Wednesday, May 24, 2006

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.


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