Thursday, April 8, 2010
A Walk Through Alder Woods
This woods has no name and is relatively sparse, a lone congregation of trees. I have named it Alder Woods. These trees dwell nearby my home, peacefully mixed with hazel and firs, valiantly facing the icy winds from the Columbia Gorge. Alders can drop brittle limbs during storms.
Alders struggle against the encroachment of newly built homes. They make good firewood, and are too humble to be saved when houses are built. Home to many birds and insects, they somehow purvey a rich, tobacco scent whenever the sun touches them. The infill of open urban space, so popular during boom times has slowed in this recession, and so, Alder Woods remains
Amongst these under-appreciated trees grow some wild cherries, some call pie-cherries, which are food in summer for the many birds that live on this hill, that faces Mount Hood. Mt. Hood on a clear day, rules over everything.
I often imagine that this hill is like a small child, looking longingly at a tall grandfather when the skies are clear and she can worship him: snow-capped, stoic and distant. But when the mountain is shy, like today, behind looming clouds, this hill feels very big, and the alders very regal, for there is no oak savannah here to humble them.
So this morning, the alders brazenly stretch their queenly limbs toward the firs, showing off new and sublimely jade-green leaves. So waxy and heavy with sap scent, I breathe and breathe it in, better than flowers. And the firs are humbled a bit, having no such perfume.
The birds are happy as the sun breaks open the clouds. Sunbreak: a word probably only familiar to those who dwell in the Pacific Northwest, where sun is an occasion to cancel work and rush outdoors to appreciate. On such a sunbreak, I am drinking it all in.
I remove my Ipod to hear the birds, and the rushing music of a seasonal creek. Tears of joy fill my eyes. The sunshine is sublimely light on the eyes and skin, feeling like the taste spring water with just a twist of lemon. I am turning the path to enter a suburban neighborhood, and still the tiny birds serenade me with those late morning, lazy songs that frame everything with joy.
Then suddenly, amongst all the heady perfume of alder, moss, and pollen, I hear her: a strange bird. Scanning first the low branches, then higher and higher, I locate the source of a clicking, chirping, gentle slurred note: a crow, I am almost certain a female, but I have no reason but the sound of her voice. Her gaze is turned to the ground where a squirrel chortles back at her, much less gently.
Whatever she spoke, the kindness of it was unmistakable. "Silly squirrel, leave my nest be. I have a sharp beak which I must use to defend it. A sharp beak and far more wits than you!" Such much for the unkindness of crows.
I pace the sidewalks, admiring daffodils, tulips, the human territorial songs of handsome gates and fences and the invisible longing of each front door for someone who lives there to return. I make my rounds, with a little prayer for the wholeness of the earth, which is groaning for us to return to something we've also abandoned, but unlike the front door, we hardly know the way back.
The sunbreak is threatening to close, the air cools and the light goes grayer until I make my way uphill again through Alder Woods, saying Amen to my prayer.