December 30, 2012

Preserve resumed

I returned to the preserve yesterday, for another go of hiking, and like many a reprise it was touched 
with an air of wistful remains, familiar, intact, accepting, yet infused of something departed.
Heading toward the trail, I crossed a grassy hill at the edge of the preserve, where a family stood 
looking down at the gleaming wetland. “Mother, can you please get out of the frame? I’m trying to take 
a picture.” 
“Ok...”  said the mother, who stood where she was. She pointed to the east. “What’s that?”
“The observation tower.”
“Then let’s go there!”
A stylish elderly woman, perhaps an aunt or grandmother standing apart from the rest, smiled as I 
crossed behind the others. “I don’t want to get in the picture!” I quipped. “Heavens no,” she returned 
with a naughty smile. The large dad, imperious and silent, gave me a baleful look.
On the trail, the sky was more overcast than before, heavy with stifled rain. The rich green foliage 
flickered over starless shadows. A cool breeze stirred the water; it looked mercury-heavy and quick, 
shimmering silver over inky black. A dense flock of egrets had gathered on a mossy island in the 
stream. I was thinking about the day I’d stopped by Palisaides Park, in New Jersey, on my drive down 
to Florida almost twenty years ago. A bunch of us had spent the day at the amusement park in some 
summer past; I’d remembered it fondly, the rides, the hot dogs, the laughter, the excited screams. I may 
still have the marks in my forearm, the one that Barbara had clutched on the roller coaster. But the 
reprise was not what I had expected. The lights, the music, the smells, the rumble and clatter, were all 
there. But I felt sadly out of place. On the roller coaster, an adolescent odd-girl-out, who certainly 
would have preferred riding with her friends, was put in the empty seat next to mine. When the ride 
was over she scampered quickly away. I left after twenty minutes, crushed by loneliness among the 
rides, the hot dogs, the laughter...
Someone on the trail behind me loudly cleared his throat. Then he did it twice more. I looked around 
and it was the baleful dad, still some ways off, having scouted ahead of the clan. I didn’t know how to 
interpret the warning, but I found a side path that I recognized and took it. It led to a picnic table 
overlooking the stream, a favorite nook as it turned out, where I settled in for coffee and some 
Brideshead Revisited. 

Before long the rest of the family had caught up - glimpses of parkas and faces flickered by through the 
scrub. And there was the old lady, lagging behind the others, taking her time. She ducked down a side 
path. “Helen...” the dad called, having apparently lost her. “Helen...” and then more sharply “Helen!” 
She eventually emerged, calmly self-possessed. “Lovely ducks,” she said. “I wonder if they mate for life...” 

I read a chapter of my book, sipped coffee, watched the egrets, and eventually emerged, and headed for 
the pond. I appeared to be alone once more. I passed the ravaged tree. The leaves scattered at its feet 
were already turning brown. At the pond I found the remains of one of the blue crabs I’d seen and 
photographed a few days ago. They were scattered about - a claw here, a piece of shell there. It looked 
like a recent kill. Minnows had swarmed in to feast.

I wondered what got it. An osprey? A rival? A boy with a stick? There was nothing left of the old guy, 
who had seemed rather friendly, but a few shards of his former self. When life leaves, where does it go?