Friday, June 02, 2006

June 2


This morning I dropped of my car at the local garage, and seeing as my walk home brought me past the northern section of the woods I've been exploring, I decided to wander around in there before I went home. I had dressed accordingly, wearing fairly grange clothes, so that I could explore what lay beyond the big storm sewer outlet. The wind was hot and dry, and filled with cottonwoods seeds. Along the sidewalk, the cottonwoods clung to the grass like little snow drifts, and I was already getting a little headache from my allergies.

I walked down the access road, and went to enter the woods...only, I couldn't find the entrance. In the week or so since I'd last been here, the rhubarb had grown so fast and thick that the pathway was utterly obscured. I paced along the edge of the woods, peering in as far as I could to try and see if I could locate the path deeper in the woods and trace it back to the hidden entrance. Finally, I gave up and took an educated guess where the path might be and trounced in, on the path, remarkably.

I had brought my camera with me, and I fiddled with it, starting it up and everything, as I walked along the now familiar main path in these woods. Just as it completed its' booting process, it announced that it was out of battery power, so I dug fresh batteries out of my pockets and fed them into the machine, barely paying attention as I continued along the path, down towards the stumps. This morning before I'd left the house, some subconscious part of my brain had assured me that I'd be able to take at least a few pictures, and not to bother looking for replacement batteries to take with me. I'd grabbed them anyway, though, but it was still frustrating to deal with the false expectation I'd had about the batteries.

I was growing impatient with the whole camera situation, muttering to myself about how long the odds were that I wouldn't be able to take even one picture before changing the batteries, when I stumbled like an oaf into the clearing and startled the heron, who took off with much splashing and effort. The camera had not finished rebooting, and so I was unable to get a picture of it, and this was by far the closest I'd ever been to him. He was no more than ten feet away. I could see every detail, the ruffles of his feathers and the features of his face. He and I locked eyes for what seemed a good long time but was likely only a fleeting moment, and then he was gone again. Damn it!

I stood there at the stumps for a long time, contemplating just turning around and heading back for bed, upset at how my day was starting. After a while, though, the sound of the rushing river took my thoughts away with it, and I zoned out there, standing on one of the stumps. I was lazily surveying the river, trying to figure a way across the stumps, sizing up whether I had the legspan to reach one from another, like I'd puzzled over many times before, when it struck me. Rather than jumping from stump to stump, I could maybe use a walking stick to help vault me, as it were, to each stump. That would surely help me maintain my balance and make the whole enterprise much easier.

Feeling a little inspired, I left the stumps to cross the chasm and maybe search for a vaulting stick. I walked slowly and kept my footfalls soft, thinking that I might run into the heron again. I had the camera set to go, not wanting to miss another opportunity. As I was walking, I was dwelling on the fact that more often than not I catch sight of the heron when I'm out on my hikes. Was there more than one? How else could I explain seeing a heron so often? But why do I never see more than one at a time?

I made my way along the inclined path, trying to keep quiet, but the leaves were crunchy underfoot and would've alerted any herons long before I was near. Before long I was at the chasm. I hung my camera by its strap from a small branch of a dead tree before I eased my way down. The chasm was about fifteen fet across, ten feet down, and was lined with rough jagged sandstone. A large tree was growing at the base, and it's roots, some up to nearly a foot thick, were intertwined in the rocks. There was nearly no place to set a foot comfortably, and any misstep could end up quite painfully.

I managed to transverse the tricky terrain, but was able to proceed only about ten feet before the vegetation grew too thick to penetrate. I could make out little animal paths going underneath the brush, but they were inaccesible to anyone more than a foot tall. I scanned the terrian for some time, traversing each possible path mentally, before eventually deciding that continuing the journey would be painful, if not impossible.

I reversed my course and made my way back to the stumps. Along the way, I found a fairly straight stick on the ground, about four feet long, around an inch thick, and slightly tapered. It was strong, not rotten, and seemed to suit the purpose I had in mind. I practiced my vaulting on the path on the way to the stumps.

Arriving at the riverside, I went straight for the stumps. I stepped on the first one and then the second one, just like always, and then stood there for a while. This second stump is where I had always stopped in the past. But now with my stick, I was more confident that I couls make it to the third set of stumps. I went over the routinr in my mind, psyching myself up with several false starts. The current of the river was strong, I noticed, so strong that it tried to pull my stick downstream with it. My confidence started to fade with every mental run through I did. Visions of slipping on the damp stumps, splashing into the river, maybe even hurting myself, damced through my skull. More and more, the whole enterprise looked like it would end with me getting wet, and then the thought struck me...

