The morning’s sultry stillness greets me like a fog as I step out from the air conditioned atmosphere. I leave the artificial and move to the natural. As if letting go of civilization and taking hold of the hand of God the door slips closed behind me. Facing forward I see what may have greeted Lewis and Clark. Perhaps even this is artificial.
The creeks and groans of stiffness make themselves heard as one foot follows another, yet I can already feel the sinews loosening, tendons stretching, preparing for the load. Sweat already prickles my eyebrow and my high-tech shirt begins to cling.
Then a crow calls out its familiar caw and a flutter of unseen wings rises before me. The path is there. Dare I take it?
It is an insignificant path of dirt snaking ahead into the trees, yet it is a super highway compared to the thick weeds and brush to either side. As I step onto the path I am transported into this different world and the tension releases from my soul.
I am in no hurry, yet I move quickly anxious not to miss a thing. The air is yet quieter within the copse of trees, though it feels less oppressive. Buzzing accompanies the quiet rustle of leaves, moving lazily in an unfelt breeze. Flies, well named as bugs, flit around my head causing me to swat at them uselessly.
Pines, cedars, oaks, hackberry trees, poplars, mulberry trees, maples fill the space as the path descends a draw. Dry twigs and pine needles soften the tread, but hard dirt meets the soles of my shoes. No rain for a week and intense heat has baked the earth, but life still thrives here. I look up suddenly as the ground shakes. I hear a thump-thump pause thump thump. Peering all around I still cannot see the deer I know is escaping from me having sensed my presence before I could perceive his. I have invaded his grounds, but he fears me.
The early morning light diminishes as I descend the path. At the bottom of the draw is a creek bottom, sandy and dry. Lush growth, nevertheless surrounds the crevice giving evidence to its role of water-bearer. Nettles, ivy, and ferns abound, though their leaves hang limply thirsty for more rain. Here and there the path is joined by another leading off in a new direction, but I follow the path that parallels the river.
Now climbing the steep path is rutted and washed by former gully washers. Someone has installed railroad ties as steps making the climb somewhat less slippery, but it still requires exertion. Now sweating the troublesome bugs are even happier to pester me.
Wiping my brow I look up to the next ridge and freeze in my tracks. A pair of turkeys have taken up station above me in the middle of the path. Their tails facing me they seem oblivious to my presence, though I haven’t been silent in my passage. Their heads bob up and down to the rhythm of their pace as they move ahead. I begin my climb slowly, watching them to see if I startle them. Casually, as if they could care less their pace quickens and they move off the path. By the time I reach the spot where they had been I can only make out their red heads occasionally looking up out from the surrounding weeds, though they have not flown away.
Not wanting to interrupt their breakfast I continue on the path, but now have a marvelous sight to behold. The path is mere feet from a cliff and the trees have opened up to the east. The dazzling morning sun baths me with ever increasing heat. Before me lies the flat wide river called Platte. Channels carve their way through the sandy islands. Waters rush through narrow places and laze in wide areas. The level has dropped because upstream it is used for nourishing crops of grain so vital to the world. Sucking water from the deep caverns which flow beneath the ground the insignificant river provides only superficial evidence of the vast storehouse below. Yet the sight of so much sand is disheartening and concerning. The vital liquid of life is not without limit.
I hear an engine wax and wane and out of the sun see the silhouette of a small plane as it lifts sharply from the field beyond. It wheels and turns and dives again making long low passes over the corn now standing well above a man’s head. Enthralled by the pilot’s skill I watch as he deftly navigates the field rising just in time at the end to miss trees and power lines. His engine noise disappears for a moment then roars back to life as he turns away from me.
As I gaze another sound fills the morning. It becomes louder until the plane is actually drowned out by comparison. Immediately below I can see parallel railroad tracks and two engines burst from below a screen of undergrowth and trees. Their groaning diesels grind away the miles pulling car after car of coal. Just as necessary to our lives and even more controversial, the coal moves eastward to feed the giant power stations that make life so much easier.
Yet coal and crop dusting are not needed by me at this moment and the noise is deafening. I move along the path more quickly to find respite from the intrusion. The path finds another draw. Deeper, darker, and now in the stillness, even more oppressively warm. A tidy bridge crosses this gully. Built with a small bench on which to rest it seems to be a place that one could contemplate life while gazing up at the stately oaks and maples, reaching toward the sky. Here the canopy has shaded so well that the undergrowth is sparse. The dry ground is more evident showing the detritus of years. Broken branches, leaves and rotting logs lie undisturbed. Clouds of insects move around and I move to avoid them. Looking down I am surprised again, that the ground is not devoid of life. Here and there various insects are making their way to somewhere. Here a green beetle, there a daddy longlegs. A line of ants crossed the path reminding me of their more sinister cousins in the forests of Africa.
On I go up and down, swishing through weeds and nettles and strangely not feeling their sting. I realize that the dryness has caused the leaves to be limp hiding their pain inducing undersides, allowing me to move freely without suffering their wrath.
The warmth has caused me to think about turning back when I see above and ahead the form of a cabin, built in the woods. The path breaks off here for those who cannot stand to complete the journey. Looking at my watch and feeling the sweat pouring down my face I choose to move up and away leaving the solitude once more. As I find my feet treading lawn and then concrete I think about how I enjoyed the time. The calmness of the morning, despite the train and the plane, were soothing balms to me. I will return again and again to see what is there awaiting me.by