Walking through the woods this time of year allows me to travel over areas that in a few weeks’ time will be impassable, choked with brambles and undergrowth that would claw at my ankles and make even high stepping impossible. But today, the new green is just beginning to plunge through the brown depths of desiccated leaves, submerged life thrusting to the surface for a lung full of air after holding its breath for too long. After today’s rain, the cut banks are flowing with water, smoothly eroding the soil back further from the already exposed roots of gnarled trees. The water is soundless, though, letting the cascade of frogs from the pond carry the tune instead, so the only sounds immediately surrounding me are the occasional scrapings of dry leaves as a breeze lifts one, the popping of the saturated ground trying to absorb still more, a random insect stirring.
The moss did not die over the winter, but lay in wait for this week when almost overnight it flamed bright yellow-green, like frames of old film, newly colorized.
I walk along the path that borders the edge of the woods, that marks the division of pasture and this wilder scene. The path continues with no interruption into our neighbor’s property, and I feel like an intruder, though I know they would not protest my presence any more than I would theirs on our property. It seems foreign territory, though, unfamiliar out of respect for their ownership, and I am struck instantly by their different use of space. On our stretch of woods, only this path is defined, trampled enough to prohibit its return to a natural state. The ravine floor is unmarred, trunks sprawled where they have fallen, layers of leaves sheeting the decline. As I pass the sight line of their property, however, the landscape is different: deep, rutted tracks plunge down the ravine, plow through a shallow creek bed, claw up the opposite incline. No vegetation settles here, but is scuffed off by Zach’s four wheeler’s tracks that wind through improbable narrow passes between slender trees, skirt fallen limbs, enter and exit through a mown clearing. This is his equivalent, I suppose, of Thoreau’s advocacy of hunting as a means by which to introduce young boys to the wild, to immerse them in nature and so infuse their blood that later, in their wiser years, they will put aside their guns and giev nature the homage better due it. I wonder, though, if the transition could ever be as natural and sensible as Thoreau expected it to be: can Zach see anything other than the two feet of track in front of his wheels, concentrate on anything besides avoiding that tree, or in gathering enough speed to successfully surge up an incline? Did Thoreau’s hunting boys have sights for anything other than their prey, a bird coasting onto a branch or a squirrel scrabbling up a trunk? Do they all miss the purple mist of redbud sprays filling the vacant spaces between still-bare trees? Do they look down with enough slowness and attention to notice the perfect, delicate imprints of deer hooves newly molded in the wet earth? Are they patient enough to let their eyes follow the descent of the sun over the rim of the ravine, can they force their eyes to move so slowly in their sockets that their eyeballs mimic the sun’s own decline, eyelids closing at the same rate as the sky darkens around the sun, slipping shut only when the sun shuts down light? Someone must do it, and if they do not, today I am their second. I will watch until the world goes dim.