Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why I'm Staying Home This Halloween

Last Halloween, I hung out with Wolfman
until things got a little hairy

Then Dracula dropped by
but he was just a pain in the neck

Mummy was all wrapped up
in his own problems,

Frankenstein (the big baby) was
just going all to pieces,

And my friend the Witch was
really acting like… well... a witch.

So this year I'm staying home for Halloween
and laying in some beer and nachos for Bigfoot.

Maybe Next Year...

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Halloween Tree

“The hidden colors of the trees await the dawn of the new day, and another chance for revelation…”

By Patrick J. Walsh

With the arrival of Autumn here in the Northeast, there are a lot of trees sporting vibrant colors, as their leaves are transformed from the greens of Spring and summer to the varied hues of Fall.

In the park where I walk, there are colors everywhere: bright red and yellow and orange, mixed here and there with the darker shades of purple and brown, and still a fair amount of stubborn straggling green. The leaves mirror the bounty of the harvest season, and the coming celebrations of Halloween and Thanksgiving.

On these pleasant Autumn days, it is easy to imagine nature donning her colors as a sort of mask, dressing up like a child anticipating the delight of the Halloween ritual of trick or treat.

© Patrick J. Walsh
Each day the tree unveils a bit more color, as though
it were taking part in some silent conversation…

The ‘trick’, of course, is that the process by which the leaves change from green to their various colors is actually the opposite of ‘putting on’ color; it is instead a process of revelation, as the pigments already in the leaves are revealed when the green pigment of chlorophyll fades away.

During the longer days of Spring and summer, chlorophyll plays an important role in photosynthesis — the process by which the leaves transform water and carbon dioxide into the glucose that provides energy for the trees, as well as the oxygen that serves as a useful byproduct for the rest of the environment.

In the Fall, when days grow shorter and trees prepare to weather the winter months by living off their stored food, the process of photosynthesis slows and the reduced role of chlorophyll results in the fading of the green and the emergence of the hidden colors.

Among all the brightly colored trees in the park, there is one in particular that each day unveils a bit more color, as though it were taking part in some silent conversation while it gradually changes from a vibrant green to an incredibly vivid orange.

In this time of reflection alternating with anticipation, I have come to think of the tree with the bright green and orange leaves as a Halloween Tree. In its slow transformation, it seems to costume itself as a symbol of the movement of the days of this particular year, from the gentle warmth of summer to the nervous chill of Autumn.

This natural transformation of the seasons is mirrored in the historic and cultural markings of the holiday. In its 18th century origin, “Halloween” was derived as a contraction of “All Hallow Even (as in ‘evening’),” — a reminder that the fanciful celebration of costumes and apparitions is in fact a harbinger of the Christian religious celebration of All Saints Day.

In memory and in application, as its practice passes from one generation to the next, Halloween in these suburbs around the park reveals much about what is important to the people who live here.

For children, there is the innocent joy of being out after dark with family and friends, and the excitement of visiting the neighbors to share the creativity of a Halloween costume while receiving gifts of candy and a warm welcome. For adults, there is the casual interaction of the social ritual, and consideration of the larger implications inherent in the Christian rite of the following day.

And in the muted voices of the celebration moving up and down the street and in the coolness of the Autumn evening, there is the slow transformation of the seasons, while the hidden colors of the trees await the dawn of the new day, and another chance for revelation in the brief time left before winter.

© Patrick J. Walsh

The Walk in the Park series:
• The Hawk

Friday, October 19, 2012

At the Table by the Tree

“…nature never fails to unveil new magic…”

By Patrick J. Walsh

At about the half way point of the usual route of my daily walk, there is a point where the road rises. The upward slope obscures the view of the landscape below, where the woodland stream flows through the culvert beneath the road, into the lake that is at the center of the cultivated area of the park.

At that point just beyond my view, on the lake side of the road, there is a good sized tree with a single spare picnic table crouched at its base.

Situated at a fair distance from the more heavily used picnic area near the parking lots, the table at the tree is often the gathering spot for those who spend a lot of time in the park. There are often two or three collected around the table, talking quietly in the warmth of the afternoon in these moderate days of Autumn.

On this particular day, as I headed down the far side of the incline just past the blind spot, I heard my own name echoing outward from the water’s edge. It took a moment for me to focus the scene and the sound of the voice; but then I recognized the longtime friend standing a few yards from the table by the tree.

