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  • Many thanks to you, Cowbirders, for still being here after my long absences. My plate gets quite full during the school year!


    We were on our way back from the fleur-de-lis city of Florence, Alabama. About an hour outside of Nashville, I was starting to get restless. I do that when I’ve been sitting too long, and even the beautiful scenery of the Natchez Trace Parkway wasn’t enough to keep me pacified. I needed to move, to walk, to “shake a leg,” as my father would say when he wanted us to hurry.

    My riding companion, Don, had consulted a map and planned to stop at the Meriwether Lewis Park, which houses the grave of this important explorer and appropriately, has hiking paths nearby. Don is a history buff. When we got out of the car he wanted me to check out the small museum, but oh no. Now that I had a chance to stretch my legs, I did. I strode across the grassy field toward the broken column that served as a monument for Lewis. I didn’t slow down to consult the writing on the pedestal but angled off onto what looked like a path through the woods. It was the Old Trace.

    Don told me the Natchez Trace was originally used by Kentucky whiskey runners transporting their goods to New Orleans, and an accompanying number of highwaymen camped out to advantage themselves of a season’s work on their return. It was daylight and the tufted titmice were singing out with such pride of possession in their knob oaks and shag hickories it was doubly offensive to imagine something sinister happening here.

    Thanks to the map, Don pointed out a foot trail that branched off from the Old Trace, and we cut through the sun-dappled woods. Springtime and the air not yet a curtain of humidity, we made fast work of the trail. Though the park was crowded with what appeared to be a church group come to hide Easter eggs in the park, no other travelers had set out on the trail we had to ourselves.

    Don pointed out local flora—spring beauties and dwarf crested irises, trillium and stellaria—a tiny white flower with the terrible common name of stitchwort. He is perhaps more conscious of the implications of language than the average scientist given the influence of his English teacher and literature-loving mother.

    The trail ended at Swan Creek. Though the map appeared to pick up on the other side, we found it overgrown enough not to want to traverse it without long pants—but I noticed the creek was fed by a gradually sloping waterfall. We held our shoes in hand and crossed the creek to it. The water was cool, but warmer than I expected, considering the winter was long and it was only April. The creek bed was slick with a layer of algae, but I kept to a seam lined with pebbles for traction. Don stayed low and stepped carefully, the water giggling by us modern humans remembering how to meet the elements cautiously, with a bit of reverence. Sans grippy aqua shoes or rubber soles, the pads of our feet tingled with signals, firing synapses to keep us upright.

    The waterfall was laid out in graded steps perfect for walking. How can I describe that after being in a car for hours, it felt like we’d slipped into an alternate dimension where the planet had never been developed, never lost its little tucks of paradise. The word was not too much. Paradise! This stream bed could bear such a claim. Lined with miniature conch shells snails had discarded, the water rippled. Time slowed and stretched out immeasurably. I knelt and reached my hand to that shining surface and stopped—my palm outstretched above the water, not wanting to disturb its pattern, thinking if only I could protect it from hydrofracking just by stopping the hand.

    There is a seventeen second video of the streambed that I posted, if you'd like to see/hear the ripples.
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