Is it by the least expectation or the most that we discover beauty and joy? I realize my blogs of 2016 have taken shape through a series of walks, mostly in the same area. How daring is that? No trams nor trains, no underground nor light rails; my financial advisor pushes me to take at least one international trip a year, to jump at the change of last minute destinations. Enjoy while you can, he almost threatens.
And so I’ve rambled–both physically and as a wordsmith–along the same sand-packed trail, really a happenstance path evolved between a suburban environment and older farmland. An ecotone: a zone, a concept identified years ago by a wandering Walt Whitman who noted the boundary between ocean and land. A bardo, a place of ambiguities.
The premier nature writer, Barry Lopez, writes of these crepuscular places, and of his own Oregon forested acres he’s frequented for over forty years. Walking there, though familiar, he says he always finds something new.
Now that’s adventure. That’s expectation. What I’ve called “a habit of landscape.”
And so this brings us to the Gila Woodpecker. New Year’s eve day I identified one pecking away at a thin, wintry, surely brittle mesquite branch, miles away from his usual habitat, the Sonoran desert of Arizona. Known best for their forays into the giant Saguaro cacti, this dun-breasted and zebra-backed picidae is making the best of his current environment–40 degree scrub Chihuahuan desert–yip-yip-yipping (his call) in between rattling knocks.
He’s so intent I come close and stand awhile, appreciating the racket. He tolerates my voice.
It’s the even of 2017 and–knock on wood (yes, bad pun intended)–we walk into it perhaps fearful, resisting, but with the hope of not merely survival and adaptability, but a persistent beauty born of surprise, in noticing something different along the same old trail.
We writers must be witnesses, and explorers too.