After we’d exchanged pleasantries and caught up on each other’s news, my friend pointed toward the reedy bank at the opposite side of the lake. Initially I could make out a few ducks — Mallards, my friend reminded me when I misidentified them as wood ducks; and then I saw what had drawn his keener attention: a large gray bird, perched on spindly legs, rising several feet above the surface of the water.

Having a bit of fun with my friend, I shared his excitement at the sighting of the remarkable bird by referring to the creature as a “tall duck,” even as we both agreed that it was most likely a Blue Heron.

© Patrick J. Walsh
The reflected green of the surrounding shrubs made
the water glow like the lush hues of Monet’s Waterlilies.

With its predominantly gray markings, this particular representative of ardea herodias (the scientific name given to the Blue Heron by Carolus Linnaeus in his classic 1758 guide Systema Naturae) arguably bore more resemblance to the Grey Heron more commonly found in other parts of the world.

Whatever his specific lineage, however, his visit to the lake seemed a rare event, as my friend and I each tried to recall the last time we’d seen a heron among the birds that typically populate the park.

Capturing a photo of the magnificent creature was not an easy task. The gray and white of his feathers blurred against the background of the fading brown reeds of the marsh, and the reflected green of the surrounding shrubs made the water glow like the lush hues of Monet’s Waterlilies.

I ultimately managed to record a series of images as the heron darted his beak into the water, pulling up a fish just inches away from the meandering Mallards.

Then, as though bored with the company of the ducks or aggravated by the attention of the humans, the great bird stepped up out of the water and onto the sandy spit of the marsh. With a few quick strides, he disappeared with a stony finality into the cover of the tall reeds.

My friend and I marveled at the sighting, and at the photos, for some time before we parted ways.

Having known each other for virtually the entire span of our lives, the joy of our chance meeting and the opportunity to share the sighting of the heron was simply the latest in a very long string of pleasant times we’ve shared over the years.

And even now, several days later, I marvel still at the wonders that lay just beyond the blind spots in our everyday existence, in those vales where friendships remain evergreen and nature never fails to unveil new magic, in the water and in the air, on the land and in the spirit.

© Patrick J. Walsh

The Walk in the Park series:
• The Hawk

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Green Among the Gray

“Embracing the warmth and the light, I am grateful for the green behind the gray...”

By Patrick J. Walsh

In the summertime, there is an abundance of undergrowth in the wooded area around the park. For a short while, the damage wrought by the area’s close proximity to the everyday activities of human beings gets covered over by a living bas-relief of grass and shrubs and bushes.

© Patrick J. Walsh
The luminescence of the green undergrowth, visible at some distance
behind the gray front of the treeline, conveys elements of revelation...

Shaded by the cover of green leaves that sprout on the branches overhead, the dirt that stretches over the roots of the trees remains moist in the heat of the late Spring and early summer, giving rise to a wide array of vegetation.

Lush green shoots of grass proliferate in the brown dirt, alongside tubular green sprouts of various types of flowering weeds, which mature into splashes of white and yellow and blue as they flower.

The amber leaves of adolescent trees form a screen that filters the harshest rays of the sun, while the brittle remains of leaves from the previous Fall, scattered along the ground, swaddle the grass shoots and the young weeds.

The variety and volume of plant life have lessened over the years since I wandered in the woods as a youth, but the cumulative effect of the green landscape is still a most welcome sight at the height of the summer.

Awash in the mingled foundation scents of fresh growth and moist wood, the aroma-scape is dotted with the occasional sweetness of honeysuckle, or the fruity zest of wild raspberries. Experienced in the lazy fullness of a warm, sunny summer afternoon, the smell and the scene almost seem to glow with a joyful aura of unbound youth, and ethereal possibility.

As remarkable as it is to experience the greenness of the woods within the shadows of the trees, however, it is only after you pass through the chapel of the leaves and enter into the park itself that the full effect of the summer growth makes itself felt.

Walking my usual route within the park, past that edge of the woods that borders the parkland, I glance absently into the nearest shady recess while I think of other things. And there, some thirty or forty yards off amid the gray bark of the trees, in a small space respectfully lit with a muted glimmer of daylight, a brilliant verdant patch of undergrowth is thrown into relief, as though it has been purposely uncovered for my view.

The luminescence of the green undergrowth, visible at some distance behind the gray front of the treeline, conveys elements of revelation in both its intensity and its beauty.

A slight stirring of air provides me with some relief from the heat of the sunny afternoon, as I stand at the edge of the woods, fascinated by the green among the gray.

