There is no wisdom on this late August trail
just gravel, wet grass, dim morning light and shadow.
Two crows on a bare branch,
clouded sulphur butterflies and shimmering dragonflies.
Someone warns of a black bear by the gate.
I want to write clever metaphors, deep and insightful
but come up with this. Over and over again.
Starlings perch on the grey, twisted branches
of an empty eagle’s nest.
Writer’s mind is distraction, but today just another breath.
What more can I tell you?
We buy our eggs from a Mennonite family who live on the Loch Broom Loop. At the end of their driveway by the mailbox there are two signs. One is always the same. Brown Eggs for Sale (No Sunday Sales). The other changes regularly for reasons I don’t know. Sometimes I imagine it may reflect someone’s mood. Fearful and foreboding. Hopeful and inspiring. Stern. Forgiving.
Lately the sign has said, LOVE NOT THIS WORLD.
Arranging these lines I almost step on a small, spotted frog. Glistening gem in the wet grass. The other day I almost did the same to a snake. Writing in my head. Walking blind. Startled awake.
I know and understand the sign. It’s common to many religions and spiritual paths. The problem is, I really like the world. Hell, I’d go so far as to say I love it. There are thousands, maybe millions of minnows in the fishway this morning. My approach scares off a pair of kingfishers.
Day after day I walk across this dam
as though it were endless.
Return home. Work a few hours.
Eat. Sleep. And set out again.
Day after day my load gets lighter.
To the wariest birds I have almost disappeared.
Warm rain falls as I stand, soaked at the water’s edge. Sound of waves on a grey white day. Close my eyes to listen. Open to see. Looking for presence and a quiet place that’s not to be found.
Heading back, something causes hundreds of gulls to lift off a sandbar. Herring, Bonaparte and Ring Billed. The air is full. And then, as though one great mind changes. They hear, see, know. Something. Wings stop and slowly, one at a time they drift back down to earth. And I find what I was looking for.
He was walking slow. Sun beaten by another dog day on the highway. A scorcher. Torn and scattered clouds offering little shade comfort. I saw him from a distance as he sat down on the guardrail. Looking worn out. Scant possessions in a knotted garbage bag between his legs. Head down. Blue, long-sleeved shirt and dark pants. Black hair, slick and glistening. Dyed. I’ve seen the years carved into his tanned face. Small bright eyes staring straight ahead as he tells his story. Seen the hand with one crushed, one missing finger that he hides in a pocket.
He disappears come fall. Sits in a room somewhere in New Brunswick or Cape Breton waiting out the winter. Every year since we met, I watch for him. Hoping. Not quite sure what I’m hoping for.
Despite being local icons and part the landscape, I’ve heard them referred to as flying rats. Stinky, dirty and worthy of a cull. Several years ago they tried to drive them away by removing a derelict barge that served as a nesting ground. That backfired and the cormorants moved into town. Then they took firehoses to them.
I don’t know enough about anything to take more than a stand against bullying nature. Maybe they are a nuisance that shits on our doorstep. We fill the sky with poison and flush much more than our toilets into the sea. But that’s not what I want to write about.
Cormorants live in colonies and eat fish. Their homes seem kind of thrown together. Some people see them as ugly, gawky and despicable.
Do you know that of all the grace I encounter on morning walks, their glide over water is among the loveliest things I witness? For the long breath it takes to coast and gently splash-land I am empty. Brought to mirror stillness. For a moment. That’s what I know about cormorants.
There is also the rippling trail of wingtips on water as they take off. Close to the surface, all the way across the bay.
Trans Canada Trail on a Sunday morning. Just before the heat sets in. Contemplating an exquisite line from the Tao Te Ching. Slap. Crushing deer flies on my neck. Toss a stick, then a stone and another into the pond for the dog. She swims circles, looks up for more but I’ve already climbed the bank and carried on.
“Just realize where you come from, this is the essence of wisdom.”*
Bones of a large rodent at the edge of the grass. We pass a small monarch. Black and orange flutter in the branches.
Trains used to travel where we’re walking. Earlier in the week I met an older gentleman on a different trail. He was driving a rusty three wheeler he bought new in 1985 before they were outlawed. Born and grew up at “the station” and never really left. He recalled a time without dam, causeway or big industry when his dad and uncles fished all the way up the river. Talked about eating flounder, building trusses and square dancing. Perhaps my wife and I might be interested in square dancing? Sylvester Station remains as a cluster of houses, but the old line runs directly into the water now. Disappears. Remerges somewhere in the alder further down the shore. A trace among animal paths.
We come across the butterfly again on our way back. She’s lovely and stays with us for a good stretch. Wingstroke and drifts along. Sets upon the path, a stalk of grass, branch or hanging bough. Waits and carries on. Finally she turns and I stand for a long time, watching until she disappears.
* Tao Te Ching, A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell