I am wrung out. Seeking sunshine restoration in the wastes.
The parking lot opossum was likely lapping up the salt leavings. It trundled off into the weedy margin and I tried to follow but wet-then-frozen-now-melting snow was too coarse and stiff to hold its prints. It disappeared in the tangles. I crashed in behind it, clumsy on the slope, finding a bent-over trunk door from some car of indeterminate model buried in the snow in the jumbled soil bank. Despite the storm midweek and the melting today, there was dry and tracked-up soil as far in as I could see.
Every Midwestern kid knows this place. During late winter, the landscape shows its glacial bones. Unnatural contours and junk and rocks piled together betray its history. Stickery things and rank weedy stems in the corn snow. Cockleburs stuck to my laces. Every Midwestern kid saves up for imagination in the relict woods.
Cottonwoods in the low area are battered and weary. Blown askew in the soft bottoms. Crippled and hanging on. There’s a box elder bush straining at the circumference of an old fat tire. Perfect.
I wanted to be a mountain man as a kid. I had a Christmas hatchet that I wore on my belt and I built twig fires in my own snowy boot-prints to warm my hands. My mountain horizons filtered sunsets through chicken barns to the west on 32nd Avenue and I knew every tree shrouding a nameless little creek. I assured myself I’d leave some day for the real mountains, or the high desert, or the Alaskan interior.
And I did, for a time. Chasing beavers for my master’s research in the steep-sided drainages of the northern Rockies.
But here I am at fifty-something, harried, and tired, heavy and wrung out. Stomping through the wastes. Through the cattails and the marsh hay. Stepping across the marsh-ice and listening to the subtleties in pitch of the cracks in the ice to tell myself, based on hard-won knowledge, how far I could step – at risk of a muddy one-legger in the hummocks.
The creek was dark and spare in the afternoon winter sun. Deliciously barren, all wind-driven cattail margins. Some buried in the heavy snow. Some standing too thick to succumb. Willows on the old fence row and red-osier dogwoods color the middle distance, where the marsh subtlety ripples above the saturation point.
I rounded the meander to find a muskrat, looking rich even at the distance, until it saw me, swam in, and disappeared under the bank. The stripey-breasted sparrow shape-shifted among the marsh hay and willows. Townie mallards on the wind and Canada geese. When the shadows lengthen, turkeys purr and putt to each other across the marsh.
I come here because it’s close and easy. Familiar. Self-medicating. The bird hunters and their dogs mainly stay in the prairie. I know where the easy trails are and the hills to walk around. I know where to sit and listen on the little amphitheater rise among the bur oaks with the aspen thicket out front.
Ecology is a strange mix of resilience and vulnerability. We take resilience for granted, weeds and wastes.
I dissociate when I walk here. The scientist looks for birds and wants to know kind and ecology, the midwestern kid wants to dream again and find the stories. The professor steps back. My internal monologue shuffles on oblivious, trying out language, sometimes singing, perhaps even praying. The rest of us pay him no mind. If God answers back, he’ll tell us.
There’s muddy haul-out with a hind footprint as big as my glove. A dogwood branch neatly pealed nearby. It’s the beginning of the dispersal period for beavers, when the juveniles leave the familial lodges to strike out on their own to find a mate and a new home range.
Odd. This is not a beaver creek.
But this fellow was no juvenile. The size of that print makes it an old-timer. Likely here because of circumstances it probably didn’t expect. Here alone, given lack of other sign. I wonder about its story.
Poking around in the wastes.