(Written while walking by the lake at my college)
Why does walking in the woods make me feel melancholy? Why do I feel sadness at the trees and birds and dirt and leaves?
The humid air can't be the reason, because I feel the same way in the fresh morning stillness and in early spring's snowy slumber.
Cattails at the lake's edge
Oaks near the sky
Wind rustling leaves all around me
Distant road noise
Ferns on my left in feathery whorls rising to my hip.
Why the bittersweet longing?
Why the deep sighs?
Why the film of water over my eyes?
Mud, packed hard beneath my shod feet.
One dead yellow leaf.
One sick red leaf, still attached to the stalk.
More ferns, an oak rising from their midst. Steadfast and older than my house.
The hill behind looms like a buried wall mossed over by time. Baby birches try to win each patch of sunlight dappled on the slope.
I step on a gnarled twig and wish I didn't have to wear shoes. Shoes are for people who conform to society - to a city life.
I may be in St. Paul, but I'm lost in a patch of melancholy wildwood.
Well, not exactly lost - since I have yet to stray more than a few feet from the hard-packed mud path.
The breeze stirs the water into tiny ripples, dozens upon dozens of neat little lines swarming toward me on the bank. But a net of reeds stops them, surrounding my hidden spot of shade with inch-deep, still pools where a blue damselfly hovers. He comes close to see my shoe, his wings invisible until he comes to rest on a green frond. His bulbous eyes regard me even as I regard him.
What was that? Are there fish in this little lake? The ripples grow, then diminish again.
Now a fallen tree, split lengthwise down the trunk, forgotten by the others who still stand tall, piled over with dead branches and fungi.
A board by the lakeside, covered with moss on one half. What is it from? A quarter-sized shard of bright blue plastic rests on top. The husk of a fallen wasp nest shares the clearing, as well as a diet coke bottle, missing its label.
Now I can see a giant crane across the lake, a marvel of metal and cable looming over the full crown of a mature tree in someone's backyard.
I return to the path.
Orange collars around doomed trees and the stump of one already taken. A pink flag half-buried in the sandy soil says "wetland delineation" I think.
Mud puddles in the tire tracks.
Hey! There's another path branching off. Should I take it? It goes up the hill and disappears. But my feet are tired, and the flat path I'm on goes around a bend. I can't alter course now. Onward!
A red-painted stake labeled OAK
Some questionable red-orange berries.
I hear an animal in the ferns. Probably a chipmunk. But no! I see now that it is a gray squirrel. I should have known. The campus here is overrun with the cheeky little blighters.
With all this humidity, it smells like Como Conservatory. I can almost imagine I'm in Florida. I hear the tropical sounds of a chittering woodpecker and the sweet warble of a curious oriole. They must think I'm odd, trying to write while I walk. I stumble over a bump and stand still, hearing more birdsong mingled with the beeping sound of a vehicle backing up somewhere. A robin scolds me, for standing too close to her nest, I suppose. Very well, Mrs. Robin. I shall continue my hike.
At last I come to the place where a stream empties into the the lake, after tumbling over some rocks.
Packing peanuts and Styrofoam coffee lids? Tut-tut.
I sit down by the mini waterfall and inspect the rocks. These look man-made. Yes, I believe they are. Someone has poured concrete over the little rocks on either side of the rapids, perhaps to control erosion. The water smells brown. Crusty foam eddies up into the crevices by my feet. If I was feeling more adventurous, I'd hop across on the damp rocks to the other side. What interesting sights and smells lie over there?
But I have a bag full of sketchbooks and my Wacom tablet, so maybe that wouldn't be a wise endeavor for today.
People wade in the shallows upstream. Talking, but I cannot understand them from here. I pick out the word "slimy" and that's it.
And now I reach the end of the path. As I step out into the empty parking lot, the hot sun instantly causes my neck to prickle with sweat. Ah. The enchanted walk is over. The melancholy has evaporated. Life is back to normal.
Time for a snack.