Sep 23, 2009

My Island

My home is at the base of a small peninsula in the middle of an Oak Savannah wetland. Like a thumb folded in the palm of a giant hand, the avian oasis rises above the sea of cattails that surround it. This old island has seen the transformation in a performance passing eons of time. The rolling path I walk was perhaps a deep channel that filled in with silt and brush. The water is just below the thick carpet of grass and yellow dogwood. Wisps of air cool my sweat as I step deeper into the tangled vines of the forest edge. I move quickly where smarter animals would move more slowly with ears twitching. No trace of past ventures to show me the way. I cannot see the forest through the brush and trees, only my hands, with momentary sights between my fingers.

The ancient lakebed hosts migrant geese and wood ducks that call small patches of open water their home. Small pitted water holes, only visible from the sky, appear with cold spring rains and disappear with summer drought. Giant cottonwoods ring the end of the woodland penninsula, their limbless trunks towering overhead until the crown of green and white fills the sky. I feel small, but fortunate. I strain to look up. My neck objects to this position having infrequent reasons to do so. Large branches torn away by unabated windstorms cross-stitch the advancing shore. These trees are sentinels of ages past and yet hold the eggs of small birds in their hollow seams. At night owls on knurled branches call across the darkness into my window. Though I try, I never see them. Even with my binoculars, I would need their eyes.

I stand at the fractured base of a tree and smell the scent of wild roses. raspberries and currants enmesh a history of lost limbs and failed saplings. The vines support each other with twining grasps. They hold strong as I try to pass. Catching my clothes like street vendors, they tug at my sleeve until I sample the wild sweetness. I pause to eat the fruits they offer. My senses are filled with red juices, sweet smells, the sights of new growth, and the silence. Memories of my mom flood back as I look down. Curly blossoms of Jack-in-the-Pulpit blooming in its brief visit to the world of light. Imperceptible hues of green and pink fade into white ribs, like a splash of foamy water, frozen in time, only to disappear with the night. It is so much more than I could know from the photo that hung on her kitchen wall. I stand in the middle of a strange cathedral occupied by the permanent residents that mat down the grasses. On hot days a congregation of animals rest in the dappled rays and cool breezes, only to return, snuggling deep in the grass when the winter drifts cover the wetland in white swells.

Here and there spiraling reeds of the grass are laid flat in large ovals. If I could only lay here a short while, feel the coolness of ground and enjoy invisibility to the world. I feel the tension leaving as I decompress. My back rests for a moment upon a large stone that rode the glacial till once forced to the sky. What far off land may it have come from? Its toothed granite gives no measure to my skin. Even through the thick flannel I can feel the edges' grip. Small hickory and acorn husks surround the rock’s base and pile to one side. As the rock disappears beneath, a wispy seedling reaches for light from its shadowed and mossy apron. Small holes appear from the rodent highway beneath my feet. So many lives have passed through here.

If trees could talk, would they ignore me? I sense foreboding adversity that comes from staying too long. I am just a visitor admiring the beauty; to stay would mean its destruction. I nod and smile to the land, turn my back, and head for home.

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