Absence

The sun was blinding as I wandered down a dirt trail in River Park North.  Its light touched my skin like a mother’s reassuring hand, but it lacked its familiar warmth.  Ahead, I spotted an old wooden bench in between two ponds and decided to rest and observe the park from there.

In front of me, the water from the ponds was strikingly blue with streaks of green.  The beautiful surface hid Nature’s secrets like a mask, covering the scars of pollution.

Towering above me, the trees were stripped of their chlorophyll-filled glory days, their rough bark puncturing the sand from which they grew, and their claws tearing at the skies.  They symbolized the harshness, the barrenness of winter.  They symbolized loss.

Just behind me, a single bird was chirping.  Its chirp was not ongoing, nor did it hold the harmony of a happy song.  Its chirp was short, high-pitched, and periodic, as if to ask, “Are there any survivors?”  Why hadn’t the bird flown farther South for the winter, where Nature was still surrounded by relative warmth?

The animals, unlike me, cannot be fair-weather fans of Nature—they are here through the brutally cold winters, the torrential downpours, the droughts and the wildfires and the pollution that threaten their very existence.

The woods wore only the dull browns and grays of winter, but the hopes of care-free spring days were painted in the blue tones of the sky and the water above and below me, as if the sky and the water were holding all of the woes of the woods together in a giant sandwich.

10 feet away from the blue ponds of promise? Three cigarette butts stomped into the ground.  Mankind’s threat—“We’ll do what we want.”

The sun continued to shine down on me, shine down on the park bench, shine down on all of the trees and on the glistening water, but there was an absence of heat.  I hated being so terribly cold when I was merely half a mile from a heated building.  I could not concentrate on anything but the tingling of my toes and the numbing of my nose, the slow burn of icy hands. But that is why I am not wild.  Very shortly, I will march off to a heated building, and the plants and the animals will carry on.  Maybe if I could tough it out, I would grow strong bark like the trees or thick fur like the squirrels.

I heard voices and turned around to face the opening of the trail.  Approaching me were two small girls, a puppy, and their father.  The two girls ran in between the ponds and down the trail, laughing and picking up rocks—“Daddy, daddy! Look at this!”  They didn’t care about the cold—they were smiling and playing in spite of it.  Their father, however, had a face of stone, callous from the cold and weathered from the wind.  He appeared to feel no emotion toward the barren park, but he watched his girls carefully, as if recalling a time when he, too, used to find joy in being in the woods.  Eventually, they disappeared down the trail.

Alone once again, I could not help but fixate on the electric cords dangling above the water, the crumpled sunflower seed wrapper hiding among the crunched leaves.  Because when I’m bitterly cold, I’m bitterly critical about the way things have turned out—whether I have control over them or not.

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