Thursday, August 22, 2013

Secret Journeys

I found myself in the street, feet carrying me swiftly along as though with a will of their own, the scent of flowers wafted to my face and tantalized my olfactory senses. I thought at first that I was imagining it, or that somehow it was the quality of my mood. But it soon dawned upon me that the breeze was actually carrying the perfume of roses in bloom, and that I, miraculously, was able to perceive it.
The sky above was a patchwork of blue and thick low clouds being pushed along by the brisk current of air. The sun was warm on my skin and the breeze would brush that warmth away, leaving its own cold touch on my naked arms and face. 

I made my way beyond the street with its smell of fresh tar into the little field where the grass was yellow and short and the trees grew in various sizes. The earth yielded soft beneath my feet, moist pliant earth beneath dry brittle grass.
I spied a strange insect in the path of my footfall and changed course without loosing the rhythm of my step. This happened so quickly that I didn't have time to think of it. It was a reaction from deep within. In fact, I was watching the earth closely as I stepped, avoiding trampling small flowers and other tender live things that had made the effort to push up through the soil.

I came to the pine tree whose trunk split low and sent two arms running  parallel to the ground before they reached up. Another arm rose directly to the sky.
I sat for a moment on one of the low arms and a small insect similar to a bee hovered near my face. I wished it away and stood, but I could hear its buzzing for a while, even though I couldn't see it anymore.
I remained standing under the tree and noticed a small bird standing on the side of the erect pine branch as though defying gravity. I wondered at its tiny claws could grasp the crevices in the bark to hold it in place. Observing it until it flew up into the canopy, I became aware that the entire tree was aflutter with its little brethren plucking insects from under the bark, hopping and flitting from branch to branch and chattering merrily.

I must have stood there for a very long time watching them. Their bodies were small and round, their beaks straight, their feathers a dark gray on top and their bellies a faded dust hue. Their movements were rapid and constant, their voices bright, expressed in short bursts full of conversational tones.
I was so enthralled and still that one eventually nearly landed on my head. Only at the last moment did I stir in surprise and it averted its course as easily as I had altered mine to spare the bug in the grass.
The bug I remembered had stirred, thus catching my eye, and I realized that just as I had seen the bird coming, so the bug had seen me. As my motion alerted the bird to my identity as “not tree”, so had the bug's movement alerted me to its nature as “not grass.”

I thought the birds seemed a bit quieter after that and I thought that perhaps my presence was now inhibiting them. So I bade them a silent farewell and resumed my walking.
My feet lead me back to the concrete sidewalk. As I followed its winding course uphill I spied a different cluster of birds in the shade of a low growing tree.
They were larger than the others and moved at a leisurely pace picking through the fallen leaves in search of grubs and bugs. They spoke to each other less frequently, taking long pauses between statements that were musical and unhurried.
As I drew nearer one or two announced my arrival with increased urgency and they flew up into the tree. A few remained on the earth watching me, one right on the edge of the sidewalk. He remained in place maintaining his air of calm though watching me attentively. As I approached I saw that his belly was a warm orange color and I crooned to him:

“You are so beautiful, what kind of bird are you? Are you a robin? You must be a Robin with a belly like that. You are so pretty.”

He watched me and listened to me.
Soon I was gone, feet returning me to the street. My mind surged forward to home and the walk was over. But the next day I left the house again taking a similar path.

On the street I noticed right away the moisture in everything. The smell of it was refreshing, it was the smell of rain that has yet to fall.
The sky was gray and the air cool but I had on my sweater and felt very comfortable. I breathed deeply that moisture infused air and walked on.
It wasn’t until I was on the sidewalk near the field that I knew I would enter the same way that I had on the previous day. I had intended to stay upon the path but as I neared the field my feet felt called and I stepped unhesitatingly onto the soft earth. I watched my step as I had before, but I felt that I was moving quicker, that my powers of observation were perhaps less keen than on the day before. Nothing that I could see stirred in the grass but I left green things undisturbed.

I made my way into the trees and was greeted by an unwholesome sight: white and beige feathers strewn in mangled heaps. I slowed and took in the signs of a violent struggle, but found no further remains.
There was no way for me to know, but I felt certain that they were owl feathers. It was as if the feathers could whisper to me the truth of their origin to me.
Head swiveling uneasily, I stumbled underneath a pine and realized that the canopy above my head was heavy with a litter of leaves and twigs. This I thought was the owl's nest. Hurriedly I got out from underneath it. There was an unclean feeling beneath those branches. I tried to look into the nest, but it was too high.

With no further interest in lingering in the area I left it behind and ventured to the tree I had visited on the previous day. It was utterly silent. Gone were the chipper little birds that had animated its canopy.
I paused for a moment letting the silence enter me. Then I continued on, taking a detour through some shrubs before re-emerging on the concrete path.
As I approached the hill I saw a man leaning against the rail further up, so I parted ways with the path once more. Tromping up the soft slope, my boot heels sank even deeper than they had in the field. The earth fell away beneath them to cascade downhill. It was necessary to take great strides to gain ground. As I passed  the area where I had seen them, I looked for the robins, but they too were absent.

At the top of the hill I swung my legs one at a time over the rail. I had successfully avoided crossing paths with the stranger and overtook the path several yards above him.
I was careful not to look back at him. His presence was irksome to me, an interference with the sublime solitude. He was to me an agent of the symbolic order, the eyes of the BIG OTHER prying into my secret life.
From the corner of my eye I could see his head turn towards me then away again. I wondered if my presence was to him as his was to me.
Home was in sight now. I let it come to me before I could come to it and the street melted away like spun sugar on the tongue.

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