Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Last Days of Light

The weekend before Labor Day weekend, I went to Philbrick Park in Penfield. I haven't hiked as much as usual this summer, so with time running short, I went to a place close by.

I hiked it last December with a woman whom I would date for a couple of months. She'd brought her dog to the park for walks before it passed away. I'd always thought it was a small park with few trails at best, but for its location, it's a great place to explore. Also, I wanted to see it in full summer bloom, in contrast to the heavy, bereft silence of a late fall day.

A river runs through it, or more accurately, a creek.  Irondequoit Creek, which follows a winding path from Lake Ontario. I set out along the trail beside the waterway, its song keeping me company as I strolled. People sat along the banks, one couple having a cookout on a big concrete block, another young man sitting cross-legged while his radio played music. I thought of why we needed to constantly haul the things of our lives into nature, as if the beauty and subtle magic on display weren't enough for our jaded senses. I walked deeper into the woods, determined to leave behind any vestiges of modern life.

That's difficult to do around here. I'd have to go farther south to really get away from it all. I was continually drawn to little sidepaths to the creek bank, to listen to the burbling water and feel its calm spirit wash over me. At one of the points, I found a small turtle sunning itself. I moved down slowly to sit next to it. I expected it to leap back into the water, but it remained as I sat. We absorbed the silvery sound and the cooler breeze that sometimes emerged from the shade.

Later, with the heat rising through the afternoon, I couldn't resist taking my shoes off and walking into the stream. The creek bed was mostly rocky, but there spots of soft silt that produced grainy clouds as I stepped through them. I looked downstream and saw a long, sinuous shadow moving up the opposite bank and disappearing behind a tree. I thought it was a squirrel at first, and then thought it didn't move like any squirrel I'd ever seen before. Just a few seconds after it disappeared, it moved out from behind the tree and a few steps in my direction. It lifted its head and eyed me curiously. It was then I realized I was being checked out by an otter.

I had no idea there were otters in the area. A little research revealed that there had been an effort to reintroduce them into western New York back in 2000. I was seeing one of the descendants of those efforts. The otter's tail is thicker than a squirrel's, more rope-like. I noticed its broader head as it regarded me; its movements were less darting and spasmodic, more of a happy lope. It wasn't long before it was satisfied and it retreated back behind the tree where it probably has a den.

The trail was not as deserted as I was hoping. A few hikers came through as I tried to get some decent pics. I got a nice close-up of what looks like some kind of pitcher plant, but I haven't been able to identify it. This was a small victory. The cheap camera that I have is usually not good with close-ups.

Now we're into September and the heat lingers. It's been an extraordinary summer, very reminiscent of those I knew back in New Castle, Delaware, though it was never as dry as it has been here. The heat has helped heal some pains I had been feeling since the winter. I guess it's to be expected when you hit your 50s. I just hope they don't return when the cold weather does.

The woman I'd hiked with before flaked out and decided she wasn't over her ex. This happened to coincide with my birthday. People are unreliable, but I can always count on nature to take me in and ease my anxieties for a while. I read the news every day, and there is a lot of fuel for fear in it. It's better to read the skies, listen to the waters, touch the cool, rough, skin of the stones, or taste the air after a storm. They all have stories to tell, too.

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters."

-A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean

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