Yesterday I woke up feeling frustrated. I couldn’t really understand why, except that frustration has been the general motif of my moods for the last several weeks. There is currently a great amount going on and changing in my life, and I know that I have been getting overwhelmed. I make efforts to combat these moods, but sometimes they are too potent and permeate my day, anyway. I’ve gone through phases like this before, so I suspect, in the end, I will be okay.
Anyway, at one point in the afternoon I was spiraling downward into depths of acerbity and testiness. I eventually realized that I had been indoors all day, and that getting out might do me some good.
This might be a good point in this narrative to state that recently I have been making conscious attempts at living a healthier lifestyle. Part of this commitment is to take a fifteen to twenty-minute walk every day.
As my mood declined, I decided that perambulation spent in solitude might help me to shake it off. I cleared it with my wife, put on my sneakers, grabbed my phone and earbuds, and walked out the door.
We were supposed to have heavy thunderstorms that day, but by three-thirty in the afternoon there had not been a drop of rain. The sky was still remotely foreboding, and the air retained all of the qualities of a thunderstorm, as if the day were still making its decision about what it would do. The temperature was hot, which was pleasant, because by early May we in the St. Louis area had still been averaging temperatures in the low sixties. It was the sort of heat that licks one’s skin, settles on the surface for a moment, and then soaks inside and warms the core, too. The atmosphere was dense and heavy, thick with moisture from the previous weeks’ relentless rains. Everything was still; no birds sang, no dogs barked, none of my neighbors were out, and all of the cars in the parking lot rested in their spaces, unmanned and temporarily forgotten.
“Perfect,” I thought to myself, as I put in my earbuds and turned on “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care,” my current musical obsession. I then took off walking toward a wood that borders the back lot of my apartment complex.
I had noticed during earlier jaunts a well-marked trail leading back into the dense vegetation of this forest, just beside a set of utility sheds which stand in the furthest corner of the community’s property. Since our apartments are set in the middle of a well developed suburban area, I always assumed that it lead through a shallow wooded area and into a neighboring high-end duplex community. I had never actually seen where the path went; I just made an educated guess. I decided, though, that this afternoon would be as good a time as any to to explore the trail. The worst event that could have occurred is that I would end up in some privileged back yard, and then have to turn around and lap my apartment building until I wore myself out of crankiness. Walking in step with the rhythm of the music, I ducked in among the trees.
I was surprised as soon as I stepped behind the tree line. There were piles of large stones placed on either side of the entrance to the trail, and seeing as many of them were smooth, rounded, and colorful, I guessed that they had all been carried for some distance from a creek which I knew flowed through the area. It was kind of interesting, because the stones had been put there deliberately, and there were so many of them that it could not have been an easy job. Thinking about it put me into a quizzical mood, which helped to lift my disposition. Perhaps there was more to this trail than I had previously assumed.
I continued along, and after about one-hundred feet the trail dropped rapidly down into the forest and bent toward the creek. Because of all the rain, the vegetation had grown densely and wildly, in places almost completely veiling the path. It was pleasant, though, as most of this uncontrolled life consisted of honeysuckle, one of my favorite wild plants. The aroma of this flower is potently soothing to me. It reminds me of being a child, of summers spent tromping through the forests of southern Alabama, of building primitive fortresses along creek beds and trapping crawfish in makeshift traps. There was more of the flower growing in these woods than I had ever before seen in one place. I kept waiting for the shrubbery to transition into thick briars and thorns, but it never did. I only encountered low-hanging tree branches and rampant, fragrant honeysuckle.
“This is getting good,” I said out loud, not worrying that anyone would hear me. I did this for two reasons: one, I still had my music on, and I was experiencing the heightened sense of solitude that comes from wearing headphones, and two, I was becoming a little nervous that, no matter how deeply I pressed on, there wasn’t a house or structure to be seen. I began to suspect that I had finally, finally entered into one of my favorite escapist exercises; I had found a gateway to Narnia!
No, as it turns out I possess only a nominal sense of direction, and the path had actually turned subtly and lead away from the neighborhoods, into an undeveloped area that I was previously unaware existed. I kept walking, and after about twenty minutes I finally came to the creek. The path became narrow and ran right along the edge of the surprisingly deep water bed. It actually made me a bit nervous, because it appeared that the land on which the path was made could give way and slide into the water at any second. The trail was well-worn, though, even this far back, and was carpeted with moss. I figured it had been there for a while, so I trusted it enough to continue on. Before I went any further, I remembered the creek-stones at the path’s entrance. Someone must have carried the rocks, uphill and through dense vegetation, for over half of a mile in order to deposit them at the “gateway” to this trail. I began to think I was in the process of receiving a gift. After all, someone had gone to all of that trouble to make the entrance to the trail clear and obvious. If this person (or these people) wanted to, they could have kept it a secret. It was as if it was meant to be shared. At this point in my thought process, I began to feel grateful.
I walked on for a while, probably another half-hour, and the trail continued to lead deeper and deeper into the wood. At times the trail would fork and appear to turn back. I would follow these detours only to discover that they eventually lead back to the main path. Now and then I would see evidence of human presence: orange tie-markers placed sporadically around branches and trunks along the trail, or an odd beer can or other refuse strewn in the bushes. Not so many that I suspected the work of disrespectful people rather than that of raccoons or cats.
And always there was the honeysuckle; it was dense and fragrant, with millions of blossoms in all stages of maturation. It was like swimming through a sea of green, gold, and white. I was wearing a yellow glaze from the copious amount of pollen with which I was making contact. The plant was growing so prolifically that it was impossible not to continually brush against it in many places along the trail. When I felt like it, I would take out my phone and snap pictures of whatever I thought was interesting. It seemed the trail was never going to end. At times I began to worry I would not be able to find the way back, and I thought about turning around. Then, abruptly, things changed.
Coming soon on [Poor Scribbler]:
The Gate of Creek-Stones: Part 2: The Sanctuary