Sixty-seven degrees and sunny, far and away the nicest day of the new year. I needed to do something. So I headed out to the local Last Best Stream.
I didn’t go to the most photogenic part- sheer limestone bluffs carved in sinuous curves through eons of erosion. It’s easy to wonder what the world would’ve looked like three million years ago when this whole part of the world was uplifted by some mysterious force. Really, it probably looked the same, the rise so imperceptible, the erosion of streambeds so perfectly balanced with the raising plateaus, that meanders were entrenched in place.
I didn’t go to the nicest part, in the headwaters, where melting Illinoian glaciers dropped their stones and boulders of granite and schist picked up in Minnesota and abandoned seven hundred miles south.
I went to the part where I could take a long, uninterrupted walk. The part with the old abandoned barn, too far from the road to have been raided for boards and architecture to decorate bars and upscale man caves. Where I could maybe run across a couple squirrels, some oyster mushrooms or lion’s mane clung tight to an old white oak. Suss out turkey tracks in crunchy vestigial snow.
One of my first jobs in the profession was dusting off brittle manila folders, inputting yellowed typewritten sheafs of fish kill data into some more durable digital format on behalf of posterity. This watershed was one of the most habitual offenders- nearly annually, acid drainage from open pit coal mines killing every living thing twenty, thirty miles downstream. Coal company press releases touting not just jobs, asserting the land would be healthier once it was overturned, exposed. When the coal company sold out their PR man bought land pennies on the dollar, put it back to native forest, parcels it out for housing developments. He’s worth millions.
Some of it defaulted to state lands. Some of it was tied up with the Feds, who’d already bought out marginal farms in the rough land along the creek during the thirties and forties. Now that’s all public, twenty minutes from the house. Occasionally overrun by deer and turkey hunters, by ATVS and new-age hippies and college kids and weekend warriors and DIY survivalist types. Horse people.
That’s not bad, especially on the first warm day of the year. Can’t blame anyone for doing what you’re doing. Just need to find a nice spot. Not the nicest spot, or the most photogenic. Just one where you can take a long, uninterrupted walk. Look for squirrels and turkey tracks.
Admire an old barn.