Friday, July 20, 2007

Walking uphill

My second-favorite walk (second because it's too steep to be accessible in all seasons) goes not to the right or left but straight up the hill beside the house. The house sits halfway up the hill and walking downhill would take me to the lower meadow, the gardens, the creek, the road, and, eventually, civilization, but walking straight up takes me to another world.

First there's a steep patch of lawn and a few ornamental bushes, then the pine trees close in to define the threshhold to the upper meadow. Walk through the opening under the pines and I come out in the butterfly meadow, a steep rounded space fringed by pine groves. Paths to the right and left lead to the thickest stands of pines, butI prefer to start with the wide path straight up the middle.

It's a steep walk through sunny meadow studded with Queen Anne's Lace, milkweed, butterfly weed, thistle, wild raspberries, and scraggly hawthorns. Today the meadow is flitting with swallowtail butterflies, deep velvety black with iridescent blue on the lower wings. The shy indigo buntings call from an ancient blasted apple tree, and another tree farther up the hill is abuzz with chattering chickadees.

At the top of the hill where the pines close in there's a bench where I sit and look down over green stillness. Stepping into the shade of the pines brings me into a cool grove smelling of pine needles and sweet honeysuckle. In the fall we sit here to watch nuthatches, titmice, and woodpeckers in our neighbor's woods across the fence, but today all is quiet.

A walk straight down the path to the left takes me to the most remote part of our property, a flat opening where the meadow meets the pine grove on the steep bluff above the creek. By the time I get down there, the birds have gone silent; I hear nothing but the wind in the trees and the buzzing of locusts--but suddenly from right above my head comes the unearthly shriek of a red-tailed hawk. It circles, shrieking, right above me and won't let up until I walk well out of range. Is the hawk on the hunt or protecting a nest in the tall trees along the creek?

I follow the path back to the beginning and then walk up the middle again and veer to the right to pay a visit to the young pear trees we planted in the spring. One looks healthy but the other has lost a lot of leaves. I'll report that to the resident tree expert.

I follow the path farther down to the other pine grove on the bluff above the driveway. I hope our recent rains have brought out some Indian pipes or other interesting fungi, but no such luck. The ferns and wild ginger provide patches of green on the carpet of brown pine needles.

Iwalk under the cool canopy of trees and back to the beginning, passing the tall, strong stems of ironweed and joe pye weed, not yet blooming but well on the way. Then I'm through the threshold again and back down to the house. I could walk farther down to the lower meadow where bee balm waves in the breeze, but that's a walk for another day.

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