What would be so bad about me getting wet? I saw that I'd gotten it stuck in my head that I needed to stay dry while trying to see if I could get ti the other side. I giggled to myself and got myself back to the shore, where I immediately hung my camera ona tree branch and took off my shoes and socks.

I stepped onto the first stump with my bare foot, enjoying the feel of the old worn wood on the skin of my sole. The water was around a foot deep, and rather than jump in I decided to lower myself to a squatting position, place my hand on one of the stumps, and ease my foot in. It was fortunate on my part that I did it this way, because the current was so strong that if I hadn't been holdong on to something, it likely would have carried me away.

Once both my feet were in, I let go of the stump. Trying to walk straight across the river was almost impossible, so I moved with the water, going a little downstream with each step across. The river bottom was covered in small jagged rocks, which were, of course, slippery with river slime, so I had to walk carefuly and slowly. As I got to the middle of the stream, near the small island, the jagged rocks became covered with silt. The silt cushioned my steps a little. Eventually, the silt grew so thick that I could no longer tell that there were rocks beneath it, and the muddy goo gushed over my feet and between my toes.

I was nearly halfway out before it dawned on me that it might be a good idea to take the camera out with me. I was a little worried about the camera getting wet, but I thought the pictures I could take would be worth the risk.

I sloshed back to shore and went to the tree where I had hung the camera by its strap. The tree was a little off the beaten path, and had a good deal of grass and other vegetation surrounding it, which I gingerly trundled through, and noticed at some point that among the plants growing there were stinging nettles. My legs didn't begin to itch until after I'd fetched the canera and was on my way back to the river, and I jumped back in as fast as I could without splashing warter on it.

I stood in the cool water, letting the soothing current take the stinging chemicals away downstream.

As I got closer to the other shore, it became clear that there would be no easy path on that other side. I was really not disappointed, though, because it was such a revelation I had about just stepping into the river, it was almost as though I had solved a koan, so deeply satisfying was my contentment.

I stood a good long time in the river, just letting it flow past me. I snapped a couple of pictures, thinking it would be a neat perspective, then I reluctantly walked back to the near shore, shook my legs dry as best I could, and atarted on my way home.

As I walked the path back to wherre I entered the woods, off to my left I heard a sort of rustling. The niose was sort of slow and deliberate, like something was carefully planning its steps, ans the landing pf the footfalls sounded heavy. I froze, then crouched down slightly, silently listening for another sound. The sound eventually came, but not for almost a minute, and it was difficult to tell exactly where it was coming from, but it seemed to be originating from near the riverbank. It had to be a deer, I thought, and I pursued it as carefully as my excitement allowed.

I slowly made a large circle around wherre I thought the animal might be, then doubled back along the shore line, following nearly imperceptible animal trails as quietly as I could. I spent quite a while stalking my prey, but I heard nothing more. I crept along slowly, pausing after each step. Suddenly, something scampered out of the rhubarb patch I was walking past. It certainly wasn't a deer, I noted disappointedly, but could be a woodchuck or raccoon, I thought.

I went after this now what I knew to be smaller animal for a while, but it seemed to stay put wherever it had scampered off to and gave me no more clues as to its whereabouts. Just as I was about to give up, I heard it again, very close, and I hid behind a tree to make sure I was out of sight. I could hear the animal, it had to be less than ten or twenty feet away. I carefully peeked around the tree, moving as slowly as I could, but I saw nothing. I kept peering into the dense foliage, sure that at any moment the beast would move and reveal its' position, and eventually it did. Unfortunately, the acousatics of the woods had tricked me earlier, as it was not a deer or even a woodchuck, but a mere squirrel. I tried to tske its picture, but even that eluded was somewhere on the ground in the sunny patch of this picture.

Of course disappointed with the last part of my time in the woods, I exited quickly and headed home. On my wasy back, I encountered two squirrels chasing each other around the trunk of a large maple tree, jumping from the ground onto the tree itself and then off again. I noticed that the quirrel being chased was carrying something in its mouth, something the other squirrel apparently wanted very badlly. When they paused for a brief moments rest, I saw it was a helicopter, and I laughed to myself at the mental image of these two squirrels fighting over who was going to drop the thing from the treetop, like two kids fighting over a toy.


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