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The meadow

By Denis Jenssen / July 19, 1982



We've walked in the meadow for ten years. He is a schnauzer, called Boaz, one of my two dearest friends. We walk in the meadow for many reasons. There is the exercise, but that's only part of it. There is the fact that Bo reverts to a wholesome dogginess. It is agreed between us that I won't call him out of his doghood, and he won't pull me from whatever I've slipped into. Oh, yes, I also revert to some other way of being in the meadow.

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I'm less of a thinker there, more of a seer, an absorber of the daily changes in the color and fabric of things. This morning, for instance, I noted the sedge was tawny. Yesterday, it was russet. The weather had changed it. A low, grim sky hung over the meadow, sprinkling it, the darkness extinguishing droplets that would have twinkled on seed heads.

Yesterday an owl flew up from a scrub pine. This morning there were no owls, only a kestrel. Every spring and fall a pair of kestrels drops in for a week before continuing their migration. It's hardly a rest for them. Local jays converge to taunt them and spoil their hunting.

Today, our other dearest friend came on our walk. That is a rare event. We do less reverting when he comes along, wanting to be certain that he's also enjoying. A look at the serenity softening his face returns us to our own appreciations.

The meadow has changed in ten years. Despite parkers who invade it at night, it has grown up. In places it looks like a young wood. The pines are responsible. Their seedlings scramble up through low-bush blueberry and sweet fern. Ignoring the borer which attacks their apical meristems, the seedlings obviously mean to be as grand as their parents.

There is a point in the meadow where we stop to admire its span. Bo admires with his nose, testing scents rising from the roots of the bull pine. Those comfortable roots are a favorite rendezvous for loitering humans. Other species choose different spots. I wouldn't know of them if it weren't for Bo. Mostly, I discover who else has been here by footprints - quail, a local cat, a huge raccoon, pheasant, less often every year the fox. We've never met the fox, or the raccoon. We feel we know them, nevertheless.

For instance, we know their favorite routes of passage. There are three paths that lead off from the meadow - lower trail, Allen trail, and Nipmuc trail. Lower trail, our favorite, follows a northwest tangent, descending along Second Division Brook. The barred owl lives beside the brook and has become so used to us, she doesn't move off her eye-level perch when we pass. She does watch our progress, however, to be sure we don't stop. Henry Thoreau caught an ancestor of hers there.

Allen trail comes next, blazed by a local naturalist who loves hair-raising descents on his cross-country skis. Bo and I usually come back up to the meadow from the brook via that trail. So does the snapping turtle in the spring, to lay her eggs in the hot sand at the top.

Nipmuc trail runs off the northeast corner. It alone was there when Bo and I began to walk. It zigzags down to a dirt road that was used in Thoreau's day to carry powder by wagon from the mills on the Assabet. Since the great explosion of 1853, the road hasn't been used commercially. It has lapsed into lovely ruin. Pipsissewa and wild oats deck its margins. In late spring a sweet rhodora, Thoreau's favorite, perfumes the air.

It is the Nipmuc trail the fox and raccoon use. They may cut through the center of the meadow, past the lone, hunched cedar tree, or stick to the perimeter to pick up beetle scents, but they always return to the woods along the oldest route. The Nipmuc trail grows dark soonest. Even in winter, when leaves have emptied from the forest canopy, close-knit pine barely let in sun. In that darkness Bo's behavior reaches into wolfishness. Nothing I say diverts him. I am reduced to leashes for obedience. But, if I can persuade him back along the Powder Mill road to the foot of Allen trail, he'll clamber up to the meadow willingly.

A painting couldn't capture the meadow's tawniness, or the way it shades into gold in the remnant depression of a glacial pool. Not even a photograph could catch the textures of moss fading into lichen, clinging to junipers, poking fingers into broad, bending, woolly swaths of sedge. The sedge, the scrub of blueberry and bay, are like a shetland cloak, only they clothe the undulating earth. Even in the silent down of winter snow, tresses of sedge poke through indomitably to nod in the cold. Its seeds strew the white comforter broken every morning in an ambling line by two sets of prints. Also in spring mud, in summer heat when meadow earth has dried to sand, the steady ones are mine. The intermittent ones, now wide apart and fast, now close and slow, are Bo's. And sometimes there's the third.