Monday, April 05, 2010


My grandfather bought this farm 55 years ago. There is a plot of 20 acres where Mill Creek flows under the barbed wire from the cattle ground. Once hardwood forest, then years ago cleared and pastured, now an area of 50 foot locust, orange osage, bur oak, a few big cottonwood. We've cut a fun little mile and a half trail system up and down the creek bluffs. Bluffs is used loosely, we're talking 20-40 foot climbs. This waterway is young. Spring is the time to run there. No itchweed, the bugs aren't out yet, no breeze in the valley is ok when it's 65 degrees.

Blossoms just hinted at on the dogwoods, maples, shrubs in the underbrush I can't name and don't need to today. Sun. I start on the south end, across the creek at a spot where it's only a couple feet wide. Chilly water welcomed after the winter we've had. Short loop around the back section, something enveloping, comforting about skirting through the thickets, no humans to be seen or heard, even if they were, they couldn't see you even from the ridge top. Back across the creek, scramble the muddy hill past the fallen apple tree that doesn't know it has fallen and still gives fruit despite. Around and into the creek bottom where clover is planted for the deer. They die in October. Run this now before it grows to seven, ten feet tall in a few months with the onset of the summer heat.

The train of the valley opens here, a re-entrant, slight but visible if you look, it's where the stream enters the land from the north, valley train running the other way like it forgot for a second where the water was flowing, too late to turn back. Multiflora rose, raspberries, thorns waiting to prick and pierce. Easter was yesterday. Over the fence, soft run through a now green pasture, cattle trails crisscross. Pick one that heads west and follow. The hills roll here, although you wouldn't know it from the road, prairie we have, sometimes rolls if you know where to look for them, if you are patient enough to understand what you've found.

A lightning bolt shape, the creek bed here. Most trees stripped long ago by hands I can't be angry at, now a few osage the only sentries. Up the hill and scale the gate. Fields, field edge. The valley widens out into wooded bramble. Wider still, expanding, a Gordian Knot complication of underbrush, trees, another world away from the one down the dirt road. Around the serpentine contour of the bean field. Cut into the knot on a slight game trail. Duck under the branch. Out the other side. Maybe an eighth of a mile wide here. A labyrinth. Nah, you couldn't really get lost, but it feels like it and that's all that matters.

Running. Scrambling. Churning up some loose mud from last night's rain. Mud, yet it doesn't grab at you. The kind of mud that is soft and forgiving on the shoes. It's ok you're here, please don't linger. Around the next bend the woods disappear, the creek narrows, opens up as small prairie streams often do, into really just a ditch, not a creek by any definition we would apply.

Turn and run it again. This time I cut south at the cattle crossing, up the hill behind the old barn. First week of April and the grass is green, so green as to banish gray for a season, that gray that's all we've had for months. That gray. But not today. No pasture here, just woods now, a ford, water only a foot deep here, cross, back on the connector trail that connects the deer, coyotes, me, back from the hardwood forest to my little patch that used to be Oak hardwood forest and now can't be. To the south is a hissing, sounds like a cougar, but can't be. A feral cat? A bobcat? A badger? Don't know. An interesting sound for noontime sunshine, usually relegated to deep night.

Pace quickens slightly up that last slight rise ( I admit it). Back to the four wheeler, water. Only four miles, but renewed. A FreeRun.

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