Mexican Hat aka Upright Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida columnifera)
(click images to enlarge)
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.
Last summer I regularly saw a pair of blotched water snakes in the shallows of the stream near the bridge. Every day they were there, sitting in the current waiting for small fish and tadpoles to come by. When it got cold, they disappeared. After reading about Dave’s ceiling snakes, I wondered if they would come back this summer so I took a walk down to the bridge to see and sure enough, there they were just like last year.
I sat on the bridge and watched them for awhile, surprised that they should have come back to the same spot. I’m assuming, of course, that these are the same individuals as last year. Maybe they’re not and it’s just a really great spot for blotched water snakes to hunt. Either way, they didn’t seem to mind me sitting so close and even allowed me to take a few pictures.
While I was sitting there, I got the feeling that I was being observed. I turned around to have a look downstream and there was this guy:
He watched me for awhile, decided I was boring and moved on. I moved on too, walking down to the pond to see if any of the summer herons and egrets had arrived. Not yet. But there were plenty of grackles, and I heard the red-shouldered hawk calling up the trail beyond the pond.
It’s summer here now. All day, the heat and humidity crushed down and bounced shimmering off the asphalt, soaking through my shirt and slowing everything down to the summer lethargy it’s so easy to forget as soon its gone. Then it pissed rain. Thunderstorms and lightning. Tomorrow it will be scorching again and there will be no sign that water fell the night before. Such is Texas.
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.