Tuesday, February 10, 2009

OLD FIELD AND CEDAR BERRIES

There’s a field up the road where I sometimes go for a ramble. Once farmland, it’s now a mostly forgotten parcel of public property—seldom visited, lacking any amenities other than a gravel pull-off large enough to accommodate two parked vehicles. Whoever designed and had built this tiny lot was either a well-meaning optimist, or some local government official playing fast and loose with public funds—though I suppose it could just be a case of the guy operating the bobcat needing more room to turn around, whereupon the fellow driving the gravel truck figured, might as well dump a few rocks since the patch has been scraped. At any rate, I’ve never once shared this little lot with another vehicle or noticed one parked there in passing. Neither have I ever encountered another visitor during one of my walks. Should the ground be covered with snow for weeks on end, mine are always the only human tracks I find on subsequent visits. All of which suits me just fine. I like the place precisely because it lacks those three most necessary conveniences for attracting casual strollers—restroom facilities; a dry, well-maintained loop path; and a little kiosk displaying a large trail map with a bright and apparently reassuring YOU ARE HERE dot, along with a list of rules and a holder dispensing folded, smaller versions of the big map, so once our impromptu adventurers have ambled around the first manicured bend (unschooled in the art of backtracking), can at least feel some confidence of eventually finding their way out alive from this 200-acre bit of howling wilderness. It’s certainly not wilderness. Not with a large, sprawling city, several smaller villages, a couple of Interstate highways, shopping malls, big-box groceries, hardware, and general merchandise stores, plus fast-food emporiums galore…all within a 30-minute drive. Rather it’s what I like to think of as “wild” land. Land left to its own devices for long enough that only nature rules. The rhythms of ever-changing seasons prevail; days follow the dictates of earth and sky, water and wind. Land where ancient struggles of life and death are played out regularly, without fanfare or apology. I like that, just as I like having the place to myself, apart from resident and visiting birds, animals, and other creatures great and small. Just as I like the total lack of even a rudimentary path, other than the maze of crisscrossing rabbit runs, and the deer trails which angle from the corridor woods along the river to day-bedding thickets higher up the gentle slope. Here, during decades of blessed neglect, natural succession has made good progress at reclaiming the place as its own. I’m especially fond of the numerous red cedar, our most common native species of juniper. Though often thought of as barely more than an evergreen bush, the red cedars in this old field thrive. Some of the biggest specimens now top the 30-foot mark; and given time enough, they might eventually come close to doubling that height. I hope so, though I won’t be around to applaud their accomplishment. What caught my eye yesterday was the number of blue “berries” or roundish seed cones, which so many birds adore—among them, the cedar waxwing, whose penchant for cedar berries carried into its name. Many of the field’s cedars were so loaded with berries their limbs drooped with the weight. I don’t recall ever seeing such a crop—though it must have been a real blessing for wildlife during recent weeks of snow and cold. In yesterday’s bright sun, however, the blue berries almost glowed—looking so luscious I momentarily considered eating one myself. Then I recalled that another use of aromatic cedar berries is as a flavoring in gin…which, after a walk in the unseasonable heat, did seem a more prudent and preferable means of ingestion.

14 comments:

Val said...

We have some tracts like that around here. I think I might just have to go wandering off in them now...

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Val…

I collect such "wandering" spots. Just like books, when I need to escape, I pick the right spot to suite time, mood, and whatever ails me.

forest wisdom said...

"decades of blessed neglect"

Yes, that's a great phrase, and I wish there were more such places. But indeed they can be found everywhere. I love exploring them as well, and repairing to their "blessed neglect" for some solace and refreshing to the urban weary soul.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Scribe - if I only have time to read one blog (like now, this morning) then it is always yours. What a lovely piece of writing. By the sound of it you can nearly consider that piece of land yours.
Interesting about cedar berries - here we say that gin is flavoured with juniper berries. They look beautiful on the photograph and I am sure you enjoy those walks - never lonely with all that wildlife around - and I believe you said once that you have a dog(?) I do agree that the majority of people never go further than about two hundred yards from the car park (and often in totally unsuitable shoes!) Still, why should we complain about that - it leaves the secret places for us to enjoy at our leisure. Thanks for a lovely post.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Forest…

I've never been much taken with groomed "natural areas." While they certainly have their place, there's an unreality, a distortion about them that I find both boring and almost sacrilegious—false and disturbing enough that I can't find that earth=peace and spiritual solitude I'm seeking.

Instead, give me an old field rank with briar patches and goldenrod, or a boggy corner where the peepers trill in spring; I want clutter and tangles, rotting logs, mud and waist-high grass, and old trees without name tags or gestures of enduring love etched into their bark.

Neglect is often blessed when it comes to wild places…and I wish we had sense enough to practice it more often.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Yes, I do have rather proprietary feelings—at least to the extent that the old field and I have shared our secrets over the years. In truth, it isn't much to look at…but then, neither am I. There's a good fit between us, as we're both gnarly and shaggy, a bit worn, but trying to mature (I've been trying to mature for decades!) and grow into something better. If it doesn't sound too weird, I'll just say that old field and I are friends—and as friends should be, I'm always concerned about its wellbeing.

Cedar here, juniper over there. Pretty much the same berries and gin-flavoring agent. Like "boot" and "trunk," or "lift" and "elevator."

I do, indeed, have a dog…Moon, whom I suppose I must blog about one of these days. She has a good story…

Finally, thank you so very much for your kind words. I suppose I do this blog for a variety of reasons—but more than any other, it's simply to share, to paint word pictures and hope someone likes them or finds them interesting. I'm truly pleased you enjoy them so.

giggles said...

Your own little private park...all the better, knowing (or at least not ever expecting) that you will run across nary a soul... The best way to explore....

I have only ever seen cedar waxwings once.... During college, there in middle Ohio.. A HUGE flock stayed over for a day, flitting and feeding on berries and bushes...don't remember if it was spring or fall...but what fun to see literally hundreds hanging out for the day... They are quite a beautiful bird!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Actually more an antithetic park, which is in my incorrigible, swim-upstream makeup, it's most redeeming and endearing quality.

Cedar waxwings are great birds. Really lovely when seen up close. Here along the river, they'll often perch in the trees along the bank and swoop back and forth over the pool in front of the cottage, like flycatchers, feeding on such insects as caddis and mayflies. Sometimes a flock will investigate my cedars and other evergreens.

bobbie said...

I love the "aloneness" you describe. And aren't the cedar berries beautiful? It sounds like an area I would love to explore.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bobbie…

I often think of myself as a gregarious loner, and I seem to gravitate towards those hidden, back-in places where solitude prevails and "aloneness" is never lonely. Does that make a lick of sense?

The Solitary Walker said...

Makes sense to me. But, then again, some folks think I haven't got an ounce of sense at all!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

Hey, who ya gonna listen to—a fellow with goldfinches at his feeder, or those whose life theme song was sung by the Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz?

Bella said...

I'm another one who likes the blessed neglect of wild places - what a beaut phrase.

Confession here, but your comment section is as enjoyable as your posts and so often I read here before I read your posts. But I often don't start reading books from from the first page either.

Now must go and read your post.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bella…

An old field reverting back to wildness isn't broke; it doesn't need fixing or improving—it just needs time. Blessed neglect!

Re. the fact you sometimes read these comments before the piece—speaking only to my half of the comments…they'll likely not be improved by reading in any particular order. (They MIGHT be improved by being rewritten; and would doubtless be better if I thought about what I was going to say a little more and didn't just prattle on.)

Anyway, feel free to jump in anywhere.