Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday, September 18 on the Trail

Some days I have the trail very nearly to myself. Then it seems like the whole long asphalt ribbon was laid out for my personal benefit. In that kind of solitude the miles elapse without registering, and the mind turns up hundreds of cool things it misplaced long ago. It's like going through a junk drawer. You find things you can't imagine why you kept, but you're mostly glad to see them. 

For example, a few fronds of mimosa in the overhanging tangle of leaves make me think of the primitive Tree of Life ubiquitous in Pennsylvania Dutch folk art. That image morphs into another bit of mental selvage: the raw edge of a Sylvia Plath poem right out of my college copy of "Ariel." All I can recapture now is this little snippet: 

"The tree of life and the tree of life, 
Unloosing their moons, month after month, to no purpose. 
The blood flood is the flood of love..."  

And then I ponder how badly Sylvia wanted to love her babies and not to be crazy, and I hope fiercely that she and son Nicholas ended up together in whatever place it is that God's got set aside for suicides. I personally think it's a place of great healing in preparation for the soul's next launch and not at all a place of abandonment. Why would God do otherwise? How counterproductive would that be? Silly popes. THEY have no built-in trees of life.  

But that makes me wonder... what happens to any of us when our trail eventually runs out? I'm not sure the elaborate heavenly futures we imagine for ourselves are more noble than those of the fallen logs I see scattered all along the trail, slowly melting back into the loam and loess, becoming food for insect life and fungus. Now and then I've seen them covered so completely with mushrooms it's like they were edged by an over-zealous decorator in row upon row of crocheted lace. I think that maybe life, whatever that is, simply reinvents itself in another form, over and over, for as long as there's an Earth to keep it in.  

If such stuff is not enough to keep a mind busy on the trail, there's always the nature show. For instance, I sometimes see an orb weaver's web with its brilliant tenant in residence, or a black snake kedging its way into the weeds, or a doe cropping water plants in the slough. And I could look forever just at the berries alone: dusky-skinned wild grapes; inky, poisonous pokeberries; orange bittersweet; some white ones I never saw elsewhere and can't identify; and some equally mysterious red things, translucent as rubies, with faint internal ribs like gooseberries have.   

It's not just the sights, either; it's the sounds that entertain. If I'm walking in the morning, it's a project unto itself just picking out the different birdsongs: mockingbirds, cardinals, robins, crows, and what-all mix with the bull-horned instructions of a crewing captain to his rowers out on the lake. On hot summer afternoons the grass on both sides of the trail twitches with crickets and katydids. At twilight, the cicadas hush and the echoless basso profundo of a bullfrog solo may take over. And in the fall, there's the soughing crunch under my Sketchers of all the falling sycamore and oak.  

But nothing delights me like the smells. Every few feet there's a new one: oak, of course; honeysuckle; wild onion; cut grass (the soccer fields); the sick-sweet treacle of Scotch thistles; the hot cinnamon of wild roses; the mushroom musk of the woods; and sometimes, by the footbridge over the creek, an inexplicable whiff of raw petroleum.

No comments: