The Now Naked Earth Original Post November 12, 2009
We got out to walk this evening just after sunset, the earliest walk in more than a week. Under the early dusk light the changes were striking. With the windy conditions of the last few days, virtually all of the leaves were down. The trees have gone from lush and colorful to naked and spare, revealing the jagged, flowing detail of their structure, from stout trunks to an almost feathery spray of twigs reaching up, beseeching the skies as the season gradually yields to winter.
Once into the woods the new nakedness unveiled the topography of the hills as we walked down the Ridge Trail and then left onto the Bur Oak Trail. It would have been a fine evening for a cartographer to confirm plots, mapped elevations and geographic features. Looking across the Valley Trail to the south ridge, the white to light grays of sycamore trees stood out among the blandness of the other trees in the valley. The sycamores seem to thrive in the moist ground by the creek bed where they line the valley floor.
The sycamores reminded me of Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again In Indiana.” “The gleaming candlelight, still shining bright,
Through the sycamores for me.”
The leaves were thick under foot on the trail and had already lost their colors, now just a lifeless, crackling gray to brown. And even dry, they were slippery to walk on. On the hills I found myself walking from the knee on flat feet so that I wouldn’t slip trying to thrust forward while rolling off of my toes.
Our feet shuffled through the dry leaves on the trail with that familiar rustling sound that echoed of the playing in piles of leaves as a kid; that carefree time to frolic between school and dinner, long, long ago.
Suddenly, I caught a flash of white moving quickly through the gray-brown brush toward the creek. It was a white tailed deer that heard our approaching rustle then broke to the east toward the train trestle at the far end of the trail.
Trevor and I stopped abruptly to watch and listen. Trevor strained against his leash as we heard the heavy, bounding, earthy, muffled steps of the deer. Then it stopped out of sight and we moved to the end of the trail where we turned right, under the shadow of the trestle toward the creek. As we began our descent, the deer broke to the top of the hill, cleverly using brush and swales to conceal itself as much as possible. We caught a brief, full glimpse of a large, mature, eight-point buck before his hind quarters disappeared with a last flash of white down toward the creek on the north side of the Bur Oak Trail.
To this point of the walk, we were strolling easily downhill in the cool of the evening. For the first time this fall I felt the chill creeping under the buttoned sleeves of my maize chamois shirt. My arms bristled trying to hold warmth and the back of my thumbs actually felt cold as they swung to the pace of my gait.
But then we crossed the low creek under the trestle and began our long climb up to the far southeastern corner of the Forest Loop Trail. In the trudging climb my breath deepened and quickened. Half way up I unzipped my vest, then rolled back my sleeves two folds. I could feel the first sweat under the brim of my hat and around the back of my collar under the plies of t-shirt, shirt and vest. Trevor still eagerly pulled at the leash as I finished the folds of my sleeves.
My thumbs were now warmed with the rushing pulse of exertion.
We stopped a few times on the leveling grade to enjoy the waning light and the dimming, blurring roll of the hills and valleys, noting the random patterns of the old, fallen wood.
As we walked across some old fallen bricks at the southeastern-most point of the Forest Loop, where the trail starts its turn west, I regained the sense of history in these woods. From these bricks of the Ault family vineyard nearly a hundred years before, to the whisper of quiet footsteps from the Miami and Shawnee tribes of centuries past, I listened for the quiet echo that might issue from the legacy of the soil. From the old leaves that knew the step and rustle of these former people; our ancestors in the body of humanity.
I looked up through the now dark, current stand of trees toward the waning pale blue of the horizon and upward to a darkening indigo sky. The bright sphere of Jupiter winked in and out from behind the trees as we made our way off of the trails. We finished the walk under inky skies, that vast stage just beginning to bring up the lights of the brightest stars, Vega, Deneb and Altair.
At the close of this evening, I take a deep breath and exhale slowly, giving thanks for the wonder and glory of life.
Copyright © 2009 Rudolph Siegel