Monday, September 25, 2006

Wednesday, August 9

I really did not feel like walking today. I’d had trouble sleeping last night; actually, most nights since I found out about Katie, so I was tired and in general feeling lazy and depressed. Plus, I’d had a few drinks last night, and I felt a little dehydrated and drained. But the weather was cool and the sun was behind the clouds so I didn’t have to worry about it beating down on me. For the past couple of weeks we’d been experiencing a heat wave, and I’d had just about all of the sun that I could take.

I had no real motivation for going out into the woods. It seemed I’d explored everything except only the farthest reaches of the Glen Park system. It seemed that anything new was miles and miles and miles away, too far away.

While I was walking Sy to work this morning, she mentioned off-handedly that Katie was a coffee-snob. I little jolt went through me as I noticed that was the first time today I’d thought of her…usually she’s in my head within minutes of waking. When we reached her work, we met one of Sy’s coworkers, who had also been a good friend of Katie, and she brought Katie’s name up too. Her name was starting to seem like a background din I needed to escape, and right then I decided to just walk and go wherever my feet took me. The only problem was that no matter where I went, I couldn’t escape the noise in my thoughts.

I walked the side streets on my way to Glen Park. On my way, I passed a rabbit who froze and stared at me as I approached. I took care to gradually slow my pace and soften my footfalls to see if I could prevent her from running off. As I got nearer to her, I noticed another, smaller bunny. The first rabbit glanced nervously at the second one; I think it might have been its mother. They both remained still as I practically tip-toed past them and around the corner.

Just before I reached the Swinging Bridge, I came upon a pigeon who was as suspicious of me as the rabbits had been. The pigeon slowly turned as I walked past him, always keeping his back to me and watching me from over his shoulder. I made my way past him without him flying off; when he judged me far enough away he casually returned to picking at the gravel in the road.

While I was crossing the Swinging Bridge into Glen Park, it came to me that I’d never fully explored the right-most path on the other side of the pole bridge; I’d run into a fisherman while taking that path and turned back rather than disturb him. Against my will, my thoughts reminded me that Katie was still walking the earth at that time, that my time might have been better spent talking to her rather than avoiding human contact in the woods. I shook my head and continued over the roaring river and through the playground until I reached the trail system.

As I walked down the steep entrance, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen the crane in quite some time. This thought also got me down; over time I’d begun to see him as a sort of mascot or guide. The sight of him was enough to lift my spirits, but lately he was nowhere to be seen. Sy had mentioned to me that she’d seen him; in fact, she’d seen more than one, and that brought out some jealousy in me, and also a sense of rejection. I wanted to see the crane just one more time before migration.

I followed the winding path down to the bottom of the lower falls, but got distracted by a path that ran east and uphill, which I took. I’d traveled this path once before, in the early spring (or was it late fall?) but turned around when I noticed all the houses through the bare trees. Now in the summer, the houses were completely obscured. I followed the trail, which went from a sand base, to rock, back to sand, and finally dirt, for around a half-mile. There was a fork in the path; one trail went straight and the other took a sharp right turn…it was a large path and I was almost certain that it led to the upper part of the trails, the part up on the hill away from but with good views of the river. I ignored the turn and continued forward. Eventually, it exited the woods into a large draining ditch behind a housing development. It was a giant paved nightmare, with a huge sewer grate that looked like an alien spacecraft perched in the middle.

At first, I had no idea where I was, but after studying the land I realized I was only about two blocks down the road from the entrance to the Glen Park trail system. So this was the source of the water that eventually led to the spillway below the lower falls…a large paved drainage ditch lined with backyards undoubtedly treated with harsh chemicals on a regular basis. My hope for the Kinnikinnic was lowered yet again.

I turned around and headed back towards the spillway. Halfway down the path I came to the fork again; this time I stopped and debated taking it. While I was contemplating my options, I noticed a very small path that went between the two paths in the fork which I’d never seen before. I felt the most welcome joy of surprise bubble up in me, and with haste I took the middle way.

This path traced the very edge of the hill, right above the little path carved out along the river just south of the spillway. Sections of split-rail fence, which seemed to have been put up ages ago, lined the edge of the path. Some sections were in need of some repair, others had entirely collapsed and begun to rot. The view of the falls was great, though a little obscured by shrubs growing along the cliff’s edge. The sound was full and deep, and you could feel the breeze the crashing waters generated. The trail itself was lined with wildflowers. There were a couple of posts that looked like little podiums along the trail. Apparently, they used to hold a plaque with information on the sights or something, but the wood where the screws used to hold this information in place had long since rotted (degraded?). It felt almost like ruins from a past culture. I stood admiring the falls and the large pool of the river below the falls for a while before I moved on.

The small trail did emerge on the upper part of the trail system as I had expected. From this main trail, through the trees, I could detect the profane vertical and horizontal forms of the houses that lined the woods. I walked along this path for a while, until I came to the place where many of the trails intersect, somewhere near the middle of the park. From the intersection, I could see one of the benches down by the river. I decided to go sit and meditate on it, since I hadn’t meditated before I left this morning.

Down by the bench, the current was noisy as it passed over large rocks in the riverbed. There were a few shrubs growing in front of the bench, but they had plenty of open space in them through which to watch the river. I sat down on the bench, appreciating how it was so tall that I felt like a child sitting on it, swinging my legs because my feet couldn’t reach the ground. I removed my shoes and socks and pulled myself, with a little difficulty, into a full lotus position.

I sat there, trying, unsuccessfully, to still my mind. Ten thousand stupid annoyances and diversions flushed into my head at once: images from television, what I had for breakfast, plans I had for the rest of my day, and brief passages from things I’ve read, among other things, buzzed inside me. Eventually, by focusing back on my breath, I came to some sort of peace. It was then that I noticed how the world was flowing around me; the leaves fluttered slow, then fast, then slow again as the trees bent slowly and gracefully in the wind, the river never paused as it flowed by, the grey clouds drifted slowly above the hills, birds flew past and sang to each other, even my breathing arose of its own resolve. My delicate peace gradually deepened.

Now that my mind was settled, I put my shoes and socks back on and began to walk down the path to the bench where I had had my strange communion with Katie. It occurred to me that I ought to come and maintain that bench; take care of it, almost like a shrine. Of course, I’d earlier in the summer (when she was alive, my brain reminded at me) I’d resolved to clean up litter I found in the woods on my travels, and I’m ashamed to say that I did not really follow through on that pledge. Maybe it was because the notion of taking on responsibility for the whole of the woods was a bit overwhelming. But maybe I could take care of this one spot, this one bench…that would benefit all the visitors to the park, and could contribute to a sort of Zen training.

About fifty feet down river, another bench sat. I left the main path and walked over to that bench. Virtually no sound came from the river as it flowed smoothly past this bench. The birds, if there were any there, were silent. It was remarkable to me how much the character and integrity of the river could change in such as short time and distance. I stood by the bench and listened to the nothing for a while before continuing down the path.

In front of my communion bench, the river was lined with wildflowers; mostly black-eyed susans. Sitting on the bench, facing south, you can watch the river bend west around the island and out of sight. It is a very serene view. It’s a little too much out in the open for my tastes; I’d prefer to be nestled in the trees for the sake of the shade and the comforting and secure embrace of the woods, but then this spot wasn’t really my choice to make.

It was then time for me to turn home…I decided to leave the area beyond the pole bridge that I’d originally planned to explore for another time. On my way back home, as I got to the narrow, cliff-face path by the spillway, I saw on old man trout fishing near the lower falls. There was such tranquility and patience in his every movement that it brought out in me such a feeling of simultaneous envy and delight.


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