At the start of the new year my family lost someone very dear to us under tragic circumstances. He wasn’t someone I knew very closely, but he was someone who I really liked and someone I looked up to. He and I shared a deep love for wild places, and both of us chose careers following that passion.
After a couple of days moping around the apartment I had to get out, so Jeremy and I took a walk down to North Mountain Park. We followed a wilding trail that curved along a baseball field on one side, and a small but dense woodland marked as protected habitat on the other. As the trail softened to wood chips and split around various artistic and child-geared structures, we chose the path that most closed followed Bear Creek as it flows through Ashland.
The time came for Jeremy to leave for work, but I elected to stay behind. I found a quiet spot next to the creek and sat a while, thinking. A spotted towhee, a familiar face from home, called out from the opposite bank, flashing a hint of black and orange as he popped in and out of the brush. I thought about how, even so far away from the familiar of home, I felt connected by the mountains that ran almost parallel to my own Rockies, the deer and coyotes that moved through both of my backyards, the birds that sing both in Oregon and Colorado.
I listened to the whisper of water over riffles. I watched a clump of fur drift lazily downstream and wondered how its owner had become separated from it, likely snagging brush as it made to cross the shallow stream. Deer? Dog? Perhaps coyote? I thought of the salmon that had recently fought their way upstream to spawn here, and all the time I thought I had, the stories I would have loved to hear.
I considered the tiny little salmon waiting in the stream bottom, the streaks of brown feathers darting in and out of thick brush, the call of a flicker, the small hoof prints in the soft mud. I thought about all of the creatures of fur, feathers, and scales that had come here before me, and those that would pass this way long after I was gone. I was reminded of the nature of energy, how it is neither created nor destroyed, just ever-changing. Finally, I let myself cry.
I could have sat there by the creek forever, but the air was turning chill and the sun was ducking in and out of the cloud cover. I stood somewhat stiffly, breathing in the cool January air. As I turned to make my way slowly back home, I felt full and whole.
As I came up to the top of the hill overlooking the baseball field a red-tailed hawk soared overhead, making constant minute adjustments to hit a nearby thermal just right. As she circled higher and higher, I felt truly blessed to live in such a place where my kind and hers could live side by side.
Let there always be wild places, however small and humble, for they are not just for the wildlife that they protect, but for all of us. Sometimes it’s for quiet, sometimes for play, sometimes for beauty, and sometimes for when life pushes you back on your heels. For whatever reason we find ourselves there, these are places that help us to feel connected, to feel alive, and to feel at peace.