Friday January 24, 2015
Highlands Hammock State Park
This is the second of two posts on my early morning walks before sunrise each morning on a different trail. If you’d like to read about yesterday’s, you can find it here.
Whenever I go out alone into the semi darkness at dawn, my prayer always is that I may follow my favorite poet Mary Oliver’s
'Instructions for Living a Life’
Tell About it.
I am nearly always able to do the first two and sometimes, like this week, the third.
Today I again walk the Cypress Swamp Trail.
Because both the gate leaving the campground and the gate coming onto the Hammock Drive are still closed and locked I imagine I will have the walk to myself. But it is still a thrill when I peddle up and see the empty parking lot.
I move slowly into the darker swamp where my eyes soon adjust to the shining black water and green vegetation.
As I walk pensively along the boardwalk, I notice a tree has begun to claim the boardwalk as its own. I spot a Great Egret hunting for breakfast. I stay and watch him sneak stealthily through the ferns and around the cypress knees. I am always shocked when all of a sudden he jabs his bill into the water and tosses down some little critter. I follow him along as he moves deeper into the swamp, stopping when he stops, moving when he moves. He comes right up to the boardwalk. Surely he knows I am there and apparently doesn’t care.
I walk on only a little way when I feel someone watching me. I stop. I haven’t heard anything but I look around. No one. And then I look up. The light behind him makes him a shadow but I can see I am being watched, by a barred owl. He is watching me. I am watching him. We are watching each other.
A line Mary Oliver pops into my head. “I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…” Something wonderful has definitely touched me. I am holding my breath.
The owl just looks at me. He turns his head to follow me as I walk further away to get a distant shot of him. It’s not a good shot and just then then he flies, only a jump really, into a nearer tree, into a spot from which I can see him better.
I take better pictures. He looks at me. I return back down the boardwalk closer to him. He just stays. I’ve never had an owl just stay. I stop taking pictures. I just experience this wonder of looking into the eyes of an owl. It’s grace, just the most amazing grace.
Time stands still. Life is suspended. Then he silently seems almost to fall forward off the branch, spread his wings and sail through the air back into the deeper reaches of the swamp. Not a sound. I stand amazed at the perfection of this moment.
After sitting on the bench for a while to take this all in, I walk slowly on. I’m more than half way around the trail. The red bellied woodpeckers are calling. Another great egret is fishing. I just watch. No pictures.
I turn to move on. I look down. A little raccoon looks up. He’s not frightened, just curious. He walks on under the board walk and peeks around a tree. He moves a little closer as if to get a better view. We spend some time seeing each other before he turns to continue on his way. More magic moments.
I wish I could stay here in this place forever but I am nearing the end of the boardwalk. I’m tempted to hike around the trail a second time but I know that the first person to walk down the boardwalk will break the spell. So I wrap this wonderful morning up in my memory and take my time transitioning back into the “real world”.
It’s late enough that the park is now open so I am surprised to find the parking lot still empty.
“Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
~ Mary Oliver