photo: dead tree
Jenny and I took a long walk in the morning. Almost no one was out, so it was very quiet. We went to a park I used to run through fairly often. I thought I knew it well, but we easily discovered a new place, and I realized what a creature of habit I had been.

For one thing, I always ran on the same looping trails; and for another, I only noticed what I could see as I ran past. Even at that level it was a nice park – rolling oak savanna, open meadows, a marsh, two streams and a lake.

My favorite feature had been an old, dead tree in the middle of a long, sloping meadow. I liked the grace of its pose, the ghostly white of its bark-free branches, and the contrast of its stark nakedness between two lush willows. I wondered if it was still there, two years since we moved from the neighborhood.

photo: dead tree trunk
Sure enough, it was. A little grayer, maybe, with a touch of moss, but it stood just as gracefully as ever.

It never occurred to me until just now to wonder what might have killed it. There are no signs of distress, no woodpecker visitations, no visible rot… maybe a peaceful death in its sleep, or a more dramatic death by poisoning… but after several years, still undeniably dead.

I walked right up to it, to get a closer look this time. It’s starting to crack, like a weathered fencepost, but it’s still sound. It is its own headstone, in a way – a true sign of what it did and did not do in life, and one that will pass in good time without straining in vain for permanence.

photo: bird's nest
Along the edge of the same meadow, where young trees are starting to invade, we saw quite a few small bird nests. In summer they would have been hidden in leaves, but now, empty, they are easy to find.

We continued along the path through oak-dominated woods to an over-developed boat landing/parking lot/playground/picnic shelter/beach. Up a hill into another patch of woods, and then, where a small clearing used to be, we found a new oversized picnic shelter, parking lot and road.

Rather than walk through more of that sort of “park,” we turned up an eroded hillside (which turned out to be part of a frisbee golf course). I kept expecting the sandy ground to slide away under me, but it had frozen solid. At the top of the hill (next to an obtrusive frisbee golf “hole”) a natural limestone tabletop gave us a view over the entire park.

Even on this small hill, in a suburban park like a million others, you can sense a concentration of power. It draws from the landscape around it, pulls it together. In some way, it represents
that landscape. You don’t have to call it sacred
to feel it (though I do).

Like a predator at the top of its food chain, as long as a place of power remains healthy and whole, then the landscape that feeds it must be, too. If it’s unhealthy, though (like raptors affected by DDT), it can take a lot of time and effort to find the source of injury and correct it.

Here it feels wounded.

photo: eaten galls
Down the other side of the hill through the oaks again, we came back to the big meadow. We noticed a lot of goldenrod galls
, most of them pecked into and eaten, but a few still untouched.

photo: running water
At the end, we walked along the creek, surprised to hear the water run, clear, cold and melodic.

Happy new year.