Sunday, January 19, 2014

Winter's Game

The pressure of last night’s crits and Monday’s potential changes pushed me out of the door this morning despite a broken night’s whispers of sleeping in. I ended up at Mercer at half past nine. The arboretum was emptier than I’d expected and so I ended up taking my draft and its attendant comments for a brisk mental walk until the open blue sky and the chill finally lowered my internal pressure enough to allow it all to evaporate.

Walking by the frost-crisped azaleas, just a few days past blooming, I began to hear knocking in the trees roundabout. I couldn’t identify the source of the sounds, so I paused by the azalea embankment, deep in a pool of shade, and listened. Most of the camellias are blooming, but the dogwoods and magnolias are just in bud. Tender plants are folded over in stiff bunches after a few nights just below freezing, despite the afternoons well into the 70’s. The park is both asleep and awake, with winter blossoms looking out upon neighbors curled tight in stiff brown and yellow. The knocking, therefore, makes me think of something hesitating at a familiar door. Are you there yet? Are you ready?

Spring in this part of Texas, just north of the coastal plains, is a twin season—a mild winter twin in long sleeves and shorts playing hide and seek with winter and a warm summer twin in a ponytail and short sleeves shading herself briefly against the coming heat. Perhaps winter is knocking among the pines, reminding the mild twin that she’ll be soon be found and it will be winter’s game for a few more days.

The high knocking and the rustling of birds in the underbrush around me sets my brain whirling. This trail leads to the pond just down a path in the open woodland just before me and I decide to keep going. Perhaps part of me is encouraged by the sight of a family taking up the path that leads to one of the formal gardens and the pathway to the parking lot. A young boy howls a no! as his mother tries to pose him for another photo. The picture of her bending towards him and his face pulled up in a shout as he runs, head to the sky and arms flailing would have been a great shot—the boy pulled to action by the day and the park like a kite to the sky.

The path to the pond lies at the back of the bushes that frame the family of photographers and I listen to them arranging poses as I follow it. A few steps in, I discover that they have removed underbrush and trees from a large section of this side of the park. It looks as if the forest had been scooped out and, as I look at it, my year—the plans, the habits—is hollowed out. I should be shocked, but I am lightened. The brush is gone, the trunks that ended in jagged points, the bushes and vines that made one the forest seem to tangle in upon itself, and I can see the chain link fence that marks the edge of arboretum property.

A few trees remain in the open and some kind of clearing equipment is parked on the far edge. There isn’t any indication of new paths or what is planned for this section of parkland. It is all potential, empty of overgrowth. Looking out at it, I feel as if I’m holding January like a bowl in my hand, scoured and ready to be dipped into the year. I am caught and pulled forward.

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