[NOTE: Apologies for not posting much this summer. Time is at a premium with teaching and gardening and a various trips. Following is a piece that I wrote for my Amphibians and Reptiles of Oregon class. Among many other things, I take my students to the Old Growth Trail at H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and force them to be alone and quiet for an hour of reflection. I also force them to write about it. There are no constraints on what or how they write, except that their piece must be under 500 words. My agreement with them is that I will write my own reflection and share it in class before theirs is due. "Along Mack Creek" is a tuned up version of what i wrote last week. I should also add that last week I read all of their papers in one evening and it was some of the finest bedtime reading I've ever experienced. Their open-hearted honesty was humbling, gratifying, and gives me hope for the future. TAT]
Along Mack Creek
I drop from the warm ridge, a round river stone with edges worn smooth from tumbling years I barely remember, rolling downward into the cool abyss along Mack Creek. An uncertain footbridge wobbles as I cross, then I park my tired old ass in dry brown needle duff. Creek music rises from water so clear it would be invisible if not for its own gravity-driven compulsion to run. Water gathers behind a down log, hesitates, swirling backward, wondering why it had left that kaleidoscope of pebbles behind, then plunges over in a striated curtain of inevitability.
Above the waterfall lies a long dead hemlock with baby hemlocks sprouting from green moss on her upturned belly. The young trees are healing and regeneration that will never grow old. The rotting nurse log will abort them when her body crumbles into the compulsive rush, throwing small trees into hurrying water, bodies given over to the wisdom of cutthroat trout and crayfish and stoneflies, a swirling cycle of nutrients accelerating downhill, life to death and back again until Earth is swallowed by the sun and death becomes something new.
Maybe I could become a salamander. Then I could really know this place. Forest air would move through my cool skin, aromatic molecules of moss breath and creek spray and decomposition tickling through my pores, making me giggle in my simple salamander sort of way. But this morning the forest is dry, certain death for any salamander. I’m not ready for that last shriveling, the final tightening of skin around motionless bones. Blessed and condemned, I gather some gratitude for mobility and, like Sisyphus, roll my worn stone of humanity back up the trail.