I realize that my ability to view the small lea within the otherwise well wooded area depends largely on my position; had I turned to look a short while earlier or a short while later, I would have missed the sight entirely.

Embracing the grace of the moment, I marvel at the green for several moments before a feeling of equal force gently moves me onward.

Embracing the warmth and the light as I continue with my walk, I am grateful for the brief, cherished glimpse of the green behind the gray, and newly mindful of the beauty that hides all around, and within, the time and place and moments in which we live.

© Patrick J. Walsh

The Walk in the Park series:
• The Hawk

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Family by the Rock

“Tugged by the lever of imagination, the shroud of history 
lifts like a misty fog fleeing the light of the early day.”

By Patrick J. Walsh

As I walk through the park on a chilly day, I realize: this land has been here a very long time, but we have a very short memory.

On this day, as I pass the familiar landmarks that I see every day that I walk in the park, I cannot help but imagine some larger, mystic setting surrounding the commonplace. This tendency toward the concoction of an elaborate daydream is largely the result of my recently having read (or more accurately, re-read) John Steinbeck’s short novel The Pearl.

A heartbreaking story of a Native American couple pursuing a better life for their infant son, The Pearl is remarkable for its vivid descriptions of a time and place and people that had already been displaced by the time Steinbeck wrote the novel in the 1930s.

Seeing things

Today, when concern about that time and place and people seems ever further distant, there remains the basic desire of good people everywhere who want to make things better for those to come, by honoring all the good that has gone before. And as I walk in the park today, that simple truth, combined with what little we know of the history of those who lived here long ago, has got me seeing things.

There is an outcropping of rock near the area that is now defined as the entrance to the park, and there are large rocks scattered around that area. Alongside one particular boulder whose shape and texture somehow make it seem the proper setting for a story, I linger a moment, and wonder...

photo © Patrick J. Walsh
The land has been here a very long time...
•   •   •

Tugged by the lever of imagination, the shroud of history lifts like a misty fog fleeing the light of the early day. A short distance from the rock, in the open field nearby, a wise old shaman works the round end of a stone against the recessed innards of a well worn bowl, grinding a paste of Jewelweed for the treatment of one of his elderly convalescents. He is concerned with the health of the spirit, and the body.

Closer by the rock, a fire burns. A different sort of vessel is perched over the flames; it is the source of nourishment for the family, and the center of activity for the family’s interaction with the larger community. It is tended by a woman - a mother; she is concerned with the happiness of her family, and with their sustenance.

As the morning passes, the father of the family by the rock joins his fellows on a hunting expedition; he will return with meat for the stew.

Female relations and neighbors lead the older children on an excursion to find herbs and vegetables in the surrounding woodlands, and as they return, flavors are added to the olio in the pot, under the watchful eye of the mother who oversees the mix, and tends the fire.

Building a meal

The process of building the stew is similar to the building of the community. A little one ventures shyly toward the matron at the hearth-place, proffering some green shoots that her own mother has given her for her neighbor’s meal.

Smiling reassuringly, the mother of the family by the rock shows the neighbor child how to separate the useful parts of the plant from the dregs, and lets her toss the herb into the pot. Delighted with her part in the grown-up ritual, the little girl runs off toward home, chuckling with glee.

On special occasions - a feast of joy, or a marking of sorrow - the adding to the soup is a more formal rite. Visiting together in small groups or sporadically stopping by to express congratulations or support or condolence, the friends of the family by the rock each bring something for the cauldron, and all sample the produce of the fire. Their presents, and their presence, add flavor and body to a meal designed to provide sustenance, and to convey solidarity.

•   •   •

Then, as quickly as the veil was lifted, some small distraction in the park catches my attention, and the rich scene arisen before my eyes fades again into the enfolding grasp of time long past.

I resume my walk, and I wonder how much of my imagining might have been real. I know the kernel of the thing is true, since we do have some small knowledge of how others lived, long ago; and it feeds my romantic outlook to wonder if perhaps there really was such a life going on, by the rock, or over there by the children’s playset, or near the nearby picnic area, or perhaps where the parking lot is now.

However close or far off I might be, one way or another, it gives me some small comfort to think of the family by the rock, gathered around the dinner fire, their friends stopping by with gifts for the meal that they will all then share.

And as I walk on in the park on a chilly day, I cannot help but smile at the simplicity of the vision, while I think of the simple idea: see the fire, add something to the soup.

The land has been here a very long time, but we have a very short memory.

© Patrick J. Walsh

The Walk in the Park series:
• The Hawk