Yesterday’s Walk Through Snow

I’m walking across the field, toward the woods, late in the afternoon. With me is Faulkner, a soccer ball, my voice recorder, but no camera. I want there to be no frame to limit the white beauty of woods in the snow. I want to know the scene as unbroken expanse, each dimension pouring its fullness into each other.

I turn Faulkner loose, and he knows where to go. I walk, kicking the ball in his direction, toward the opening at the edge of trees, snow blasting from my foot and up my pants in the motion. Each expected bounce is muffled as the ball stops in its own oval crater. I love these shoes; Merrell is worth every penny you pay for them.

Into. Ahead of me the ball rolls down the trail. These woods have the freshness of an open-minded discussion, and I’m here to listen. The Sunlight is doing some amazing things on the white branches. The outline of white, up the trunks and out the limbs of the largest trees, is just — clean! A sea of Smilax briar vines, red cedars, wild cherries…they all are catching light and casting shadows in a perfect display of God’s artistry.

Why does snow in the woods make a man feel so warm?

Layerings. I’m listening to a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Its voice is traveling through pine branches covered with snow underneath the blue sky. Behind me is the horn of a very distant train. Grasses bend in support of their icy weight, and sweetgum balls stand out in silhouette against the pale openness above.

I keep expecting Faulkner to jump a rabbit and go chasing it out through the weeds until briars stop him and let the rabbit go free. Now the trail opens into a patch of pine needles and moss. And the sunlight is perfectly balanced against everything that is here. I am watching light, breathing it, pumping it through my arteries, and telling Faulkner things he’s too busy to notice for himself. He is happy and alert, running around in his winter fatness. Simple woods. I can never get too much of this. And twilight approaches.

Several small oak trees here still hold their brown dried leaves, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet matches the temperature with its thin, piercing call, but only giving two notes of its usual three.

Another thing I did not bring with me is binoculars. So, as I call the birds to me, I cannot see, in these shadows, what each of them is, but I do recognize a Song Sparrow. Dozens of others come close, staying just out of signt and are not identifying themselves by voice. Now they fly away as Faulkner follows his nose through the weeds underneath them. There’s the soft chuck of a Hermit Thrush, most likely agitated by the calling that I did. And back toward the spring I hear a Northern Flicker yelping its strident single-syllable creed to all the woods within a quarter mile.

Faulkner walked up to me just now, offering me his head for a scrub of his scalp, enjoying this place and my presence in it with him.

On to the spring, now, where water is flowing through the lightly frozen remainder of day. Faulkner runs his usual patrol across the broken fence and up through trees around the ridge. Today he’s easier to see, with snow as the background instead of brown forest floor. Much snow has melted and the flow of water out of the primary spring groundswell is more vigorous than I am used to seeing. I reach into it with my left forefinger and nudge a gray salamander who moves slowly out of my reach. The water is warm, moreso than I expected. And down here at ground level I notice a soft vapor rising off of the pool that is formed by the flow.

Now back up to the trail, I return to the soccer ball that I have been kicking all along this walk, through snow and leaves. The presence of a Nike soccer ball in these woods seems incongruous, but so it seemed in the place I first found it. That’s a story I still need to tell.

This is enough, and more than I can appreciate: these woods, this way. I am at home in the cold. No wind was here, trying to move the magisterial grandeur of snow where it lies and limbs where they accept space in the sky. I’m glad to be walking here now, and glad that this is enough.

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Published in: on January 22, 2009 at 12:24 am  Comments (5)  

Will You Walk With Me for Just a Bit into the Field out Back?

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For some reason, I thought of Isaiah 40. Abundantly, we are surrounded by the power of beauty, the laughter of our chaotically brilliant and loving God. Did you not know?

Published in: on September 20, 2008 at 9:46 pm  Comments (3)  

Camera’s Return

I went to Landsford Canal State Park this afternoon to test the Olympus E-300 since getting it back yesterday. The park is located on the Chester County side of the Catawba River, several miles northwest of the town of Lancaster. (That’s South Carolina, if you’re just tuning in.) Here are some scenes from the lovely autumn day.

