I live a block from a tree-lined path that stretches along the banks of the White River. It eventually winds through the Owen Meharg Indiana Classified Forest and Wildland.
During these late summer days, the canopy of the wetland forest grows thick with foliage. Only a trickle of light spills through the tunnel of twined branches that open to a gravel road where my morning photographic adventures begin. I pause in a small field surrounding a fire ring, hunting four leaf clovers scattered among wildflowers and swarming damselflies.
Walking past an old rural-style mailbox used to store baggies for dog walkers, I enter a path that meanders through thorny undergrowth. Tiny plum colored mushrooms crop up in places untouched by the sun and a spider’s silky threads caress my face as I pull back spiraling branches from wild mulberry trees.
I inhale the sweet scent of river water as I hear the call of the elusive blue heron that perches among the naked tree roots half submerged beneath the water near the shoreline. I often climb through orange lilies, marsh grass and fallen logs to glimpse the bird’s hiding places.
When I arrive in an open meadow, I’m careful where I step on the sandy paths, especially during late spring; for it is where turtles dig nests. At his time of the year, I ponder the presence of water snakes, having seen a few slithering along the banks of the river. I recall the words I once read, “Carelessly breaking something of value in the dream world can alter something priceless in waking life.” For me there is no boundary between the two worlds.
An assortment of native trees tower over the maze of paths, including sycamore, birch, oaks, maples and more. I may see Canada geese, ducks, deer, muskrat, herons, squirrels, dragonflies, butterflies or turkey vultures. Once I saw a raccoon swimming in the river with a turtle in his mouth. On cooler days fishing enthusiasts float lazily in shallow bottom boats casting their reels for bass and catfish. Dropping my camera for a minute or two, I close my eyes and make up a soul song, hoping to uncover the spirit of this sacred place.
And in the voice of Mary Oliver:
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is,
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
Which is what I have been doing all day,
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
“The Summer Day,” Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, 316.
PS — Recently I learned that The White River Alliance started a Tree Stewardship Campaign for the purpose of helping to maintain clean water. For more information about this effort click here. For more information about the White River click here.