is love. this is the one sentence that, above all others, should be taken literally. god is not some disembodied voice from above or some wise old man living in heaven, god is an abstract idea, or perhaps even a chemical reaction in our brains.

*this is why we can chase after money or sex or accomplishments or drugs, which offer varying levels and kinds of stimulation to our brains, but these all fall short of the experience of unconditional love in our brain.

*the more of this love you give to others, the better you feel about yourself, you truly have to give to get. this physical experience in the brain, along with all other action/reaction physics, is the stuff of karma.

*thus your life is not at all important, but it is important to realize that this revelation should come as a welcome lifting of a burden or pressure, and not seen in a nihilistic, pessimistic light. realize nothing matters, this should free you to pursue your interests and dreams, and to not let fear of failure restrain you. life has whatever meaning you choose to give it, and history has shown that those whose life's held the most meaning were those that unselfishly gave of themselves.