I want to get back to my practice of taking (at least) weekly walks down the neighborhood trail. I have missed that quiet, open time that had been such a part of ’09 and then dropped almost as soon as ’10 was in the door. I suppose that without the commitment to count birds once a week, it was too easy to find other things to do. Too easy to be too busy.
Lately I’ve been realizing what an effect this not-walking the pond trail had on me: I felt more rushed and hurried and short of time last year. Too often empty when I sat to write poetry and telling myself that I was perhaps just too busy. When I walk and watch birds, investigate trees and follow butterflies, everything else slips away. There is a sort of purposeful emptying that occurs and yet, I also feel full when I get home. Not full in the sense of having overindulged, but full in the sense of fulfillment.
I’ve come to realize that these walks along the trails, the regular path to the pond and back, the place I always veer from the path to look for certain snakes in the summertime or certain birds or a deer bone that moves from time to time across a meadow… all of this adds to a sort of ritual (dare I say prayer or communion) that I have missed this past year.
And so, having learned my lesson the hard way (is there any other?), I suspect I’ll be taking those (at-least) weekly rambles again. I started on New Year’s Day, as if to make a statement to myself and also to collect a few stones, and it was a great half-hour. So simple, a half-hour-a-week, but those half-hours accumulate like compounding interest into so much more than just thirty short minutes.
Regarding my writing, I’ve felt uninspired lately. That’s not to say I’m not writing. I am. I’m just not happy with what I’m coming up with. It feels like wheels spinning, forward motion only a dream or perhaps an illusion. I’m not a big believer in writer’s block. It seems an excuse. I mean, I can write. I do. It just hasn’t been flowing. Doors open, and I’m ambivalent at best about going through. As though I already know what’s out there, and without surprises, why not just stay home?
Perhaps getting outside on the little trails between the streets will help me find my way back to Mars—or at least the parts of Mars where the end of my novel still hides beneath billion year old sands. I know it will help uncover those things that make poems more than just words and line breaks.
Jumping into the river of stones has reminded me of the importance and, yes, pleasure of discipline in writing. Of being ready to meet the muse, if you will. That was my intent when I started a gnarled oak two years ago, but I slipped away from the discipline of doing that too and it became a too-sporadic thing. I plan to continue this daily practice when January rolls to a close. The kind of close observation and paying attention required is exactly the sort of practice I need—meditative and prayerful (there it is again) in some sense that goes far deeper than simply writing 2-3 lines of poetry or prose.
And it’s bigger than writing, of course, this walking and seeing. More important somehow than just a door to words. It’s a door to discovery and a deeper knowing of myself, the world around me and my place in it. Somehow, all these small things add up to so much more than the sum of their parts. Is it magical that so little time can be transformed into so much living? I feel like it is sometimes, I admit it, and so I resolve to perform at least a little more magic this year, careful always not to endanger anyone or turn myself into a toad.
There are some things that make the world spin a little slower. One of those is snow in Austin. Not the icy rain and sleet we get every few years that shuts the city down, but real snow. The light fluffy stuff you can use to make snow men and snowballs to hurl at your colleagues in the parking lot.
I work a good fifteen miles north of where I live and up there, the snow really accumulated and even covered the grass in some of the nearby fields. Along the neighborhood trails, there wasn’t quite as much, but it was good enough for someone to make this pissed off looking snow man. He’s probably upset that it’ll be sunny with highs in the 50s tomorrow when spring comes back.
After work, I took a walk down the trail to see what it looks like in snow, since it hasn’t snowed since we’ve lived here. I walked to the bridge, figuring the area around it would have the greatest accumulation, but the trail had been well-walked today. I took the above picture thinking it might make a nice contrast with this one I took last summer.
I walked down to the pond to check on the ducks (Gadwalls, Ring-necked and American Wigeon). They were huddled together in the reeds on the near shore. I watched them paddle about and tried to think of when it’s snowed like this here.
I don’t remember ever seeing real snow accumulating in the 22 years I’ve lived here other than one day in Dallas when all of us working at a video editing company stood out on the fire escape and watched it snow while the pawn shop next door burned down.
No fires today, which is fine since it wasn’t really all that cold by the time I got out on the trail. Most of the snow had melted off and there wasn’t much in the way of accumulation, but it was nice to see the trail in a different way, which is, I think, the magic of snow days when you live in a place that doesn’t have them.
These kind of days are good for their slow stillness and silence and the way sometimes nature changes the rules just a bit to remind us to stop and pay attention.
