It’s heaven-sent. During this time of boundaries closing tight, someone had the foresight to keep pathways open. A person I don’t know, about 20 years ago, designed an urban forest to help me today celebrate the natural world. More precisely, someone made it so the forest that was already here wasn’t swallowed up entirely by new homes. I am a lucky sort today, because that space is where my walk takes me.
The pleasure of being able to step from concrete sidewalk to crushed granite path into soothing coolness gives me a moment to pause. It’s a quiet walk, no others within ear shot. Perhaps it’s the time of day – mid afternoon – when every creature takes a rest.
Except me. With each step into the shade, the distant freeway traffic hum, the occasional whirr of small airplanes, the in-and-out of neighborhood inhabitants, all these usual every day sounds are muffled, then fade, then are gone. A simple quiet surrounds the magic of light passing through a split branch of moss-covered old pine, the tender changes in green from tiny leaf to stem to vine, and the delicate yellow and pink of blossoms I haven’t yet named.
The route is adventurous. The trail veers down and makes me evaluate my mountain climbing skills. It’s a mini-mountaineering escape in a twenty-minute time capsule. Other walkers have slipped, leaving their mud tracks in three-foot long skids. I decide to scoot over to the edge. I side-step my way down, cushioned by a layer of old pine needles, crushed brown leaves and the wisdom of being in my sixties with no desire to see if I can recover from a slide down 30 feet of forest. Luckily, this particular path is kind. It exits the forest onto a separate side street and into the neighborhood without needing a return hike back up the slick incline.
But not before I walk through the section I have named Fern Gully. How did these living things survive an ice-and-cold winter? They sit to the side of the trail, ferns more delicate than the tatted-lace doilies my grandmothers’ mothers used to make. Right now, just entering full summer, they have uncurled finger-tipped leaves with hairy undersides in shades of the forest that change as the sun passes by.
Now, the trail feels like the backward beginning of my stroll: into the full sun, onto crushed granite, then hard cement sidewalk. It’s easy to think that the walk, so simple and small, was just a mind’s adventure, just a moment to escape a worried planet. I wonder if I’ll be able to find these peaceful footsteps next time I need an escape. But I smell the lingering pine and cedar, and don’t have to look back to know it’s really there.
As my walk ends, I step through a baracade of trees that reach up 100 feet and into my backyard. The fat leaves of a tree I still cannot name hang down to shield the sun. Climbing onto the small hillside of my back yard, I am home.
Thank you, urban planners. You made today’s walk a welcome relief in an up-and-down world.