There’s this place in Kentucky where I’d like to build a house. Located between two mountains, or whatever you call large rolling hills. It’s the valley between the two hills, the “holler,” that matters. If I could be transported anywhere right now, that’s where I’d go. The serenity of such a place is almost beyond description. The soft aloneness I felt when I first walked the path down in that valley, that hollow, carried me as if I were floating on a cloud of grass.
Scaly bark “hicker nut” trees, red and white oaks, cedar and other evergreen trees lined both sides of the hollow. A small creek (pronounced “crick” in the north, a pronunciation I despise hearing) zig-zagged alongside the trail, talking to me in a watery language that needed no interpretation. Squirrels, chipmunks, blue-jays, red-tailed hawks, whip-poor-wills, and the occasional hoot owl discussed among themselves those things that humans in their territory cause them to discuss. Probably talk of a dreaded and unwanted invasion.
Whenever I walked that trail I didn’t feel like an invader, I felt like I belonged. I tried many times to communicate my feelings to the wildness all around me, but when I spoke, even softly, my voice sounded like it didn’t belong. Their language I understood, they wanted nothing to do with mine.
The communication disconnect would eventually right itself. If I kept silent long enough. If I listened close enough. Trees have their stories to tell, as do all wild inhabitants of any hollow. Creek bottom moss covers the flat rocks, I choose my steps slowly and carefully. I feel the softness of creek mud between my toes, and then, OUCH! the unexpected pain of stepping on a sharp rock causes me to quickly lift my foot. I stumble, in slow motion, but don’t fall. It’s a balancing act I’ve perfected over the years.
The creek widens around a giant oak at this particular spot along the trail, and one of the oak’s large branches hangs low, half in and half out of the water. I stop and wonder what might have caused this predicament. The branch is not broken off, but bent, almost in half. It looks like it’s doing this on purpose, making itself into a straw for drinking. I continue on my walk, pausing here and there, wondering about this and that. Before long I’m at the spot where the small creek meets the larger, and named, Russell Creek.
I saw a buck crossing Russell Creek once, swimming majestically, with just his antlers and eyes above the water, a sleek and animalistic submarine of some sort. He reaches the other side, pauses, shakes, and turns in my direction, and I could almost swear I heard him say “I bet you wish you were me.” Yes, I think I would like that. His freedom seems to be concrete, mine is often in question.