Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Wilderness in the Backyard

October can't make up its mind. There have been chilly mornings with fog lifting off the lake like steam from a giant's kettle. Some days, I'm pulling out my sandals and cutoffs, and other days I'm reaching for a flannel shirt. But mostly, until this week, it has been as dry as muffin mix without the liquid.

Last Saturday, the sun came out in earnest. It was one of those balmy autumn days, almost too perfect to belong to this world; the air was crisp, and the sky, a brilliant blue. I made my way to the government hollow near our home for the first time since spring. It was like traveling to a different planet. Last spring, before the rains flooded the valley, the ground was almost impenetrable with brush. Now, months of high lake water have killed all but the hardiest of bushes.

I followed the dry creekbed east to where a stream was flowing, fed by small springs emerging from the hillside. Watercress grows there, and bright wildflowers were flourishing. Nearby were raccoon tracks, and I could imagine the little creatures rinsing their food in the water, their masked faces Corvid-correct. A movement caught my eye. Butterflies? No, it was only bright leaves, fluttering to the ground, their first flight, also their last. Overhead, sun-saturated maple trees wore their Sunday best. 

Continuing up the creek, I waded in the shallow water, thankful for waterproof boots, and where the water was too deep, I picked my way through the brush at the side of the brook. Were it not for one strand of rusty barbed wire, I might have imagined I was the first person to walk this quiet hollow.

With both the Corps of Engineers Bull Shoals Lake boundary land and the Mark Twain National Forest in our county, we are fortunate to live in a place with easy access to wilderness. It doesn't take long to find a place where your footprints, on a given day, are the only human ones. As I examine rocks and trees and flowers, my to-do list recedes to the back of my mind, and I come away refreshed.

I didn't see the raccoons in the hollow, but I saw their prints and knew they'd been there. I didn't see God that day, but I saw His fingerprints everywhere.