Arboretum Walk by Irene Aspell, volunteer

I had just returned from my weekly walk at the arboretum. The walk actually happens a lot more often when I have less to do in the rest of my life. The average works out to about once a week the year round which seems to be a good average for me to be out walking. These visits allow me to catch sight of the ephemeral changes to the woods and fields that one doesn’t see on less frequent visits. Today held some remarkable things and I wanted to share them with others whose visits might have missed them.

My usual route takes me around the south meadow as a gentle warm-up before traversing any hills or entering the cooler woods. I put a little speed into this lap since the walking is easy and unless some creature is disturbed by my tread it’s a very peaceful few minutes. The smell of the outdoors always rises up to meet me, not that I am stirring any debris since I am careful to walk on the path. The meadow itself has a scent that differs with the season, today in the light rain it looks past it’s summer prime but the many stems and leaves still breathe their essence into the world. I try not to miss this subtle perfume.

When crossing the first bridge that travels into the woods, I walk on the golden maple leaves strewn across the boards. The surface was the tiniest bit slippery so I probably studied the leaves more acutely than usual since they had potential hazards about them. What I saw was a luscious covering on the most mundane of crossings. This time the bridge was not just a crossing to get to the other side or to lean over and study the water underneath but the transit was an occasion in itself. The leaves seem painted onto the surface by the touch of the rain’s brush.

My favorite path veers off to the left and follows the wandering water down a slight slope near the muscular tulip trees that loan their leaf’s visage to the arboretum’s hats and other goods. The path underfoot here is cushioned by wood chips applied by the staff. I can only assume the reason for doing this is to make it easier for a walker or jogger with a touch of age-related gait. As a former runner I appreciate this touch and on a good day can feel accomplished if I manage a little jog along this pathway enjoying the forgiving surface and the newfound spring in my gait.

This route crosses many small bridges that zigzag through the woods and that is where the next sight stopped my progress. After the late summer’s dry spell it’s a good omen that water is being added to the stream. Even with the rain falling, there still isn’t much flow to the small stream but it has helped sink some of the nearby leaves to the sandy bottom. Still afloat are many others that both hide and reveal the sunken trove of leaves below. These leaves will eventually leak their tannin into the stream and turn it a well-brewed tea color. The resident frogs who normally float or sink in this spot have already burrowed into the banks ready for the weather that is coming and I will miss them till they reappear in the warm spring.

The woods and fields loaded with their season’s scent can be suggestive of summer or fall or any season or moment in time. Summer with it’s roses and viburnum has an entirely different vocabulary of smells. You just need to be there and be open to whatever nature has in store for that day.

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