Thursday, August 26, 2010

Only a Zephyr

Walden Pond, July 6, evening

There is some advantage in being the humblest cheapest least dignified man in the village ... Methinks I enjoy the advantage to an unusual extent. … I am not above being used, aye abused, sometimes.
HDT Journal, July 6, 1851

As the day wore on, it wasn’t getting any cooler. After supper, Corky and I went over to Walden, thinking that the daytime crowds would have eased by now.

We thought that perhaps we could walk around the pond trail, to find a nice swimming-spot.

The thought of all that water nearby was tantalizing.

But as we came down those long cement steps to the Beach area, loudspeakers were announcing that the pond would be closing -- in half an hour. There was even a motorboat that chugged out on patrol to the far end of the pond, urging the distance-swimmers to head back to shore.

OK then, it would be a very short walk. We started along the north side trail, which is a sort of extension of the main beach. It’s the more heavily-used side of the pond and is the shorter route to the original site of Thoreau’s house at Walden. So it’s also a pilgrimage-path for many.

As I had noticed on my morning walk here, there was plenty of litter lying about. Left over from yesterday?
In years past, I had seen Park staff members, doing cleanup patrols, morning and evening along the pond. Haven’t seen them this year. If the budget in Massachusetts was as stressed as our State Parks funding at home, maybe that wasn’t an option anymore.
This morning, I walked right by some trash without stopping. My own lame excuse was that I didn’t have a trash bag in the daypack. At home I try to carry one, since otherwise one’s pack begins to smell of Eau de Budweiser.

This evening, I didn’t even have the pack with me. All we wanted to do was jump into the water to cool off.

We walked only a short way, seeing all sorts of stuff here and there along the water’s edge.
Then I saw the remains of one of the signs urging folks to stay on the trails to prevent erosion:

And wham ! I was MAD.

Not merely discouraged. No amount of tsk-tsk'ing would fix this --
One of my favorite places in the world, getting treated like crap !

There I stood, in my Target t-shirt with the big drawing of Woodsy Owl on it, with his motto “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.” I looked down at the words.

What would I have done at home, if I saw trash? Yup, pick it up without too much thought.

And wasn’t Walden just as sacred to me? Wasn’t it a place where I feel right at home ?

It suddenly struck me that Walden was not just a symbol,
it was a real place,
and here was real trash,
and here I was, parading around in that preachy t-shirt.

Time, as my Indian friends would say, to walk your talk.

So I turned to Corky with an idea.
“I have a way for us to be able to walk around Walden after closing – let’s pick up some of this trash!”
Now I gotta give Corky a lot of credit. She paused only a second before saying,
“O – kayyyy…”

After a brief discussion with Park staff, who said, yes they were understaffed, and that it would be fine for us to help, we went back to our B&B for some trash bags.

I retrieved the garden-gloves from my car, and the grabber-pole that I use to pick up trash when kayaking. So we were all set.

When we got back to the beach area moments later, the young staffers were waiting for us, and had larger bags to hand to us - “Our boss said to give these to you.”
So off we went, feeling sort of deputized. We walked inward along the trail, picking up litter, as people filed past us walking out. One man was kind enough to tell me “make sure you get that Coke bottle I saw a little ways back.”

Oh yes sir, we did, and there were also papers and cigarette butts and candy wrappers and socks and swim trunks (???) and lots of other bottles and cans (including my favorite insult to nature, The Can-Stuck-on-the-Tree-Branch) and even half-eaten watermelon chunks tossed into the water.

He especially loved to raise melons. I once went to a melon-party at his mother’s with various people, young and old, where his work had furnished the handsome and fragrant pink or salmon fruit on which alone we were regaled; and he, the gardener, came to help entertain the guests.
Reminiscences of Thoreau by Edward Waldo Emerson

Soon our bags were getting heavy. We were both hot, tired and a little cranky. Corky started to sing a song about Geraldine and Ruthie Mae,

They'll be cruising Main today,

With their bundles and their bags ...

which made me laugh as we dragged our bags along, stumbling over tree roots.
(but it’s quite a sad song, actually.)

The sun was going down over the hill above Thoreau’s House-site.

The bags were pretty full.

Corky took a swim break while I went just a little further on.

It seemed important to slog across the flooded outlet of Wyman’s Meadow in order to check on the House-site for trash. Thankfully, there was hardly any to be found.

So that made for one whole section of the pond-side trail, all picked-up and looking good again. Barely an hour’s labor.

Now please don’t misinterpret this tale – I hesitated to write about it.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-righteousness.
In reality it took very little effort on my part -- and perhaps didn’t make much difference a day later.

Meanwhile, there are many other folks out there, working hard to affect the quality of the day in their own ways.
Some do it with great fanfare.
Some do it quietly without a fuss.
Guess I am somewhere in the middle.
Some are very dedicated to their ideals, like Trash Paddler, whom I learned about just days before arriving in Concord. To tell the truth, it was he who inspired me to throw that grabber into the car at the last minute.

After all, what we did this evening was a very small thing. Something anyone could do.
But that’s the point.

By Henry D. Thoreau

O nature I do not aspire
To be the highest in thy quire,

To be a meteor in the sky
Or comet that may range on high,
Only a zephyr that may blow
Among the reeds by the river low.

