Friday, December 28, 2012


There is an affinity among these leaves and this sky and these beasts for the flora of the Nativity, the glow of the manger, and the story of the stable…

by Patrick J. Walsh

In the coolness of the evening, in the bright lights of the season, in the tableau with the lamb and the star, the night wind whispers a promise to the broken heart:

He will bring us goodness and light…

Sometimes when I walk in the park, I feel like the shepherd boy, listening, straining to hear the song above the trees, swelled to the bigness of the sea by a chorus of angelic voices:

He will bring us goodness and light…

© Patrick J. Walsh
In the warm embrace of nature, knowing the trees as if by name, I hear the words…

As I walk I wonder if I am doing all I might do to bring goodness to others. I think of the efficiency of earthly monarchs in reaching people everywhere with the message for which I am but the merest conveyance:

He will bring us goodness and light…

And in the warm embrace of nature, knowing the trees as if by name as well as by their botanical lineage, and aware of the animals all around, I hear the words as they echo like gold and silver bells rung on the wind, as precious as peace among men:

He will bring us goodness and light…

In the warmth of the bright summer, the fresh breath of spring, the melancholy whim of fall, and, as now, in the aching grasp of winter sadness, there is an affinity among these leaves and this sky and these beasts for the flora of the Nativity tableau, the perpetual glow of the manger, and the enduring story of the stable and the lowly animals that shared in that long ago celebration of the birth that is renewed in so many lives each December:

The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

© Patrick J. Walsh

Friday, December 21, 2012


“The bare branches of the trees cause me 
to think of the straw of the stable…”

By Patrick J. Walsh

There are scant few days left before Christmas, and even fewer before the winter solstice. Time is short for the short days of darkness, and it feels good to anticipate the goodness and light that will arrive with the progress of nature and the promise of the spirit.

My walks in recent days have been littered with “little worries” — items on my “to do” list that are not yet done, for example; or last minute preparations that I have stubbornly refused to let wait until last minute, as though worrying would get them done sooner.

Today there is a fresh, light wind stirring the reedy limbs of some sparse evergreens near the edge of the road. The thin branches wave slightly, as if in greeting, as I walk by.

© Patrick J. Walsh
"...the reedy limbs of some sparse evergreens 
wave slightly, as if in greeting, as I walk by."

In the traditions of my religious faith, this time of year evokes images of a stable, and animals kept for domestic purposes by the keeper of an inn.

Cross-hatched gray across the darkening blue of the sky, the bare branches of the trees that surround the evergreens cause me to think of the straw of the stable, shuffled into rough shapes of nests by the beasts in whatever time they might have had free from their burden.

Not yet touched by the presence of the family that would transform it into a signal site of transformation in the course of human history, the stable was probably typical of the modest accommodation necessary to the upkeep of animals, then and now. And by all accounts of zoology and history, the inhabitants of the stable were likely similar in most details to their modern descendents.

As I walk along the edge of the woodline, I think of the similarities and differences between the animals of the stable and the creatures that inhabit the woods around the park.

They are of course different types of animals; although there are horse paths in the park, the large majority of its inhabitants are common wildlife — squirrels, deer, ducks and geese — that has little in common with any version, ancient or modern, of horse or donkey or oxen.

And yet they are all progeny of the development of nature, and they each play a productive role in the ecology of their time and place.

For those who wish to infer a spirituality in the pattern and direction of their progress, there is a winsome link of familiarity between the meek denizens of the Biblical stable and whatever creatures might be encountered in the modern nexus of metropolis and nature.

Thinking of the straw and the donkey, and the sparse evergreen and the deer, the distance in millennia and the far span of the earth from that time and place to this very spot becomes somehow less distant.

So remote from the straw and the smell and the noise of those long ago animals, yet blessed with the benefits of belief and tradition and history, I move through the park as though on pilgrimage, thinking of the family and the birth and the child that were, at this time so long ago, still on their way toward the stable…

© Patrick J. Walsh


Friday, December 14, 2012


I suppose there are those who would find time spent 
walking in the park an idyll they can ill afford...
By Patrick J. Walsh

A patchwork rain accompanies me on my walk this afternoon, dropping chilly little pin-pricks of pure cold water in my hair and across my cheeks and nose.

I am tired. As I push myself forward through the mist, I find myself wondering at some of the things that drive people in life, and some of the things that people strive toward, in these days that are so often so difficult to understand.

Although it presents no appreciable physical hindrance, the rain weighs heavily on my mood. The dampness conspires with the rapidly approaching darkness to disturb my peace and rattle my bones, as I shiver slightly after every few strides.

© Patrick J. Walsh
" the wideness of perspective that is a gift of this 
setting, it often seems that I am not walking alone."

I suppose there are those who would find time spent walking in the park an idyll they can ill afford at virtually any time of year — and least of all in these very short days of preparation and observation that mark the holiday season.

I try to find time to walk in the park even on the busiest days — even when the weather is against me, and the days are appallingly short, and the chill lays heavily on my steps.

Each day, my walk accumulates time and distance, but I seldom consider my daily hike in terms of the investment of minutes or miles.

In a similar way, each day’s sojourn requires both the effort to get to and from the site as well as that which I expend during the walk itself. And again, I pay little heed to the ‘commute’ required, by foot or by car, when calculating the costs and benefits of my daily exercise.

All this evaluation brings to mind my recent re-reading of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” (1854):

“I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.”

I am struggling as I near the end of my walk today. My breath is short and quicker than usual. My progress along the paved road is slow and labored.

The last upward slope before I complete my usual circuit seems somehow steeper than usual. The rain has begun to feel heavier, even though it has not, in reality, increased in intensity or volume.

My thinking has also come full-circle as I draw nearer to the lot where my car is parked. Pondering that which sometimes drives others — and that which drives me as well, in other circumstances — I come to some resolution about my inclination to walk in the park each day.

Memories of this place that I have known so long, and of the people who populate those memories, play an important role in the drive that brings me to the park again and again. And in the wideness of perspective that is a gift of this setting, it often seems that I am not walking alone.

In both the perspective and the experience, I find plenty of incentive to walk, regardless of the rain, or the cold, or the early darkness of the day.

© Patrick J. Walsh


Friday, December 7, 2012

In the Quiet Part of the Day

"I am aware of the fineness of the texture of the 
scene as I move quietly across the landscape..."

By Patrick J. Walsh

In the morning, the park is quiet. And I am quiet as I walk.

The air is cool, but warming as the day moves forward. The Sun shines with a gauzy benevolence.

There is a stolid indifference to the trees. Not unkind or unwelcoming, they are nonetheless in no particular need of human interaction or indulgence to propagate the quiet dignity they have maintained during the many decades they have stood here in the park.

© Patrick J. Walsh
...there is much that is instructive in 
that part of the day that speaks least...
There are birds in the park this morning; the occasional silent shadow in the sky attests to their presence. But they are more quiet than usual. The chill air is for the most part absent of their normal chatter.

Any slight evidence of movement in the air resonates well within the delicate balance of the morning rays and the chill of the season. The wind is but a breeze, and the shrill of the recent harsh weather echoes only in memory.

Gliding across the otherwise placid surface of the pond, a few Canada geese (their proper name, although I freely admit to having always known them as “Canadian” geese from the time of my formative years) seem content in their noiseless idyll.

At this time of year the park is probably a rest stop for the geese as they make their way along the path of their biannual migration. Those who migrate earlier in the chilly season tend to move more quickly through the trip, while geese such as these, taking wing later and thus more exposed to the vagaries of the oncoming winter, spend more time at rest along the way.

The thought of their lingering at this quiet stop along their way is cheering to me as I walk past the edge of the pond.

I am quiet, but not idle. Each step seems somehow more distinct, more clearly measured, than the languid strides of summer. And I am aware of the fineness of the texture of the scene as I move quietly across the landscape of which I presume to be a part, as the morning passes and the day unfolds.

The experience recalls in me some intimation of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; particularly that section that the great essayist called “Sounds,” in which he wrote of “the language which all things and events speak without metaphor, which alone is copious and standard.”

That language of experience seems the only communication of this particular morning, and in its embrace I am gradually aware that there is much that is instructive in a walk in the park in that part of the day that speaks least to the human ear.

It is the quiet that bespeaks the vastness of the experience. Again deferring to Thoreau:

         “…my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel. It was a dream of many scenes and without an end… Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour.”

And it is as well in the movement from idle observance to the awareness of one’s encounter with the greater world that moves us forward, as surely as Thoreau found his place in life by abandoning his place in the society of the 1850s:

         What is a course of history or philosophy, or poetry, no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen?  Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer?  Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.”

This morning, the park is quiet. And I am quiet as I walk.

© Patrick J. Walsh


Friday, November 30, 2012


“Where there once was solidity to every step, 
there is suddenly a mysterious uncertainty…”

By Patrick J. Walsh

As I wander my usual way through the paths and paved roads of the park near my home, wondering at the struggles of others, I have new appreciation for the majesty and mechanics of even the briefest walk in the park.

So much goes into the simple act of walking. There is the coordination of mind and body, the movement of muscle and bone, the transfer of weight from limb to limb, and overall the delicate play of balance on the carriage — all meshed in the movement of each step, and in one step after another, cascading into the joyous mystery of motion.

© Patrick J. Walsh

They walk with me as I choose my steps; and I am 
more attentive to the best of all that is around me...

And my walk in turn gives rise to so many mysteries whose shape and structure are discernible only in relation to the orientation of my movements.

A rough texture, for example, cool to the touch: with the crunch of brittle leaves beneath my boots, it is likely the bark of a tree; with pavement beneath me, it is more likely the ragged edge of a stone at the side of the road, or gravel; on the grass close by the pond, the rough grasp of reeds that adorn the sodden expanse of the marshland.

Lately my time in the park has been interspersed with time spent in the company of those who, as the result of injury or illness, must cope with frailties that make it difficult to walk freely and easily.

For them, the process of placing one’s steps is an often treacherous exercise in limiting the yaw of each forward motion, from hip to foot, across the entire breadth of every stride. In such a state, a stroll along the uneven paths I ply from time to time in the woods around the park would be a vestibular nightmare.

In that context, a walk in the park would be anything but that which is implied by the colloquialism to which it lends its name.

Subject to the mercurial betrayal of balance on the merest whim of the landscape, or in reaction to the unanticipated distraction of animal or bird or aqua fauna, the diminished  control over one’s movement must seem an enigma beyond easy reckoning.

Where there once was solidity to every step, there is suddenly a mysterious uncertainty; where there was previously ease of movement, there is a heavy sensation of strangeness…

As I walk in the park, I am normally unaware of the mechanics of my own locomotion. Fascinated with the environment around me or taken up with some encounter of one sort or another with the creatures or setting of the place, I move along my way without thinking of the gift of ease of motion.

Even when I trek upward along some sloping trail in the woods, I am aware more of the effect that the grade has on the experience of whatever it is that I am seeing and hearing, rather than the degree of difficulty involved in the journey.

But today, I wonder at the struggles of others. They walk with me as I choose my steps; and I am more attentive to the best of all that is around me, that I might share it all with those who cannot experience it first-hand.

Maybe, in that effort, there is some miracle of transference that might make their difficulties less burdensome, and maybe set their sights on walks in realms more mystic than mysterious.

© Patrick J. Walsh


Friday, November 23, 2012


“The park is as quiet as the bare trees, even as the 
busy suburb that surrounds it hums a frantic symphony...”

By Patrick J. Walsh

Walking in the park on Thanksgiving, there is much for which I am thankful.

I search the sky for an appropriate place to direct my gratitude. The impatient Moon is already treading its path in the fading daylight.

There are those who walk with me in this life, some who are closest to me now each day and some who have passed from the world but remain with me for every step, and I am grateful for their influence on my life.

Together they have given me all the best instincts I have for doing what is good and what is right. I am blessed with their wisdom every time I do something for the benefit of others.

© Patrick J. Walsh
The impatient Moon is already treading 
its path in the fading daylight.

I look out across the water, its pristine surface still, as though it has been freshly wrung from the clouds. On this chill November afternoon, the pond is bereft of the familiar clatter of geese, and it is quiet in the park.

There is a calm that is a gift of places like this, and it is of that calm that my gratitude for each good thing takes shape. I walk and wonder at all the small good things that people do to make life easier for others, amid all the suffering in the world.

Even several years since I first began to record my encounters with the life of the park, when I first found solace for the sufferings of others in the quiet peace of this place, there is injury and illness and mourning among those who are closest to me.

But I know for every injury and illness, and for each one who mourns, there is love. There are quiet prayers and selfless acts of friendship that make each day more bearable, and I am grateful for every little kindness.

I notice the bare branches cross-hatched black against the darkening blue of the sky. The rough bark of the trees looks cold as a closed door. Somewhere in the colorscape of fallen leaves beyond the treeline, a squirrel rushes from one cache of food to another, heedless of the crashing echo of his movements through the brittle debris of the Fall.

The seasons change. The park is as quiet as the bare trees in November, and remains so throughout the quiet winter, even as the busy suburb that surrounds it hums a frantic symphony of struggle and attainment, growth and decay, sorrow and joy.

Squirrels run around in the leaves beneath the trees, blithely disrupting the quiet of the park in the chill air of the fading afternoon. I chuckle softly at the sound, and I am grateful for the relief of laughter, as it lifts the veil of deep thoughts.

Aware of all that I have been given, and seeing the sky and the water and the trees in a new light, I hear a different sort of music in the sound of the squirrel scurrying through the woods. I am thankful, and as I near the end of my walk today, I am confident that my gratitude has found its place.

© Patrick J. Walsh

Friday, November 16, 2012

Christmas in July… in November

"Scenes emerge from the graying landscape with a sudden breathtaking vividness, only to fade quickly away minutes later, as the daylight dulls and the sky continues to darken."

By Patrick J. Walsh

In the park, it gets dark early now, and the darkness brings an early end to the day.

That small part of the park that has been developed for casual recreational use, carved out of the much larger portion of the 1,538 acres that constitute the total site, is open each day only from eight in the morning to “dusk” — that amorphous shadow hour that moves like the mist through the trees after a storm, as time moves from one season to the next.

In these initial days of the early darkness, there is an unsettling disorientation that disrupts the usual narrative of a walk in the park. Scenes emerge from the graying landscape with a sudden breathtaking vividness, only to fade quickly away minutes later, as the daylight dulls and the sky continues to darken.

© Patrick J. Walsh
Stubbornly holding on to its color, it is a tree out of time...

There is an urgency to my steps. I am thinking forward, anticipating the rapidly approaching Advent season, and the Christmas holiday.

In the sky, the sun is drawing in its light and thinning the warmth of its embrace. I feel the chill of the evening as I make my way along an uneven path in the woods near the side of the road. The ground beneath me is pitted and trenched by the recent rain and snow.

There is a wrenching sadness to the sight of the day’s withdrawal across the horizon, amplified to a nearly unbearable intensity by the heartbreaking beauty of the sight.

The scene is somehow like Christmas in July — oddly askew in this time and place, and yet so familiar and so heartening as to be welcome in even the strangest circumstances.

In the pond, something is stirring in the weeds near the water’s edge. The gangly frame, two thin sticks supporting a puffy ball of feathers, is crowned with another skinny branch that suddenly moves in a half revolution to reveal a long beak and a squeamish eye straining to make out my approaching form in the gathering twilight.

It is the heron, that rare bird, a magnificent sight so seldom encountered when the park is busy with people and their celebrations, when the sunlight stretches into the evening. There is little to distract him now, in the lateness of the day.

With camera in hand, I approach as though I am merely passing by heedless of his presence. I casually begin to snap a series of photos as I wend my way ever so slightly toward him; but he is too smart for my trick. Wary and seeming modestly affronted by my interest, he draws himself up out of the water and glides off toward the opposite side of the lake.

The darkness gathers as the shorter days of winter bring the night early, and as a result of the impact of the annual ritual of setting the clock back an hour to accommodate the shift from Daylight Savings Time to standard time.

As I walk, I am thinking of the time, as the daylight fades.

Standard time first became standard in 1883, as a means of coordinating rail travel. Prior to that time, railroads in various parts of the country utilized different time standards — thus trains in New York, for example, operated on New York time, while the Pennsylvania Railroad calculated the arrival and departure of its trains according to Philadelphia time, which differed from New York time.

As rail travel expanded, the need for a uniform method of setting times for train schedules led to the evolution of standard time and the four North American time zones that are now well established.

In the park, as I walk along the paved road, I am thinking about the ways in which the time and trains of the suburbs translate into the effects of seasons and automobiles in the woods — where the trees pass the seasons like humans pass the hours, and where the plants and animals and birds fend off the effects of human activity, epitomized by the exhaust and heat and noise of the cars passing by on the nearby road.

At one point during my walk, I wander some distance into the woods. In the woodlands’ interior, as I make my way up a formidable grade, there is at the edge of the path a remarkable sight: a small tree still wearing its leaves, resplendent in multiple shades of orange.

Stubbornly holding on to its color long after its taller, tougher neighbors have gone gray, it is a tree out of time, still lingering in Autumn even after the first snow has come and gone.

I want to linger for more than a moment in the company of the colorful little tree, but there is not enough daylight left to loiter in the woods. Even as I make my way back toward the paved road, however, I am smiling at the thought of the bright display of leaves hidden just minutes away from my usual route through the park.

Minutes later, driving slowly toward the exit as I peer out into the gathering darkness over the bright beams of my car’s headlights, I am grateful for the colorful tree and the heron and the last vestige of sunlight on the far horizon — and even for the gloomy twilight whose early arrival so emphatically delineates their essence.

In the first days of the darkness come early, before there is time enough to adjust to the austere discipline of the truncated days of winter, there are still moments left for the appreciation of the transcendent elegance of nature, as she moves heedless of time, from one season to the next.

© Patrick J. Walsh

The Walk in the Park series:
• The Hawk

Friday, November 9, 2012

Another New Winter

“Winter arrives in light airy flakes billowed by the wind, or in thrilling messy clumps of wet snow, trailing out of the sky like wintry fireworks.”

By Patrick J. Walsh

“Mother Nature is weird.”

I’m pretty sure that’s the likely verdict I’d hear if I were to bring up the subject of the changing seasons with my friend who is twelve (soon to be thirteen).

And given the sequence of weather events in this area in recent days, with a frightful hurricane followed by an unexpectedly strong snowstorm, I am inclined to agree.

Like most really smart young people, my friend has a way of reducing very large problems to a series of simple declarative statements.

It’s an ability that I think may well become the basis for a whole new approach to dealing with the interdependent destinies of human beings and the natural world, as the next generation gradually takes the place of those of us who currently ponder those kinds of questions.

© Patrick J. Walsh
I scan the patches of white on the dull gray grass where, 
just a few weeks ago, summer green seemed to be still growing...

 As I took my first look at the trees and fields of the park today, in the wake of yesterday’s first snow of the winter season, I could not help but recall the way the change of seasons felt when I was a child. 

Back then, I took note of every sign of the coming winter: the chill in the evening, the falling leaves, the bare branches, the cold rain, and, finally, the arrival of the first precipitation of the winter — in light airy flakes billowed by the wind, or, like yesterday’s storm, in thrilling messy clumps of wet snow, trailing out of the sky like wintry fireworks.

For most of the years in which I have been around to experience it, the change from Autumn to winter has been remarkably consistent. While it is sometimes punctuated by some horror show of a hurricane, the actual transition from season to season is usually marked by all of the familiar signs.

Which of course makes it all the more fascinating to think about how so many of those who live in this part of the country simply ignore the markers along the way, until nature delivers a deliberate flourish like yesterday’s snowstorm, that we have no choice but to acknowledge.

So I scan the patches of white on the dull gray grass where, just a few weeks ago, summer green seemed to be still growing; and I cast a mournful glance toward the brown leaves that just days ago thrilled the soul with their bright colors. I feel tired, and cold.

In this frame of mind, it is not difficult to imagine the smudges of melting snow, spread across the fields and threaded between the trees, as some careless trail of broken egg shell, loosed upon a landscape not quite ready for the change, in some weird masquerade of birth in reverse.

I shiver, and inwardly complain about the cold and the prospect of long slogs on snowy afternoons and walks cut short by early sunsets, forgetting for the moment the long months of subtle signs that have, as always, brought me to this moment of first encounter with another new winter.

Trudging along the paved road, feeling strangely distant from the knoll just yards away, I am momentarily heedless of the majesty of nature, as it keeps its promise from season to season.

It is only hours later that I finally reconcile myself to the arrival of this new winter. And with that, I cannot help but chuckle at the thought that perhaps Mother Nature isn’t the only one who’s weird, after all.

© Patrick J. Walsh

The Walk in the Park series:
• The Hawk

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Calm After

"...the calm serves as both herald and lamentation, 
from serenity to storm, from tempest to tranquility."

By Patrick J. Walsh

The hurricane has passed. Today, in these suburbs north of New York City, thick layers of clouds hover overhead; but the sporadic bursts of heavy rain are now gone, and the fierce winds that marked the worst behavior of the storm have now been replaced by an uneasy chill.

There are many streetlights not working today in the area where I live. Beyond the entrance road to the park, there is no need for streetlights.

Many homes and many businesses — from delicatessens to doctors’ offices, food stores to pharmacies — are without electricity. It is difficult for people to shop, or conduct business, or do many of the activities that they normally do.

In the park, there is calm — from the bony fingers of branches in the nearby woods to the heavy wooden tables in the picnic area, the content murmur of the stream to the skittering of squirrels through the downed leaves in the grass. The park is at ease, its accustomed dignity intact.

© Patrick J. Walsh
In the park, there is calm...
People are sitting in their dark homes and in their dark stores and offices, using the fading hours of daylight to try to figure out what to do — where to go, or whether or not to try to go anywhere — before the night comes again.

The surface of the pond in the park is smooth and silken, and where there are leaves left on branches, the swatch of color hangs steady, unmoved by the sudden arrival of the cold, still air.

The subways of New York City are clogged with water; the shoreline of coastal New Jersey has been altered, at least temporarily, by the force of the storm. Most of the trains that transport people to and from the city and its surrounding suburbs have not yet returned to normal operation.

In the suburbs, downed trees block roads, downed electric wires threaten pedestrians, and every light breeze brings a shudder, as people try to move past the inconvenience and stress and hazard of the hurricane that is now gone from this area.

In the park, there are trees that are split and trees that are twisted and trees that are missing branches; but these are all from other storms. The park has weathered other storms, and has largely avoided the worst effects of this one.

Set aside as an intersecting point between the natural world that was here long before and the suburbs that are even now swaddled in the ribbons of their truculent infancy, the park absorbs the thrashings of the weather with the same serenity it employs to cope with the daily exploits of its human visitors.

It is cool in the park today. I feel cold as I walk. But it is a freshening feeling, sober in the reflection it inspires about the devastation of which nature is capable in its darker moods, and yet hopeful for what it implies about the resiliency of the calm that serves as both herald and lamentation, from serenity to storm, from tempest to tranquility.