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During my four hours on the trail, 34 bird species revealed themselves. Here’s a Scarlet Tanager.
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Two male Black-throated Blue Warblers showing their bellies
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And there were vines.
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Published in: on October 13, 2007 at 9:57 pm  Comments (7)  

Maybe This Is Why I Like Them

Here is a poem I wrote sometime back around 1997, I think. There were never any publishers who showed interest in it, and I can maybe see why, but I still like certain things about it. Though not yet seasonally appropriate, this poem holds a kinship of thought with the vine appreciation some readers have expressed.

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This November Crawling

November is the darkest month
ending still getting darker,
a year’s twilight spectacle of days
sheaved by final harvest need.
How brown, this month
of grasses left behind
in sun’s betrayal to
a lower hemisphere,
fields made brittle by
planet tilting cooler.
The earth shares shadow of itself
for longer nights,
gesture of balance,
undoing summer’s overuse of light.
And trees have quit their leaves
after chlorophyll’s demise,
opening forest shades
not to block what light may be.
This November is a lethargy,
calendar’s crawl on arthritic knees
through more darkness still,
winter waste,
gray and ice
like some vow broken,
toward distant, unhinted spring.
There was another time like this,
but better, less explained.

Leaves raked and dumped in the garden
would get plowed into the soil,
Grandaddy’s Allis-Chalmers
growling happily at the task–
but later, though.
Now, boys crawled through a field
of leftover summer weeds, tunneling,
their bodies mashing between
the tall woody stalks.
They were termites or moles or
any other burrowing thing
that crawled about unseen from above.
Beggar lice spelled unknown tongues
across bluejeaned thighs and shins,
flannel shoulders. Flannel was
a comfort to the skin,
its plaid softening scrapes
and moods, ripening affections
toward people who wore
that friendly lumberjack cloth,
even girls.
The best thing in the world
was to find a fuzzy caterpillar,
hold it,
turn it loose,
tunnel for more:
yellow, butterscotch, amber, black.
Late autumn weeds grew flat against the ground
where even dry dirt felt moist
in the cool.
Lying there flat like them,
boys breathed a sky into which
no birds sang, but a crow
flew stolen pecans away
to soon-forgotten secret places,
maybe finding them,
as if surprised, later.
Then crawling upon a gourd
never noticed in the foliage
of warmer, brighter months,
boys marveled to observe
this even-better treasure
than bottles and coins and arrowheads
kept at home.
It was one that got away
when the others had been picked
long ago.
And the bigger thrill than finding
was in having been eluded
by a vine.

Pluck the cockleburs
from shoestrings and the dog…
time to wash up, sit down
and give thanks for leftover dressing and turkey.
It always was later than they thought.
Before crawling into bed
boys added to their prayers
silent vows
to never plant a garden
without gourds.

Published in: on August 29, 2007 at 4:18 pm  Comments (9)  

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Virginia Creeper is one of my favorite vines, and here it adorns the river with enthusiasm exceeding the reach of its tree.

At the end of this trip I performed a couple of timed sprints between the highway bridge and the railroad trestle, really pushing myself before I loaded up to go home. Between sprints, I saw another Virginia Creeper that turned out to be my favorite vine on this seven-mile paddle. When I tried to photograph it, though, I learned that my battery was finished. So I’ll have to show you that one another time, and hopefully that won’t be long.

Published in: on August 24, 2007 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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When I was a teenager or young adult, I memorized the entire Biblical chapter of John 15…that’s how important it seemed to me. I am reminded of what Jesus said there whenever I see muscadines.

And I’m reminded of how perfectly they scent the woods as they ripen and fall. These will fall in the river if birds or insects don’t get to them first, their seeds floating along or flying away to start new vines in other places. Of course, I might go back and get them myself.

Published in: on August 24, 2007 at 5:43 pm  Comments (6)  

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Muscadines and another variety of wild grape (is it fox grape?) are growing here. The tangle is beautiful, the exact kind of place you expect to see migrating warblers and thrushes feeding between flights.

A piece of woods might be a park or a jungle. In a park, the plants are well-behaved (or well-controlled), not touching each other below head level, but in a jungle the plants intermingle and compete and find their own space and relationship to each other. And vines do that better than just about anything.

Published in: on August 24, 2007 at 5:33 pm  Leave a Comment