It is funny how one's perception is skewed when driving in a car. Fifty-five doesn't seem fast when you are enclosed in the quiet safety of a vehicle hurtling over smooth pavement. You are focused on getting to the next place or task and taking little notice of the scenery as it becomes an afterthought in your rear view mirror. After all, you have little time to stop and smell the roses, in spite of your impressive rate of speed.
But on Unplugged Sunday you can shed the three thousand pound time capsule, slow down from eighty feet-per-second to walking speed, and discover something great that was there all the time. Staying local, we explored an area that I have driven by (without exaggeration) hundreds of times and dismissed as irrelevant.
Choosing another portion of Joshua's Trust, this week's venture had three main trails looping through a vast wetland area. Our trail followed a stream to an impressive beaver swamp, then curved into the forest and rejoined the stream on the return route. Wetlands usually contain diverse and abundant wildlife, especially large avians. There is something about great birds that fills me with possibility.
The stream was running clear and strong. Massive slab foundations along the banks are evidence of the mills once situated on the small stream. Using dams and flow controls, workers would fill an upstream pond with water from the local lake, then use the water to steadily power the mill for the day. Clever, and environmentally friendly from an energy standpoint (versus coal, wood or oil), but devastating to fish populations that relied on easy passage for spawning.
Following the stream led us to the massive beaver pond. It was not the Everglades, but still quite something to behold. Because of its acreage, we were able to watch a blue heron, red tailed hawk, snowy egret, and various other birds and animals conduct their daily business without disturbance. We also saw, and heard, traffic at the far end of the pond. I realized it was the same route I traveled when racing through my day. Motorists passed by with no idea that we were there, oblivious to the enormous life-cycle within a few yards of them.
One creature managed to elude my sight - frogs, whose only trace was a chirping grunt before disappearing beneath the water's surface. Despite my best efforts, I could not get close enough to see exactly what they were. I am pretty good at sneaking up on things, so this surprised me. I decided the alert came from my steps vibrating through the soft banks. Easy prey creatures can sense that sort of thing.
When we left the background hum of the stream and hiked deeper into the woods, my "vibrations" became full blown tremors. My boots clomped and stomped the ground, my pack and gear flapped, creaked and clicked, and even my pants were noisy. I wasn't a stealthy stalker blending into the forest, I was a bull running down the cobbled streets of Pamplona!
The solution? Nix my shoes and socks and walk barefoot in the woods for the only time that I can remember. My family, sensing my quest for silence, headed on down the trail to give me space.
Predominantly hardwood trees provided a leafy cover on the trails and forest floor, and also plenty of acorns. Runoff from days of steady rain swept many paths clear, leaving damp hard-pack and cold pools in rutted depressions. Other than the sharp acorn caps, my tender feet enjoyed the saturated earth, rough bark on fallen trees, mossy rocks, and icy water.
Moving at nearly one step every ten seconds, I became very quiet and aware of my surroundings. The birds seemed to appear out of nowhere, and the breeze now gently brushed my cheek. I cringe thinking just how much I missed before.
So the next time I drive by this area, I will smile and selfishly ignore the blurred oasis outside my man-made steel cage. Because if I stop to take it all in, someone else might do the same, and it may only be there because everyone has been speeding by too fast to notice how wonderful it is.