I’ve been out, walking around. Temps have been in the 80’s and I have no love of heat, but I can’t help myself. It is just too beautiful out there! Let me share with you my neighborhood in summer.
I walk down my street where the grass grows full of weeds and ferns and blackberry brambles and the rabbits hide. Down the gravel path through the park where my feet kick up little clouds of dust in the already hazy afternoon. I am alone in the heat, but in a few hours this place will be full of people walking their dogs, playing ball with their children, scouting for… Pokemon.
I head down into a shady tunnel of trees. Down the hill to the wetland. The air grows muggier almost instantly, and is thick with the sweet scent of cottonwood leaves. As I approach the swamp the breeze picks up and all I can smell is fresh hay – acres of waving grass warmed by the sun.
Green apples weigh down the branches of trees from an orchard planted a century ago, now swallowed up by ferns and Scotch broom, which in turn make a fine den for a family of coyotes. Tufts of rabbit fur litter the ground all around, in case their nighttime howling wasn’t enough evidence.
I continue onto a floating boardwalk. In full sun, the grass quickly tries to swallow it up. A rustling. At this time of day it could be a marsh wren, or a garter snake. Maybe a shrew or a weasel.
Soaring overhead I spy a daily sight – a young bald eagle, fledged last year in a nest I can clearly make out from where I stand. Just yesterday I was lucky enough to watch the eagle get on the bad side of another resident here, a female Northern harrier, who was trying to chase the eagle away from her favorite perch.
Also airborne are many colored dragonflies, and the few swallows that aren’t resting this time of day.
The farther I walk into the swamp, the larger the pools that I encounter, until I finally reach the actual creek that carries so much water into this valley. In this fast moving stream I can spot slender fish waiting in the shade of the of the low-hanging leaves. I know that under the silt at the bottom are red crayfish, and that muskrats and nutria will use this creek as an evening highway from one feeding spot to another.
From here on even the smallest puddles I find have animals in them. One has a swimming snake, startled by my footsteps. Another holds a dozen or so bullfrog tadpoles, larger than chicken eggs. Farther still I find a few of another type of frog, the red-legged, which shriek loudly as they dive into deeper water at the sight of my shadow. Every inch of the real estate around these puddles is choked with flowers. Nightshade, Spirea, Orange Jewelweed, Marsh Forget-Me-Not, Monkeyflower, Musk Mallow. I try to name them all as I spot them.
I have come to the end of the boardwalk and now have a choice of direction to take. Left takes me along an overgrown dike to an old beaver pond in the creek. The cottonwood stand along the creek there holds blue herons’ nests, the sandbar in the pond is often busy with various sandpipers and plovers, and the tall snag in the middle is a favorite spot for birds to hunt, such as the belted kingfisher.
Or, I could keep walking straight, on to another trail that follows the creek as it rambles through the city, and yet remains just as quiet and natural looking as if the city weren’t even there. For whatever reason, we are always finding interesting creatures in the paved walkway such as snakes, cyanide millipedes, caterpillars. Forest changes from alder swamp to old growth fir and cedar and back again, and at every quarter mile is a reservoir pond or view of the babbling creek. This trail is a reliable place to find otherwise elusive green herons, and woodpeckers of all types. I might walk on for a few more miles to see everything I can on such a gorgeous day. I’ll know it’s time to head back when the light begins streaming golden and sideways through the forest leaves, and I hear the cawing of the small flocks of crows that gather in one place at night to sleep.
I’ll trace my steps back home, noticing new things when viewing my route from the opposite direction. And, perhaps because of this, I’ll never end a walk feeling satiated by nature. Instead I’ll be leaping from one thought to the next – What would I see if I headed out here just before dawn? This creek flows into the lake, could I follow it all the way there? The lake is filled by a hundred other creek just like this, why don’t I just make a list of which ones to visit… and so on.
Because how can I resist?
It’s finally summer.