Mild temperatures following a fresh deposit of snow provided all the inspiration needed for a hill walk. Grabbing my walking stick, I left the house and climbed slowly through the woods. I paused at an old abandoned car and noted the attempts of nature to reclaim the broken elements.
I listened to the four-hoots of a great horned owl, a wild but muted sound. A red-tailed hawk screeched. I caught my breath at the calling, peered high at the bark scrapes on a maple tree. There, porcupine– the sleeper, its quill-back pushing through the doorway of a den.
And bear– day-old tracks of a reawakened bruin. I followed claw prints into the hemlock gulley, thought again of how the thin veneer of winter overlies an infinite vitality. Life goes on no matter how scarce, how quiet it becomes. Science and poetic imagination can embrace and dance at a time like this.
I thought of one of the earliest poems I’ve ever written, composed from a walk like this one 45 years ago… “Wind Dance” : The wind dance of the pines/ surges the muscled spirit/ On green-winged outlaw feet/ As grimed city zephyr bodies/ brighten through wild swinging gates/ And arch-bellied squirrels, robed in artist reds,/ Nimbly paint a sun on the sky/ with russet resined brushes… It isn’t Whitman, but I still like the place from which it came.
Just west of the hemlocks and on to the summit, the woods have been cut recently because of the ash tree borer. The great white ash trees have been sawn and hauled away, and many of the smaller, less valuable trees have been dropped to lie scattered on the forest floor. My feet sank into snowcapped muck inside the bulldozer’s path. It’s sad: these native species dwindling due to invasive killers– white ash, hemlock, beech, and pine– perhaps destined to join the ghostly ranks of elm and chestnut…
In the solitude of the hour, I climbed at a porcupine’s pace, my still hunt for whatever small surprise that nature might unveil. Those trees… Did they scream like villagers in a fire-fight when chainsaws bit through their roughened skins? Did they suffer in ways known only to the trees? Was their energy released to forest evolution, or allowed to dissipate like old farms dying of penury and hardship?
Bear tracks again… This time in the aging summit fields. The bear must have shuffled through here prior to its downhill turn. I paused from my bushwhacking efforts, from the freedom of a hilltop ramble, finding traces of the past, and passage of society…
A stone foundation. Farmhouse. Nothing left but cellar walls, barren lilacs, and a skeletal yard tree. Beyond them, a rusted milk can, scattered pieces of forgotten machinery. Gone– a family’s view of the distant valley. There was history, though, for those who seek it. There was emptiness embracing the moment from all directions. Yet, within that emptiness– miles of land and water, intricate forms, discoveries, each one with a story to be told.