August 20, 2008

Just slow down a little...

Got out in the woods for a hike today for the first time in a handful of months. This is typical in the summer-- I hike through the colder months of the year, then take advantage of the warmer months to get out with my bike or kayak. And while the places I go with those vehicles are still very close to nature, it's not quite the same as having my feet on a dirt trail, surrounded by trees. On the bike, there's metal between me and the ground and while I move slowly enough to take in my surroundings fairly well, it's still too fast to feel a part of those surroundings. In the kayak, I'm immersed almost literally in nature of an aquatic variety, yet, again, there's a foreign material between me and the water that ever so slightly limits the intimacy of the experience. But to be on foot, to reach out and touch the trees I pass, creates a connection that is much deeper.

So, anyway, I got out for a hike late this afternoon up at Sugarloaf Mountain. Over the years, as development in this part of Maryland has exploded, places like Sugarloaf have become more and more popular and, of course, more and more crowded. I've found that weekdays and crappy weather days are the only time I can go there without encountering hordes of people who think it's a great big park put there purely for their amusement. But by beginning my hike later in the day, I only passed a handful of mountain bikers and a couple of trail-joggers, and had long stretches of trail all to myself. I moved at a comfortable pace, slowing periodically to listen to the late-summer sounds of crickets and cicadas.

Towards the end of the hike, I experienced a bit of drama, the sort of thing that pretty much only happens when you slow down and move quietly through nature. Off to the side of the trail, I heard a small chirp and a light rustle of leaves. I stopped, thinking that I'd see a chipmunk dart away. Instead, I noticed a fat little brown toad in the leaves up against a small, partially decayed log. It was breathing heavily and straining itself forward and my first assumption was that it was frightened of me. Watching it, though, I realized that it was somehow caught where it was. It began trying to push forward with its front legs and the one hind leg that I could see. I moved a bit closer and began to reach down to pick it up. The thought suddenly struck me then that I might not want to do that, after all. The idea of picking it up and finding a snake attached to the leg I couldn't see gave me pause, so I pulled back and squatted down to continue watching, a slightly sick feeling growing in the pit of my stomach. Of course I wanted to help it, but how could I? If one of its legs was deep in a snake's throat, what could I do that wouldn't injure it further? And, even if I could free it somehow, that would mean depriving another creature of a meal that was essential to its survival. Life feeds on life, and we humans can't, shouldn't, always feel as if our interference is of benefit.

The little toad continued to try to pull itself away from whatever was holding it, emitting periodic chirping cries. It managed to get ahold of the log with its front legs and began to twist itself completely around, slowly pushing and shoving with all but that still invisible hind leg. Somehow, in doing so, it managed to free that leg and pull away. It took one or two short hops with the stuck leg held close to its body, then just sat there a few feet from me, breathing. I stood up slowly and took a step forward and, as I did so, I swear I saw a movement of some sort along the base of the log. The sun had sunk below the ridge behind me and the light in the woods was dim, so I have no idea what I actually saw. Was it the snake that had suddenly given up and let go? Or had the toad actually just slipped from the log and gotten its leg caught in a bit of loose bark? Since toads can't talk, I'll never know.

I ended up back at the car just before sunset. The last 1/2 mile or so through the dusky woods was bittersweet, as hiking at that time of day always is. I know I need to get back, but there's just something so appealing about being in the woods in the transition between day and night, something eerie yet comforting, that makes me want to slow down and soak in everything that's around me. It's the day saving the best for last.

Admiration

Could you move in slow motion?
Everything goes by so fast.
Just slow down a little,
Save the best part for last.

You speak in riddles,
Your intentions turn me on.
I'm yours forever,
Will you love me when I'm gone?
When I'm gone!

You're an unfenced fire!
Over walls we've trampled!
It's you I admire!
My living example

Your eyes are an undiscovered ocean far away.
Any minute now, keeping
Both poets and priests at bay.
Don't get ahead of me,
Could we just this once see eye to eye?
But your warmth, it haunts me.
Ask me how it feels to vie.
To vie!

You're an unfenced fire!
Over walls we trampled!
It's you I admire!
My living example

It's a photograph discovered a decade after.
It's a cannon blast disguised as a firecracker.
It's enough to bring a brick wall to its knees
And say please...

Could you move in slow motion?
Everything goes by so fast.
Just slow down a little,
Save the best part for last.
For last...

You're an unfenced fire!
Over walls we trampled!
It's you I admire!
My living example
My living example

It's you I admire!
My living example


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