I have my places–places I go to be quiet and still. Although they are public spaces, one and all, I consider them mine, and I make a concerted effort to preserve them that way by visiting them when everyone else is busy with other things. A bluff overlooking a valley of sycamore and cedar, maple and walnut. Rocky streambeds lined with towering walls laid down like layers of a cake, filled scraggly with vines and roots and rock scraps stuck in to make it all come out even.
I come here in the heat of summer and the cold of winter, early in the morning, on days when everyone else is at work or school or thinks it’s too uncomfortable to be outside. I’ve seen these places gush after a rain and wondered at the power that uproots a sixty-foot tree and runs it into the embankment on a bend. I’ve sat beside playful waters trickling between rains. But today is the first time I’ve been here in a drought.
I used to be dissatisfied if my fall ramblings didn’t yield spectacular color, but along with making peace with my birthday, I’m learning to be happy with the less-than-perfect in other places. Today I’m aware of the life in these trees in a way I never am among the brilliant red maples and prim and proper planted crabapples and stinky pears people are so fond of inside city limits. Here, in the muted colors of nature, I can almost see the tree-spirits of pagan yesteryear–can almost hear them whispering. The trees look sickly yellow and mangy, but I can still sit above them and experience the wind with all my senses, as I watch it dance and twirl from one part of the woods to the next. I can still descend to the creek bed and follow the progress of the dancing breeze up the valley–a whisper, a joyful song falling again into stillness. The trees still respond, the babies waving with uncontrolled freedom, the older, more sedate adults bowing and swaying in the breezes. They’re suffering this year, but they’re still my trees, and I love them.
The creek is dry, all its remaining water confined to a single pool at the big bend, and even that murky and stagnant. Above and below, I can sit among wave patterns sculpted into rock, brush away the dried moss on the downstream faces. Scraggly weeds have grown up in every crevasse, and someone–or many someones–have built rock towers every little bit along its length. I debate building one myself, but that’s not why I come. I get here so rarely these days, and what I need most of all is the quiet and stillness, not another task to complete.
Perhaps, after all, it is when people and places are farthest from their best that we see most clearly their importance to us. As the breeze whispers up the valley again and washes over me only to move on, I know I love this place more now than I ever have.