Determined to see if the Sedge Meadow (snowmobile) Trail connects the northeast corner of the Navarino Wildlife Area to the rest of the area, two Fridays ago I drove past the mud compound to the end of the road, and started walking south. The first half mile of the trail had been mowed, the grass-eater having chewed up and spewed out one of those lovely new snowmobile trail signs. It made me laugh.
The grass-eater veered west and left me wading south through the fall flowers and into the cattails and grasses of the Sedge Meadow. There are, by the way, as many species of grasses as there are kinds of dragonflies. Some grasses are sticky; some are sharp enough to lash my hands with paper thin cuts. Some grasses turn red. Some bear seeds that droop like heads of wheat. Some seeds are embedded in my socks and shoes scratch me still. Phragmite seeds completely coated the sweat on my arms. How easily they travel; how hard it was to brush them off where they I had been dusted by them.
I was extremely careful to note landmarks as I continued south. After leaving the woods, the trail was initially lined with dogwoods and willows, but then opened into the meadow which was, like the sea, landmark-less. I looked back, noting that the trail entered the woods to the right of a stand of birches and to the left of the stand of trees among which gray, dead trunks stood. The compass told me to set my homeward course at 67 degrees.
The wind flattened the grasses in waves as I practiced Sedge Meadow walking. I walked more slowly, more deliberately than three weeks ago, like the “bear walking” movement I learned from Tai Chi. It’s as hard to walk really slowly as it is to run. Suspend your moving foot for ten seconds. The rest of your body is tense with suspense, trying to balance until you put that foot down again. All muscles are thus engaged and strengthened.
Were someone watching me (which no one ever is out at Navarino), it would have appeared as though I were walking in slow motion. Smoothly. Not stumbling. Not impatient. My foot felt its way along the water channels like a snake, nudging hummocks only, and flowing around them. My feet began to see.
My other eyes were looking anxiously for any clue indicating a trail ahead. Based on what I remembered of the woods at the Townline Road Trailhead, a small tree a quarter mile to the right seemed to signal the beginning of a border to the trail. Upon reaching it, a wide, flower-filled trail between small birches and taller bushes seemed to be the trail to Townline Road.
And it was.
There had been snowmobile signs leaning here and there in the midst of the Sedge Meadow, but there was absolutely no sign of them anywhere. Unless someone had waded out to rescue them between March and July, they must have been uprooted and laid low by the sedges and surging flowers. I wonder when a grass-eater will come out to mow a nice trail for the snowmobilers. Maybe the blades will pick-up one of those signs, mangle it and fling it away.
After a short rest and long drink of cranberry juice, I headed south on a walk carefully planned to leave me enough time to find my way back across the meadow. Which like the sea, had swallowed all traces of my crossing.
On this part of my walk, I saw a long, dark green-striped ribbon snake. A large shelf of orange fungi had recently burst from the side of a tree. I spotted a pale orange fritillary butterfly of some kind (too far away to tell) and a Red Admiral butterfly as well (pictured). I had hoped to forage in an acre of blackberries whose whereabouts I know, but I ran out of time.
The final crossing was easy until I passed the birches where the trail was full of flowers. A few willows in the midst of the meadow seemed to correspond with 67 degrees east and with the gap between the stand of birches and the stand of dead and dying trees. The willow way became clearer and clearer; my ability to walk had improved so markedly that I fell only once. The grass held me up. I paused only once more to check the compass.
The greatest confusion I faced was at the edge of the meadow as night began falling. The willow way seemed blocked. The only clear trail veered far too much to the north. Something I hadn’t remembered. I imagined that it curved back eastward, so, though not entirely sure, I took the trail well-traveled. The willows continued to close in, and I began to wonder if the trail was a dead end. A short stretch of black mud I remembered reassured me. I had made the entire crossing twice.
Based on my memory of traveling time on the trails out in the 15,000 acres of the Navarino Wildlife Area, I estimate it would take 10 hours to circumnavigate the entire area. Without waders, it would be possible only during the late summer through months in winter with 10 hours of daylight. Unless the snowmobile trail crossing the Sedge Meadow was groomed. Snowshoes might be required for other portions of the trail. It would certainly be something fun to try. There is a trail heading west from Wildlife Road I’d like to try, too, especially since the grass-eater veered off in that direction during its recent cut. A few other areas do need exploring, but A Grand Circumnavigation seems on the horizon.
With the possible exception of contributing to the kill-off of the Ice Age “mega-fauna,” native people peacefully coexisted with Creation for 10,000 years, their paths crossing the wilderness, sometimes in search of the daily bread the Creator provided for them every year in different places. As bears follow ripening berries up into mountains. Where bears also enjoy respite from the summer sun. Arctic native people shocked European explorers with the accurate maps they drew from memory of their hunting travels crossing the confluence of land and ice that was their home above the Arctic Circle. Most miraculous of all: a group of native Hawaiians apprenticed themselves to a man from the Carolina Islands who taught them how to navigate the supposedly landmark-less ocean by “wave patterns, cloud color and shape, ocean currents, changes in water depth, and prevailing winds” as well as the ability to “read the stars.” Together they crossed Pacific in 1975 “unerringly” 2500 miles from Hawaii to Tahiti “using only traditional methods of navigation” (Horizon, Barry Lopez, pp. 218 – 219).
And here I was all excited crossing a mile of Sedge Meadow.
There’s something to be said for coming to know those 15,000 acres as intimately as the Inuit knew their now rapidly disappearing hunting lands, as intimately as some Pacific Islanders still know what appears to be the inscrutable surface of the sea. Wendell Berry, in a collection of essays called The Art of the Commonplace, describes growing up in Kentucky while there were farmers still living who farmed not under the dubious tutelage of chemical corporations, but following sage advice of their forebears. Berry also
began to see the real abundance and richness of [my land]. It is, I saw, inexhaustible in its history, in the details of its life, in its possibilities. I walked over it, looking, listening, smelling, touching, alive to it as never before. I listened to the talk of my kinsmen and neighbors as I had never done, alert to their knowledge of the place, and to the qualities and energies of their speech. I began more seriously than ever to learn the names of things – the wild plants and animals, the natural processes, the local places – and to articulate my observations and memories.
When I have thought of the welfare of the earth, the problems of its health and preservation, the care of its life, I have and this place before me, the part representing the whole more vividly and accurately, making clearer and more pressing demands, than any idea of the whole.
When I lived in other places, I looked on their evils with a curious eye of traveler; I was not responsible for them; it cost me nothing to be a critic, for I had not been there long, and I did not feel that I would stay. But here, now that I am both native and citizen, there is no immunity to what is wrong. It is impossible to escape the sense that I am involved in its history … Every day I am confronted with the question of what inheritance I will leave. Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace, pp. 7, 5, 8
Wise words. Our deep knowledge of one place becomes a humble understanding of and love for every place. May we strive for this knowledge. May this love encourage us to be “involved in history” and “to be confronted every day with the question of what inheritance we are leaving.”
A Short Story
During the permafrost melt that was in the process of releasing three gigatons of methane into the atmosphere, Bill lit a cigarette.
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.”
Second Peter 3:10