Sunday, January 30, 2011
An introspective weekend: Part One, Sugar Grove Nature Center
Remember the sun? I think it came out for an hour or two last weekend--since then, the weather has been consistently overcast, gray, dreary, guaranteed to send anyone with even the slightest predisposition to seasonal depression over the edge. Or I could call the winter light muted, quiet, subtle, an invitation to introspection.
I decided to go for a stroll at Sugar Grove Nature Center yesterday afternoon. I'd spent the morning cleaning house and running errands, so I felt that I needed a nice nature break -- I didn't take the camera because I planned on scrambling around in the woods, I didn't expect to see much because of the time of day, and the light was really poor for photos anyway. (Since I didn't bring the camera, all photos are from Greenturtle's wonderful achives--though they do all come from Sugar Grove Nature Center in the winter.)
It was a nice walk. After chatting with the nature center guy and seeing who was at the feeders (just the usual winter suspects, including a bazillion house sparrows), I headed for the trails. I saw a nice Cooper's hawk and a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers on the trail, then headed off the beaten path to a wild, tangly area of scrubby woods and the meandering oxbows of Timber Creek--despite the fact that McLean County is very much in the heart of the "agricultural wasteland," back in this area one can easily become turned around. I know because it's happened to me more than once! In fact, a few years ago there was even a rumor that Big Foot had been seen in the area -- which is rather silly, but it's probably one of the largest expanses of real woods in the county, so if Big Foot were traveling through the area, where else could he go?
I made certain not to get turned around this time by shuffling through the snow as I followed the meandering deer trails back into the trees. I saw a wild turkey running away from me, which was one of the species I'd been hoping for, year bird number 52! (Not that I'm a lister or anything. Nope, not me. I just take life and birds as they come with complete equanimity, ha ha.) I wandered over to the bank overlooking Timber Creek, seeing a red tailed hawk and a belted kingfisher. While I was watching, the kingfisher swooped towards the water, grabbed a fish, and whopped it on a branch a few times before eating it.
Moments like this are why I go out. I can't possibly explain it, but I think that anyone who loves nature, who loves spending time outdoors, will understand what I mean. What I felt, in those moments by the creek, was something deeper than happiness: a sense of peace. A spontaneous upswelling of gratitude. A feeling of belonging, of being a participant as much as a witness. I can honestly say that my moments outside, whether in a vast forest or in a scrubby patch of trees by my workplace, are the only times when everything truly makes sense. When I feel that I am truly whole and at peace, just as I am. The rest of my days are just filler, what I have to do so I can go back out under the trees or by the creek. And this is why I bird.
Transcendence is ephemeral. If it weren't, we'd probably all be mystics! As I wandered further, my sense of curiosity soon took over; this was the farthest I'd ever gone into the "back woods," my worry about getting lost taken care of by the tracks in the snow I was leaving.
Before I'd gone much farther, I came to the end of the line: a rusted old wire fence (collapsing for much of its length) and signs declaring "NO TRESPASSING." My bad angel wanted to keep pressing forward to see just how far these woods went, but for once my good angel won out, and I turned back. Not that doing the right thing was my ONLY motive. For all I knew, the people who'd posted the sign were trigger-happy Deliverance types...or more to the point, since one of the signs stated that I was about to enter a university biology research area, what if there were unspeakable mutants hidden in the woods? (Have I mentioned that I love horror movies? And I have a very active imagination? Thanks to which I was actually a little "weirded out" by the time I decided it was time to retrace my steps? OK, solo walks in the woods are fun but can be a little intense at times...)
As I turned back, there were a couple of places where it took me a moment to look for my tracks. (But I was excited to realize I can recognize my own boot prints!) The snow was churned up from multiple deer paths, plus other hikers. I thought of the TV show Lost, which I did enjoy most of the time, but how realistic is it that all of those characters were so endowed with tracking skills and other backwoods survival techniques? I spend more time outdoors than most people I know, and I still suck!
I hate to ruin the suspense, but I did find my way back with no problems, and even stopped to notice that the Eurasian tree sparrows are still hanging out in the feeder area:
Overall, a great nature walk! And since I've rambled on for so long, I will have to make today's adventures a separate post....