The Land

I shake the sand out of my Thorlo running socks. They are white, with pale gray patches on the heel and under the instep. Then I pull on my battered blue-gray jogging shoes with the still-bright yellow Nike swoosh on the sides. I have new ones, but I save those for going out to lunch or town errands. My morning uniform is complete: black Nike running shorts with bright blue trim, a peach-colored jog bra and soft black scoop-neck tee. I unlock the brass deadbolt on the front door and move the smooth brass lever-style knob to open the twelve-foot tall black and glass door. It’s a double door, but only one side is set to operate. I left two sets of loppers on a plastic chair in the breezeway, along with some thin work gloves. I check to be sure no spiders or other bugs have gotten into the glove fingers before I pull them on and make a mental note not to leave them outside again. I pick up the longer, more sturdy of the metal loppers and head out toward the stream bed and the gate.

The stream bed was mangled almost beyond recognition when the winds of 2004’s Hurricane Ivan trashed it with twisted wreckage of trees. The spring is still lively. It makes bubbly sounds when I walk by. The area is still home to all sorts of birds, squirrels and other critters. Deer use it as a regular highway, and I’ve seen coyote and fox scat on the gravel road nearby. The spring crosses under the road through a culvert and continues on to feed the big swamp, deep into the digestive system of the land.

It takes strength and heart to reclaim such a place. Sometimes I’ve had one, but not the other. Last week, Buck took his new battery-operated saw and removed several of the half-dead, twisted hulks from the stream bed. I guess it was just the encouragement I needed. Now, almost every day, I walk down there with my gloves and loppers and clear out a little more and a little more. I’ve discovered a lush fern garden half hidden under and probably fed by the decaying debris.

This picture and the two others on this page are from a walk Buck and I took a couple of days ago. We talked about what a gift it is to live on a piece of ground and to come to know it so well over the years: to watch a forest grow and to be able to tell which trees were hand-planted and which are volunteer; to know which places are always dry no matter what and which are always wet.

To watch the  interplay of color between evergreen and deciduous, and to be able to spot the proliferating wild blueberry bushes when they change color in the fall to deep red and aubergine is sweet, and to know the season instantly with its profusion of yellow-gold and purple wildflowers. Both spring and fall are marked by purples and yellows, but the shades, shapes and varieties are completely different.

We walked side by side and talk about change. We know the county has now selected a firm to do pre-engineering for the road. The road is like a giant whose shadow falls onto the trail we are walking. People will come to talk to us. We will walk and talk together. There will be much pointing and shaking of heads. Maybe even some nodding. I said to Buck, “There may be spitting on the ground.”

He looked at me, a smile playing around his mouth. “Really? Spitting on the ground?”

“Yep.” I said. “And it may be me that does it.”

We laughed out loud, and kept on walking.

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