Sunday morning, I woke up with aching feet, a scratching voice, and something between a head cold and a sniffle, and I decided to go for a run. I haven’t run since last summer (and even then it was sporadic), but it sound like the right thing for my body, and the right way to soak up what was promising to be the last spring-y day for a while.
Turns out that spring-y weather wasn’t supposed to kick in until noon-ish that day, so instead of the climbing-to-seventy-degree weather I expected, there were puffed clouds, racing grey, and a wind that still whipped with winter’s chill.
I live right on the edge of a large complex of soccer fields, skate parks (didn’t know those still existed), community centers, and nature areas. I headed this way, jumping in and out of the disc golf course to avoid flying discs, and heading generally towards the serenity gardens area. Although it’s a pretty spot, it’s a highly manicured garden area. When I moved to the area, I’d walk there on lazy Sunday evenings to walk through the wood chipped gardens, and the small ponds stocked with orange fish. Lovely, but tamed.
Behind the gardens are a few acres of marshy, swamp land ringed in by other community buildings and apartment complexes. A shallow, scummy creek runs through the swamp. Slow water with algae building up in the summer, and foam moats frozen into the ice during winter. I took a muddy path over towards this area, and paused on a small wooden bridge over the creek.
By some trick of the bearing wind and driving clouds, this little batch of nature, probably left alone only because the wetness of the ground would make for slowly sinking buildings, became wild. The swamp grasses were flattened out, tangled together by the snow and wind, and the trees, gnarled and solitary, held their bare arms stark against the sky.
I got off the trail, down to the level of the swamp grasses, and creek. There’s something special, for me, about getting off the path, especially when it’s pavement or cement (read: man made). I have a small, Neolithic longing to see what land and place looked like before humanity made its heavy mark, and when I get down to the literal ground, this small long gets fed.
Here’s what I am constantly having to remind myself: Getting down onto the dirt, and getting close up with it feeds a part of my soul, but there is so much treasure (As Calvin says: There’s treasure everywhere). The creek still had a thin film of ice, but it was slightly submerged, sinking slowly as open water spilled over the top of the ice from open edges. Foam, the color of heavily creamed coffee, and black dirt were frozen into this crust of ice, and a few pieces of algae—St. Patrick’s Day green—were still present in the stagnant water, leftover from summertime. Grasses (or maybe small birds?) had made these tiny, wild hatch marks in the ice, and rotting wood was overgrown with verdant, fecund moss. The branches of trees and shrubs were beginning to shake off their winter dormancy, their new bark a deep wine-red, shining in the weak sunlight, and dotted over with silver-gray.
I followed the stream all the way down to two domed culverts that funneled the water underneath the wide, two lane road. Down to the walking path that connected directly to the paths in and around my apartment building.
When I hit pavement, that sense of wild was gone. I actually felt foolish having through there might have been any hint of wilderness in my little walk. All along the paved trails was a different kind of color: Garbage. Caribou Coffee cups with brow residue in the grooved bottoms, shopping bags caught in knobby tree bark, plastic bottles and soda cans, and candy wrappers. All the refuse that we mindlessly, unintentionally, shrug away, uncovered after the snow melt. On my way back home, I passed three piles of discarded Christmas trees, thrown a few feet off the path, into the wooded disc golf course, their evergreen faded. There was even the rotting carcass of a couch, cushions split open, and a shattered glass tabletop underneath it.