The Walk

One evening last week, I rushed home from work and went for a walk in the park. It was a good walk. I was about to say, it was nothing special. But then again…

There were the turtles. Five or six of them, lined up on a log, basking in a wetland pond just a hundred yards or so from traffic. I spotted the dull sheen of their shells from the path, through the scant curtain of brush, not yet leafed-out. As I stood looking a woman ran towards and then right by us, in yoga pants, earbuds in, listening to something.

I went on, crossed the bridge, entered the woods. The afternoon sunlight was spilling over the edge of the ravine, slanting down the hillside and washing ‘right round the bare trees, making the old leaves scattered on the ground gleam like treasure. As I came along the middle route, winding slowly upward, the sun shone on gnarled roots, wrapped around the path. They made me think of a grandmother’s knobby fingers, holding tight to a small child’s hand.

I saw no deer—but found their hoof prints, engraved over the track of a mountain bike tire. Squirrels chased each other up and down tree trunks, chattering fiercely. I heard birds—some I know, some I don’t. From above, high up on the hill, the serpentine coil of the river’s backwater looked dressed in green, its banks all grassy with new growth. When I got down there I found mallards, circling calmly, and a small cloud of gnats dancing right over the mud of the trail. The bugs spoke the loudest to me of spring—the gnats, the midges, the flies and yes, the mosquitoes—they’ll take hold rapidly down at the bottom of the ravine along the river but right now they’re a novelty. A gang of just-hatched midges! Spring is truly here.

Heading back, I stopped at the bridge and listened to the water, rushing over the rocks, making its tumbling, frothy sound. I studied the willowy branches reaching from the bank: tipped in buds, pale and silvery, not yet opening to green. Retracing my route, the bark of a wood frog reached me from the wetland; just two turtles remained on the log, in the setting sun.

When I first spied the turtles all lined up through the branches of the thicket I was so excited that I felt foolish, afterwards. Maybe it had to do with the jogger, running by me, on adult business—serious exercise!—I felt childish in comparison. But then I realized: if I can’t get in touch with that child-like wonder, that thrill of discovering life and beauty in the natural world around me,

How will I know to protect it?

I went for a walk and saw the miraculous, beside the trail, right at my feet, and dancing over a mud puddle. A good walk—it was something special, after all.

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