On the way back home, I saw these sticks poking out of the snow. They reminded me of runes, though I have no idea what they might mean. If they said anything, perhaps they were one more reminder to witness the mystery and be awed by it.
I noticed this tree the other day while I was walking along the neighborhood trail looking for birds. As to birds, I mostly saw the usual suspects, though I did see Cedar Waxwings, which was the first time I’ve seen them in the neighborhood. The Ring-necked Ducks finally returned as well, but this time, I tried to see the trees and spend some time with them.
It was cold here last week, the coldest it’s been since 1976 according to the paper, and so I set out to see if things looked different in that brittle winter light we see so rarely here.
It’s been dry so no snow or freezing precipitation, but I did see some ice along the muddy edge of the stream. I doubt I would have seen it if I hadn’t first heard my boots crunching through it. Nothing too impressive as far as ice cover goes, but ice outside of a drinking glass is a novelty around here.
This is the view looking up the stream (southwest). I still can’t get over the damage last summer’s hailstorm did. Most of the trees that lost their fight with the sky that night have been cleared away, but I like that this one was left over the creek like a little bridge for night-scurrying animals.
I wonder if a small tornado came through this part of the trail since so many trees were felled. If you draw a line from this spot to our house and a few blocks beyond, most of the roofs along that line had to be replaced (including ours). I guess the trees didn’t stand much of a chance.
I’ll write about the birds and my big medium small year that concluded with this icy walk in the next few days.
Just for grins, I recoded my site so that the sidebar loads after the posts, a thing which needed doing for quite some time. It’s nothing a reader would likely notice except that the site might load faster now, but what prompted me to do it is this nice enhanced gallery feature in WordPress 2.9. Here’s a gallery of pictures from my walk. Clicking on them will display them at a higher resolution on their own image pages.
In non, tree, bird or WordPress news, I was happy to see that my prose/poetry piece “The Man Who Spoke the Law” (originally published at qarrtsiluni back in October) was included on Adam Ford’s January 2010 Poetry Mixtape. Check it out. He says nice things about “The Man Who Spoke the Law” and there are links to some really terrific poems on the same mixtape.
Saturday morning was perfect for walking the trails around the neighborhood. I started at the pond, enjoying the way the early light struck the trees from low in the east.
The ducks had come back to the pond after summering in northern climes. A great egret and a great blue heron also came by to catch the scene and probably a few fish as well. A turkey vulture and a low-flying helicopter also made appearances.
After the pond, I walked up to the little nature preserve I discovered back in August. Even though Texas isn’t known for its autumn show, it still felt that way with leaves falling like golden snow while the cobalt sky blazed in that special autumn way beyond the branches, growing more naked with each gust of wind.
I watched the path more than anything, though, listening to the sound of my feet crunching the leaves into next summer’s mulch.
Every summer evening should end with sunset on a trail.
My classroom has no exterior windows and if I get busy, it’s easy to go a whole day with no idea of what the weather is like outside. This time of year, however, it’s beautiful and so, I’ve taken to going for walks around the building. It’s good to get out for some exercise and even more fun to see what kinds of wildlife I can identify. Today, I brought my camera.
I’ve been especially fascinated by the killdeer around the building. Initially, it was its call that caught my attention, and so I stopped to discover these noisy shorebirds that live nowhere near shore. Apparently their natural habitats are parking lots near fields and golf courses.
When I go for my walks, I always look forward to getting around to the west side of the building where they like to congregate in the drainage ditch, which this one discovered helps make him especially photogenic.
I see mockingbirds all the time, and today, I actually managed to get a picture of this one.
I’d like to try to get one displaying the white flashes on its wings, but that will take a bit of patience.
Finally, I saw this scissor-tailed flycatcher hanging out waiting to be photographed.
I’ve seen these birds all over the place around here, but I never knew what they were until today. The tip-off, of course, was when I saw one catch a fly in midair, his scissor-like tail streaming behind him. Now that I know what he is, I get to add him to my list.
In addition to the three I photographed, I also regularly see barn swallows, turkey vultures, white-winged doves, and some kind of hawk that I haven’t been able to name yet, although, I didn’t see him today.
It’s a funny thing walking around the building. Looking outward, I see birds, wild and free, filling me up with enough of the outdoors to go back in for the rest of the day, and all of it surrounding a building full of juvenile offenders. I wonder what they think about when they see the birds outside, or if they even notice them at all.