13 species of birds and one tick later, I am back in Lowell. The walk was quite lovely. Walden-goers seemed to stick close to the pond this afternoon, so we had the woods to ourselves. The path that my dad chose brought us through wood and meadow, past charming ponds and a beaver dam, all in our own company.
A highlight was finally finding a gorgeous, bright blue Indigo Bunting through my binoculars. It is remarkable how difficult it can be to find such a brightly colored creature amidst the green leaves. Sometime later, we heard the familiar lilting chirrup of a Scarlet Tanager. We craned our necks to try to find it in the canopy high above our heads and finally settled for listening instead.
As we continued on, I remembered a walk with my father many summers ago at an Audubon site called Moosehill near my parents’ home in Sharon, Massachusetts. On that particular afternoon, I spent some time tracking down a Scarlet Tanager for my life list. It seems fitting that we should discover this avian friend on another walk together through quaint New England woods.
We walked in silence for much of the way, chit chatting here and there. At one point, we came upon a tiny fledgling lying quietly on its side on the trail.
“What kind of bird do you think it is?” my dad asked.
“From the feathers, I would guess a baby Blue Jay. Looks like it was already starting to feather out. Surprising it didn’t make it,” I said.
“I wonder what happened.”
I took a picture of it to remember it by, lifted it gently with pine cones, and laid to rest beneath a tiny shrub a little ways off of the trail.
“Rest in peace, little one. I’m sorry.”
It was wonderful to watch my father navigate with ease what was for me unfamiliar terrain. At forks in the trail, he had different options to offer to lengthen or shorten our time in the woods. These past many years, I have tended to be in the lead for this kind of pastime. On this occasion, it was comforting to be able to defer to his knowledge of place.
This walk was much needed. Of late, I can feel the sights and sounds of life in what my neighbors call lovingly “the gritty city” weighing on my soul.
I felt instantly more at ease when I left the parking lot behind. My feet even felt more at home in my well-worn hiking boots. Years spent hiking in the Cascades has shaped them to fit the unique curve of my little feet. When I slipped them on before leaving my apartment, it was like stepping into home.
Leaving the Cascades was one of the hardest decisions I have made in my brief stint on this planet. Arriving in Alaska and casting my lot with a wild place filled with wild, unique souls felt like a homecoming. I was proud to live in a community on the edge.
Having traded the wilderness of bush Alaska for a more urban setting, I find that I am experiencing an identity crisis. More than a decade has passed since I lived in a realm defined more by human intervention than nature untamed. The communities where I lived on the edge of wilderness, we humans were mere visitors to the wilderness. In Massachusetts, humans are here to stay.
If I have learned anything these past few years, it is that I do not thrive on hiding from myself. But how to resolve an inner turmoil based on truths about who I am?
If I am to survive life in Spindle City, I must find a way to nourish my soul. I hope I can find balance in birdsong and harmony in regular walks in the woods. Tempered, tame wildness is better than none at all.
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.
~ Shel Silverstein