The cycle of life was spinning with such speed that even a short-lived beastie such as me could see birth, rise, death, decay and rebirth happening in each and every moment.
Life doesn’t get any better than that, I don’t think. Life, death, rebirth – that’s the mystery, isn’t it? That magnificent moment of connection, of realization that we are a part of something truly profound, If I were a dog, I’d have lain down and rolled in it. Well, actually, I did lie down and roll in it. No sense in waiting to be reborn as a dog to do the really fun stuff.
~ Nevada Barr, AARP The Magazine, April – May 2015
Where the creek exits the foothills, the trail goes through a massive tangle of vegetation. It was once used for storage and research, but the buildings are long gone and even where they were, trees and shrubs and vines have begun to reclaim the site. Open grassy areas are surrounded by old, broken trees grown into weird shapes, and dead limbs and lesser vegetation litter the ground.
The place remains untended and unoccupied, except for the various wild inhabitants and the occasional walkers following the path to the footbridge crossing the creek. The thick brush, broken limbs, and hollow trees provide a perfect place for birds, and the trills, chirps and warbles follow you as you pass by. Surrounded by a highway, the creek and athletic fields, it remains an isolated, feral piece of land returned to nature.
On my walks there, I’ve seen fox and deer, and heard the rustling of small animals in the bushes and trees. The rushing of the creek and wind over the trees almost masks the highway sound so that it all blends together into a not unpleasant white noise. Above that background, the bird calls sound sharp and clear.
Not being that good at bird identification by call, I haven’t been able to figure out all the species I hear. We did identify several Audubon’s Warblers visually, and one spring the trees were full of Scarlet Tanagers, which were gone the next time I passed. There are also all the usual backyard birds: chickadees, house finches, robins, ravens and those exotic Eurasian doves that recently showed up. Who or whatever they are, their chorus makes for a peaceful, pleasant stroll.
For several years, a furtive, homeless man lived beneath an abandoned semi-trailer left over from the days when the site was occupied. He was mostly hidden back in the tangle, and stayed away during the day looking for work or handouts in town. One night his campfire must have gotten away from him, as the trailer caught fire and burned down to a wreck of charred wood and corroded metal. I still see him in town and suspect he’s gone further up the creek where there’s less foot traffic and more freedom. I always felt that he symbolized the feral existence of the site, not quite civilized and not quite natural.
With time, the remaining slabs, half-walls and other signs of occupation will decay or be further consumed by the vegetation. The surviving apple tree will be one of the last reminders that something of man was there — temporarily.
I’ve lived in pretty much the same place for forty years, and watched the changes take place around me. Trees that were huge when I arrived have grown larger still, although some have succumbed to old age, disease, insects or gravity. Other vegetation has flourished or disappeared, as have various neighbors. A few houses have been replaced, and many have been refreshed. Kids have grown and gone, or moved back to the comfort of home — or to comfort parents.
I’m now one of the old folks in the neighborhood. I remember some of the good ol’ days, and have on occasion provoked a discussion among the oldsters as to whose version of history is correct. I know most of my neighbors, but don’t always remember the new ones’ names. I’m better with the dogs’ names, of course, since often they’re more interesting than the people.
Watching the slow changes and the reversion of the feral land keeps me conscious of my own temporary existence, my fleeting footprint here. It makes me revel in the small wonders, the little pleasures — as well as the great joys that I experience. The unscripted chorus of the birds, the chaotic tangle of vegetation and the various delights that nature offers.
Life is something to be lived — to roll in!