Give me thy most privy place
Where to run my airy race.
In some withdrawn unpublic mead
Let me sigh upon a reed,
Or in the woods with leafy din
Whisper the still evening in,

For I had rather be thy child
And pupil in the forest wild
Than be the king of men elsewhere
And most sovereign slave of care
To have one moment of thy dawn
Than share the city's year forlorn.

Some still work give me to do
Only be it near to you

Note to Faithful Readers

Several of you may be chuckling at the irony of the quote used in the previous blog.
It is now over a month later, and I am just getting around to writing about those days at Walden Pond.

“The heat” that Thoreau spoke of was of course not a reference to weather, but to capturing a moment soon after its occurrence.
I trust that my memories are still at least lukewarm –
but after this next entry,
there will be only a few more posts to somehow
express the essence of
the peak of summer.
Then it’s time to catch up to the present moment.
Meanwhile – summer is moving on with or without me !

Corn grows in the night.
HDT Journal, June, 1841

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Heat

July 6, 2010 midday
Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Concord MA

Write while the heat is in you.
HDT Journal, 1852

The weather forecast was for bright sun and high temperatures over the next few days. Now, where I live, 80 degrees counts as “high temperatures.” It’s a relative rarity in upstate New York -- maybe 10 days out of the year are that sultry.

My Thoreauvian pal Corky, who lives in Florida, arrived in Concord yesterday. I figured she would be more used to such weather. She begged to differ, saying that in Florida’s summer heat, one hops from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned building.

Well, none of that where we were staying. Or in most places in town. It seemed just as hot (and stuffier) indoors.

So I followed my original plan to go walking at Great Meadows today. It was supposed to be a short walk – and there would be shady places, here and there along the trail, to get out of the noonday sun.

I didn’t even take the bottle of water in my daypack, but instead left it in the car.

My idea was to stroll around, botanizing and watching birds. Great Meadows is famous among birders for the variety of species that pass this way (usually in spring and fall.)

The American Lotus was in bloom as far as you could see. The dinner-plate sized pads would flip up in the breeze, huge sections of them doing The Wave across the Meadows.
Desmodium, vervain, pickerelweed and [boo hiss] the invasive purple loosestrife provided pink, blue and magenta patches of color.
You could walk right up to the vervain.

Acres of cattails bent to the will of the hot breeze.

Despite the heat, rabbit’s foot clover was wearing its mohair sweater. Whew.

 Bees and beetles were enjoying sips of nectar in sun and shade.

Thoreau noted that bumblebees often cut into the base of a flower while it is still in bud, so tempting is the nectar. Perhaps that's what happened to this swamp rose blossom.

There didn’t seem to be many birds about. They were too wise to be out sunning themselves at high noon, just so that I could observe them.

Well, the heat WAS pretty fierce, especially out in the open, where the trail crosses the wide marshlands. I began to see things flitting past my eyes. Sunstroke already?

No, it was dragonflies.

LOTS of dragonflies. They came in all shapes and colors, some on the ground, some perching on twigs, others never seeming to land at all.

Don’t ask me for their names. There’s a dragonfly field guide sitting close at hand, but I’m too tired and overheated to open it.

But do enjoy their various forms:

Even when I did find shade, along the cool banks of the placid Concord River,

there were dragonflies hanging out there, too.

(And a muskrat who didn't hang around very long. But oh that river looked deliciously cool !)

It was truly wonderful to be able to stay as long as I wanted, to observe and to try to capture on film some of these winged delights.

Back in the springtime, at home, it had been easy to watch newly-hatched dragonflies. They would bask in the sun, warming themselves up, with wings spread flat as solar panels.
Today, I saw one doing something I hadn’t seen before. He was perching with his body angled straight up. Hmm, some sort of blatant courting posture, I assumed. Show-off !

Later on I learned that this posture is called obelisking, and is a way for the dragonfly to reduce its exposure to the sun.

So even they were smarter than I, today.

After some happy hours spent stalking dragonflies, the broiling sun got to me.

It was a long way back to the car.
Visions of my little bottle of water, which was at the moment sitting on the front seat of my car, danced before me as I trudged along.

The heat was truly energy-sapping.
The bandanna around my neck, dipped into the river ten minutes ago, was now completely dry.

I thought of how good it would feel to jump into Walden Pond, when I got back there.
I wondered how long it would take me to walk back to the car.
I wondered if it was shorter to go back to the river.
I wondered if it was possible for a human being to obelisk.

I was feeling sort of old and foolish.
Then something happens to make you feel even older:
Out of nowhere, a slim and shirtless young man passed by, jogging. He stopped to chat. “Oh, this isn’t so bad,” he smiled. “After this, I have to go to my lifeguard job !”
Back at the car, I glugged down the now-warm bottle of water. It was sweet indeed.

Slightly refreshed, I walked up into the little observation platform for a higher view of the Meadows. Cloud-shadows and light created moving patterns of green.

Using binoculars, a closer look revealed some of the many creatures who depend upon this wonderful refuge.

When I got back to the crossing at bustling Route 2, the Walden Pond parking area was closed to car traffic. Oh Henry, thank the gods you did not live to see this:

With the reduced capacity this summer, these closings happened several times a day during my stay.
For now, I would take a siesta, try to cool off somehow, and visit the Pond later.