Walking downhill to the lower meadow is much more mundane than walking uphill or upstream, because a walk to the lower meadow generally means work. All downhill paths lead eventually to the gardens, which constantly call out to be watered, weeded, harvested.
It's astounding but true: each one of the three garden plots is bigger than the lot on which our previous house sat. One garden features permanent plantings (asparagus, raspberries, strawberries, garlic, horseradish) and rows of peppers as pretty as Christmas ornaments. The two other gardens right now are a riot of overgrown everything: tomatoes, zucchini, okra, melons, cucumbers, broccoli, summer squash, and more (except for the corn, which is scrawny and sad). Neglect the zucchini patch for a few days and suddenly we have zucchini the size of baseball bats, but sometimes the best thing to do is look away and walk on.
As big and unruly as they are, the gardens cover only a fraction of the lower meadow. Vaguely kidney-shaped (with the creek defining the longer curve of the kidney), the meadow is surrounded by a fringe of woods, mostly sycamore, buckeye, oak, and chestnut. Pawpaw trees grow in the steep woods next to the driveway, producing velvety red-brown blossoms in the spring, long donkey-ear leaves all summer, and fuzzy green lightbulbs of fruit in the fall. The fruit tastes tropical, like a tart banana with a hint of mango--not the sort of thing you expect to find growing in Ohio. The pawpaw trees are short and droopy, so the deer and raccoons tend to finish off the fruit as soon as it's ripe. In four years here, we've eaten, at most, four pawpaws.
At the end of the meadow farthest from the gardens, a huge spreading maple tree overhangs the lowest spot, providing shade for anyone interested in watching the bluebirds or kingfishers that play around the creek. Sycamores stand tall all along the creek, their white limbs and mottled bark lovely to look at all year long. Orioles nest here and sometimes red-tailed hawks, and sometimes visiting waterbirds visit the meadow: ducks, geese, and great blue herons.
In the spring the edges of the woods are studded with delicate wildflowers, including Dutchman's breeches and the elusive trout lily, but this time of year the understory is overgrown with bee balm, Joe Pye weed, and tiger lilies. In the fall the leaves provide a burst of primary colors, and in the winter the red and blue stalks of wild berry bushes make abstract patterns against the snow.
About halfway around the long curve of the meadow, the woods open up to provide a clear path down to the creek. Today the water is so low that it's possible to stand right in the middle of the creek bed on dry ground and look up 15 feet overhead to a tree limb that still holds debris from the big flood three years ago. With the water reduced to a mere trickle, it's difficult to imagine the volume of water that rages through this channel after storms: at it highest point, the water sounds like a train rushing through a tunnel.
Today, though, it's still and silent, the surface unruffled except by a few water striders. Walk back up into the meadow and there's the garden again, begging for attention. Zucchinis can wait. I'd rather walk on.