The Urban Woods in Mid September

woods sunny mid SEptThe woods is very still this morning. We come down the sunny sloping path, the little caramel coloured sheba inu and I, and find a noisy smell. It takes some encouragement to get her through the domain of this angry skunk and I decide we will stick to the path just in case. Once we are through it, I hear an unseen cardinal whistle three times on the steep hillside to the left and then a chickadee call, farther off. Even the leaves of the poplars are still. The black oak leaves and the silver maple are etched against the blue sky.

blue sky above woodsI keep the walk going at a good pace in the interests of our primary mission, but once that is fulfilled and collected in the requisite stoop and scoop bag, I let the dog saunter. As we turn back three Canada Geese honk their way across the sky. They sound as if they are getting ready to migrate, but, probably, like most of their ilk, they don’t bother travelling anymore.

Now the little dog begins to show her zen-like nature, true to her Japanese genetic code perhaps. She stops beside a sunlit glade and turns her head to gaze back down the path.

sunny gladeWhat entrances her, I can not tell. Something I can not hear perhaps, for there is no nose work going on. It’s not an olfactory story she is reading. It is warm here and so quiet that I begin to relax as I wait. There are yellow flowers in front of me and a bee that hauls its whole upper body into the hanging “gondola” of the touch-me-not Jewelweed. It drinks deeply from one, tries another, finds it not to its liking and moves on.

This photo is obviously not of the yellow flower, but is the same shape.

This photo is obviously not of the yellow flower, but is the same shape.

Goldenrod made change.

Goldenrod made change.

And there are other small delights.

snail on yellow daisyA slight breeze, a true zephyr,  lifts the leaves just above our heads momentarily. Still the little dog stands gazing down the path.

Peace descends. The cares that have driven me at a fast clip along my path drop away. None of the urgent problems – economic, social and health, besetting my loved ones and me- have been resolved. They have just melted. They have been set free. I am happy. Glad of this blue-sky day in mid September. Nothing to do but breathe, at home in my urban woods.

Secrets of the Urban Woods; late July

I had to visit the woods down the street from my house twice before I figured out why the song birds had fallen silent.

Usually the cardinal is filling the place with his tuneful whistle, bright and loud enough to be heard no matter where I am.  And robins announce their territories, one after the other as I pass them, less lyrical than the cardinals, but no less insistent. The red winged black birds not only sound out their squashed whistle, they are not above dive bombing me for extra emphasis. I know that their broods have hatched and fledged and left the nest, but their total silence baffled me.

On my first walk of the week, I did hear a mewling sort of call and looking up saw a brown bird perched on a high branch. I have since identified it as a catbird. I would have preferred to call it a mockingbird, a close relation, but the mockingbird that usually sings its rhapsodies here in the summer has not returned this year. If it had, I would know. I love the sound and I can hear it even in my sleep.

The louder and more puzzling cry came from high up and echoed across the woods. It was a long initial scream and then a drop or slur downward for a shorter sound.

As I began my homeward stretch on my second walk, I saw a red tailed hawk swoop to land in the tallest tree beside the trail. I had my answer. This hawk has taken up residence and the song birds have wisely fallen silent.

To hear the cry :

June: inconsequential moments

sunny bike pathIt rained heavily all morning while I read the weekend papers, all lights on to brighten the gloom. Then the rain grew lighter and at some imperceptible point, stopped altogether and the sun began to break through. By late afternoon, it was a real June day. I knew it would be too wet to go up through the woods to my favourite walk on the ridge trail, so I chose the paved bicycle path instead.

It turns out that I don’t need to go into the woods because it is breathing out on either side of the path, a moist, woody, green exhalation like a blessing. A stiff breeze draws my eyes upward. I have not realized how tall the trees are until now nor how many of them are poplars. The wind catches the tops, tossing them first one way and then another, moving wave-like across the height. The poplars sing as they stir. Poplars have always spoken to me. They stood close in by the first home I remember and danced in slight air currents when all else was still.

poplars in the windThe path emerges from the shade of the woods to a crescent of mown lawn lying open to the sun. I go as far as the culvert that carries the little brook under the path. The brook edges the woods here, dividing it from the lawn, flowing under ferns and low branches. Today it is babbling busily with the runoff. I wish I could capture its bubbling music.

One cardinal has been singing as I walked and I catch a glimpse of his vivid red and his crested head as he leads me away from his nest. I cannot follow him. I do not fly.

The half hour’s walk has been quiet and contented, easy and relaxed.

Earlier in the day, I listened to author James Lasdun being interviewed mainly about his recent memoir Give Me Everything You Have, the story of his 5 year ordeal at the hands of a cyber stalker, a writer and former student whom he calls Nazrin. Initially Lasdun helped her by sending her novel of life in repressive Iran to his editor, but then Nazrin turns on him, accuses him of stealing her book and selling it to other Iranian writers who publish her stories. She goes on to accuse him on “Comments” of drugging and sexually assaulting women. She caps this by emailing him increasingly violent anti-Semitic threats. None of it is apparently bad enough to merit police action, particularly since Nazrin has left New York City for Los Angeles and is outside of Lasdun’s available police jurisdiction.

Lasdun’s mind is more and more taken up with the harassment. He becomes obsessed with it.  He begins writing an account of what is happening as documentation and the account morphs into a book.

One of the central images he uses in the book is that of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Green Knight rode into the dining hall and challenged the Knights of the Round Table to cut off his head, promising that in a year and a day, he would in turn, cut off his beheader’s head, a give-me-everything-you’ve-got challenge if ever there was one. Sir Gawain beheads him. The Green Knight takes his head under his arm and rides away. Now the real story begins.

Since Lasdun published his book, several other people have contacted him to say that Nazrin has also stalked them. Meanwhile she has stopped communicating. Now there are moments, Lasdun says,when he realizes that life can be inconsequential.

He means that life does not have to be full of high drama and desperate struggle. It does not have to be full of significance and fraught with conflict. Moments can be ordinary and forgettable. He did not have to explain what he meant. You could hear the relief in his voice

Having had an interesting life and having spent a good deal of it dodging and weaving in expectation of the Green Knight’s revenge, I was grateful to be reminded that life can be peacefull and I carried that comfort with me as I took a walk on a breezy late afternoon in mid June.