Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dawn at Des Plaines River forest park, near Chicago

The wide, bare flood plain is deep umber in the pre-dawn mist, crusted with dried mud, split with a mosaic of cracks. The wood is silent. My footsteps crush pieces of the mosaic but do not disturb the stillness. I reach the river, flowing but equally silent.

Downstream a single goose utters a low tentative cough. The somber colors of the fresh spring foliage begin to brighten, imperceptibly at first. Then the edges of individual leaves begin to glow, as the low, rising sun pierces the uniformly cropped lower reaches of the forest canopy. Sunlight streaks through and the far side of the river blazes with the dawn.

I walk along the uncluttered riverbank, feeling the river flow next to me. I startle four deer. Their heads pop up simultaneously from foraging for new shoots in the mud. Although they stare, they do not run. I may be out early, but they’re well accustomed to people wandering their domain. I reach the bridge just as a train, briefly breaking the silence, rushes overhead toward downtown Chicago. I can almost feel the silence it leaves behind like a presence in the cool riparian air.

Across the water, the lone goose appears, framed in the arch of a concrete culvert, as if standing guard. Then I see its mate abruptly rise from its hiding place on the dirt bank. I recognize the pair’s one-two attempt to divert my attention from the concealed nest, which likely contains eggs at this time in April.

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