It changed with the seasons – more fog in the late autumn, sometimes ice in winter, but usually just humid and warm with that last hint of early dawn breeze.
I would leave the house, sometimes as early as 6am, my little fanny pack supplied with a bare minimum (and the long lens), the Canon 35mm, and my lovely Boker in my pocket. There was always an apple, too. The drive was a pleasant one and not that far, really. The parking lot often empty when I arrived.
The trail led through a canopy of trees to the water. One could follow along on that path but I liked to take the one that arced above, cresting a bluff and following along it to descend, eventually, to a viewing platform. There was a process to the hike. Each time I would slice the top of the apple off with the knife and leave it at the “Elf King’s Chair”, a tree stump long hollowed out by time, leaving the impression of a throne.
Up, and up it would wind. Quite often I would surpise deer on it. It always made me smile how they could leap through the woods silently while the smallest squirrel could make a racket like a man flailing through the leaves. On a very cold winter morning I had a pack of coyotes pass in front of me – at least I think that is what they were. Surely not wolves, no…And it was near the highest point of the bluff that an owl flew down from a perch and grazed my head, soundlessly, all things muffled in the fog that was rising up the bluff, and crawling across the ground at my feet.
There was a place on the trail, just a flat rock on the side of the path, that was my own perch. It was a good place to be still, snack on the apple slices, carving them with care, and leaving the bottom piece. Just beyond, the light would come up over the bluff and, in some seasons, absolutely glow like the light of heaven. When it did that I would often think that such is what a heaven must be like. A path, the trees, and that silken honey glow suffusing all.
Once, as I sat there in a very cold dawn light, the wind blew the ice covered trees and I swear there was a song – very like that from saw blades. It was a sort of keening sing-song tone played by the wind. I knew it was that ice, those trees bending and the sap crying. But it was lovely.
Just beyond was the old stone. I never really paid much mind to the why but it was there that I’d perch the bottom of the apple, a piece left for no one and nothing but it was always accepted. And then, the path would lead past mountain laurels, sometimes blooming with their queer little perfect geometry. Rare, they were. As was the Franklinia. Oh, it had a glorious scent.
The path dropped and curved, a stream carved through and the wild violets loved it, cloaked it with their vivid purples and blues. It was there you could first hear the water, if it was moving. Just a bit further and a jump around a large boulder and you were on the wooden platform where you could stand over the water and watch it whirl beneath you. Across that water was the other half of the park which I rarely visited.
You see, I once came out onto that decking very early. Across the water something moved. It was crouched at the edge, drinking, but heard me. It took only a few bounds to carry it up the steep rock face into the cover of the forest above him. Large, yes. But it was the white-tipped pole tail that I noticed, bouncing to balance his movements. I used to take that path when I wanted a real workout because it was all up and down…but after that? No, never again. And I told myself that surely the river was a good, natural barrier and my woods were never his domain.
From that perch I would toss things into the water and watch them whirl away. Flowers, leaves, wishes…and then it was time to head back to the truck and home. I would follow the boulders along the water, perfect for bounding across and through. When I was in best health, I crossed the section like that cat, fearlessly and easily. And then, the climb back up to the path, to where couples would just be starting their hike, runners just then thrusting themselves past the foolishly struggling baby strollers.
Once home, it was time for a real meal – usually, the only large breakfast of the week. Pancakes, sometimes, but usually a large omelet with spinach and feta, perhaps some mushrooms if I had the patience for it.
I miss those walks very much. It was a way to let go everything and be alone for a time. But I am not certain I’d carry that fearlessness, again. It was a dangerous thing, that cavorting alone where the next person could be hours away. But it put my mind at ease, a mind that whirled like that torrent all week only to be eased by the writhing water in those few minutes. I wonder what has become of the place…and if it remembers me…