Monday, August 08, 2016

Same old path, always new

Walking the same route over and over offers advantages and disadvantages. The chief disadvantage, of course, is repetition: every time I walk I see the same stretch of creek, the same meadow, same woods and cow pasture and donkey paddock, sometimes even the same cows and donkeys. 

The same dogs come barreling down the hill to bark the same old barks. The same leaning tree threatens to drop the same rotten limb on me, and the same types of beer cans pile up in the same inappropriate spot. Same old same old, every time.

And yet it's not the same, not entirely, not ever. Observing the same area through the years and seasons only deepens the wonder. How can the same stretch of woods that's dotted with tiny white bloodroot blossoms in the early spring produce a profusion of thigh-high jewelweed by midsummer? How can the creek that looks algae-green and sluggish in midsummer swell to carry whole trees downstream during floods? Why are the kingfishers so abundant one year but absent the next, and where do they go when they're gone?

Long-term exposure to the same stretch of road has made me sensitive to the subtlest of changes. I know when to listen for prairie warblers, where and when to look for tiny rue anemone blossoms, what to expect next week or next month. When did the last red-winged blackbird leave the area, and when will the juncos arrive? I could give you a pretty good estimate.

And then there are always surprises: the fox slinking across the road, wild turkeys chattering in the meadow, a snapping turtle near the creek. Familiarity makes the anomalies more obvious, begging further investigation. Why would a giant puffball mushroom crop up on a sunny slope during the hottest, driest month of the year? Oh, it's just a deflated soccer ball peeking up through the weeds. What is a deflated soccer ball doing alongside my road in the middle of nowhere? That's one of life's persistent mysteries.

When I'm away for a while and explore new areas, I always appreciate the change, but then it's exciting to come back to my usual route and see what's new: Joe Pye Weed and ironweed have reached new heights while I wasn't looking, and the donkey babies have been moved out of sight but there's an adorable new goat gamboling about. 

The same old tree still threatens to drop the same old limb on me, but hey--someone picked up the pile of beer cans! As I come to the end of the same old walk, a kingfisher chatters and flies along the creek, which is clear today and shallow enough to show striations on the underlying rock. 

Same old rocks. Same old water. Same old walk, but not the same, not entirely, not ever.


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