Posted by: Dave Neads | April 25, 2011

April Ridge Walk

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. This is the sound of a morning walk on the snow in mid April. It was minus 10 last night, but now the grouse are booming in the background; the knife sharp morning light cuts through the yellow green needles of the firs and pines. Crunch, Crunch, crunch, it is easy to imagine wearing crampons, clawing my way up a steep slope on some mountain ridge in the high Blanca of Peru. But no, this reality is manifest right here in Precipice Valley, our valley paradise on the edge of the Ark. As I climb the ridge behind our home, I start to get a wider and wider scope of the mountains piercing the blue spring sky, phalanx after phalanx disappearing into the hazy horizon

Soon the river is three hundred feet below, swirling and dodging over, under and around the chunks of ice still clogging the channel. It sounds like someone scrunching up a newspaper before they shove it into the firebox, which I had to do at six this morning. It was one of the colder nights since “spring” arrived. But I am lucky, I can light a fire, have a hot cup of tea, put on a warm outer skin and move outside for a crisp walk.

On the other hand, the poor geese down in the meadow far below, have no such luxury. Arriving only yesterday, this morning the flock is huddled in small groups wondering where the water is, honking and flapping huge wings. Their presence seems out of place in this late winter landscape, yet there they are, trying to make the best of an unusual situation.

Maybe by two or three this afternoon, when the heat of the sun melts a few puddles, the geese may get some new sprouts, a drink of water, a foretaste of the lush feast that will be theirs alone in a few weeks as the fields explode with tender tasty new grass, slugs, worms, grubs and all manner of delicious morsels. But for now these big birds hunker down, tough it out, focused on keeping warm and scrounging what little food there is.

Sex is rampant even on this cold morning. The grouse is booming out his “Here I am” message. The squirrels are just finishing their frantic noisy mating rituals. The Redwing blackbirds are huskily throating their calls for territory and mates.

The most sensuous of these mating songs is the ubiquitous chickadee. Its three note descending call, “Oh poor me” it lends itself to all kinds of bawdy phrasing in the mind’s eye. Then there is the telephone bird, the one whose second long trill sounds uncannily like the phone ringing. Many a time I have rushed over to the workshop phone to answer a dial tone only to realize that bird, which we haven’t been able to identify, has caught me again.

He is not to be confused with ladder bird, who usually starts his drumming on the aluminum ladder pitched against the back roof at first light. This woodpecker loves the punk sound he smashes out on the rungs of that battered old ladder. It works much better than the nearby fir snag that all the other guys use. I wonder if he gets better or worse mates? I guess it depends on their taste, whether it is trashy, edgy or traditional.

But back to the ridge. The exercise warms the soul and the body. As I climb higher, more and more of the Coast mountains thrust into view. Such scale and perspective is difficult to fathom. It is much easier to settle the eye on the white blue berries of the juniper, clustered on the branch ends, their promise of new life displayed for all to see.

The whole universe is enfolded in each detail. The pools of frozen mud that will be released by mid-afternoon to flow for a couple of hours before freezing again are part of the same process that raises mountains in liquid form from the planetary deeps, only to freeze into the rocks and cones we climb upon. They too will be melted into flowing viscous liquid in the next afternoon of geologic time.

The ridge itself is a relic sandbar, formed in the belly of a glacier when a river orders of magnitude larger than the present little steam flowed through the ice, bursting its way to the sea in times of furious melt. This sandbar is thousands of feet long, it climbs hundreds of feet into the sky, and the river and the ice that surrounded it worked on a scale beyond imagination.

Now all is calm, the big ice gone, the river shrunken in the middle of a cycle that will repeat again and again in the endelss dance of shape, energy, form, heat, and light.

To live in the Ark, especially in spring, is to be connected to all scales of life energy from the galactic core of a billion trillion suns to the tiny bit of light that warms a late afternoon meal for the Canada geese.

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