My husband does not enjoy self-consciousness. He does not enjoy "being in the moment." The moment makes him want to jump out of his skin and run away.
As any of us know who have studied yoga or meditation or any similar practice to the tiniest degree, these things are-- to some extent-- true of all of us, exemplary of the human condition. I exemplify this condition every day that I think "I should go for a walk," and then choose to spend that time playing a computer game that simulates reality instead. But the resistance to being nakedly present is stronger and more consistent for some people than others. For them it is an even greater struggle to stay put, in the mind, by moving the feet.
All this is to preface the story of my walk, yesterday, with my darling husband, and to say: honey, I am so grateful. Because, to make me happy, you sometimes endure all the pain and anxiety of exertion and of presence, and you walk with me and look at neat things. And I hope that sometimes it brings you surprise joy too.
We went to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, and its neighbor Glendening Nature Preserve, along the Patuxent River in Anne Arundel County. As usual, I forgot my camera. I forgot it so completely that I did not notice its absence until we'd already finished our first walk, at Jug Bay, and were using the restrooms at the visitor center before checking out Glendening. I'm not sure what made me think of it then; maybe seeing wildlife photos at the visitor center.
These walks were... subtle. They had none of the gaudy drama of the Billy Goat Trail. There were many fewer people: we did not see one other soul at Glendening, unless you count the brown thrasher whose markings I spent a bit of time memorizing so I could identify it when we got home. There were not too many dramatic vistas (a couple of observation platforms overlooked the wetlands, but even there the water was so thickly vegetated that it was difficult to see much besides plant life; mostly the trails were edged by trees so that only small pockets of the marsh were visible). There were few exciting wildlife sightings-- not, I imagine, because the animals were not there, but because all the plants hid them from view. Still, while I did not feel the same kid-goat leaping in my heart that I did hiking a couple of weeks ago, there was the satisfaction of outside, of a landscape that was new if not startling, of exploring a different map.
Much of the interest lay in the plants. There were trees and marsh plants there with bizarrely shaped buds and seed pods, spiraled and whorled and pocketed in amazing ways. There were huge flowers growing among the reeds, and vines climbing the spindly trees along the path. There was a boardwalk-to-nowhere, whose sign indicated it was constructed and funded entirely by volunteers, which wound narrowly through encroaching marsh vegetation, nearly overgrown in places, our arms and legs brushing aside green, to finally end at a small wooden platform surrounded by plants higher than our heads like a wall. There was a bench and we sat on it and stared around us at the green wall. As time passed, details of the wall emerged, individual leaves and flowers. Insects, in particular, made themselves known as they visited the diversity of plants. There was a memorable black wasp the length of my thumb. I could hear, but not see, a frog behind us in the water. We talked and sat and the sun came out and the airless green box grew hotter and more humid until we couldn't stand it anymore and wound back along the funny narrow boardwalk to the shaded path. That was perhaps the best part of the walk.
The trail we were walking at that time, the Railroad Bed Trail, ended at a small pier on the bank of the Patuxent. It was open and sunny there and kayakers were paddling by. They frightened a heron and it flapped around in circles before making a getaway. Ospreys were sitting on what looked like dedicated wooden platforms, from which they would rouse themselves to fish and then return. Most notably, there were the funniest little jumping fish that would pop across the surface of the water a bunch of times in quick succession, like a skipping stone. I tried later to research what they were, but had little luck. Returning from the pier to the trail, I saw the tail end of a large black snake disappearing into the brush.
At Glendening Nature Preserve later, where we hiked a portion of the Cliff Trail, the landscape was utterly different. The brown woodland path overlooking a small brown book reminded me of my childhood in western Massachusetts, the forest quiet but not dark, and its floor soft underfoot with sandy soil and dead leaves. The only obvious animal life were beetles and ants, and an occasional songbird, mostly also brown. It was a quiet, brown, peaceful place, cooler than the low marsh, and we liked it, but were tired and did not stay too long.
The world is a big place, and I know this, but all the same each little length of trail I leave unexplored-- all the parts of the relatively tiny Glendening Nature Preserve, or its small cousin Jug Bay, that we did not walk-- eat at me a bit, a nagging sense of incompletion. The same way it bothers me that I will never read every good book, or travel to every country, or even drive down every Main Street in Iowa the way somebody did (perhaps my grandfather?). Is this a symptom of OCD or the product of the most basic human longing to know and experience all, everything, to be everything and have past lives and never really die? I may never go back to Glendening, limited dilettante being that I am. And I will never be satisfied.
Some stock photos for you: