Making changes with the land

“The world around us doesn’t change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

I was considering that Henry David Thoreau quote early the other morning while I leaned against one of the old oaks down by our springs that feed the beginnings of Timber Creek. My purpose for being there on a chilled late-November day had to do with hunting whitetail deer but, as usual, my mind was drifting to and fro about this and that with every rattle of the oak’s dry copper leaves in the breeze.

Old Henry’s ideas about simplifying make sense to me sometimes more than others. Of one thing I’m certain, though: I’m sold on his notion of spending simple time reflecting about our basic connections with the land, whether it be a place like his beloved Walden or our beloved Eimon Ridge and Timber Creek Valley.

I was mindlessly looking at the dull khaki grass across the valley, adding a little more context to my considerations about Thoreau’s idea about things not changing. The grass had changed greatly since I’d last really paid attention to it, previously filled with lush green and waltzing to summer breezes’ rhythms; that November morning it stood as rigid as the oak’s limbs and as brittle as an old barn’s windowpanes.

The water bubbling from the spring and gargling its way into the creek is chilled even on the hottest of summer’s dog-days; I knew without touching the water that it was even colder in the November air within moments of leaving the temperature-controlled hiding place within the ridge’s soul.

Perhaps some things change after all, I was thinking. The changes might be in a different context to what Thoreau was thinking, but I started to picture the ever-cycling changes we know on our soils across this countryside.

Light already had opened the eastern sky to the new day, and my contentment had been in seeing the azure above to make that day brighter than the cloud- and haze-covered dreariness we’d known in the days previous. The sunrise seemed at first to otherwise be bringing nothing of special note.

And then, all changed about that very morning.

The change started with a small line hinting pink – and then red – over some of that khaki grass on the ridge across the creek. The line slowly stretched wider, and with the ease of a paint-roller in slow motion the real sunrise turned the dulled grass into a kaleidoscope of reds Monet couldn’t have matched.

The morning had kicked over a five-gallon pail of red paint, and it was swathing its own paths across each of the land’s contours.

I could feel my eyes opening as the color spread across the grass. I wouldn’t have noticed right then if the grandest of whitetail bucks could have been standing within feet of me; I wouldn’t have cared. No living creature could have been as spectacular as the sunrise’s outside-the-lines coloring project.

When I thought nothing could have made for a better scene, I caught notice of a twinkle in a creek-bottom birch tree of which I’d made little note before that moment. That little twinkle of light reflecting from a couple of the tree’s highest limbs started spreading down the tree, the sun creating a whitened torch standing among the ever-darkened and leafless tag alder brush.

The tree continued to bright from top to bottom, a beacon agreeing to stand vigil with me over nature’s creativity.

And then, the light reached the birch’s lowest branches and lit red firelight to a bush below.

A short gasp escaped from my chest. Had I been so in awe of the sunrise’s performance art that I’d momentarily stopped breathing? If that was the case, it wouldn’t have been the first time that happened to me while my heart feasted on the northern Driftless Area’s natural art.

The day having gotten into its fullness, I slid down against my oak to think more about what I’d witnessed and what Thoreau had written.

Thoreau was wrong and Thoreau was right, I decided. Things around us – at least out here around our Eimon Ridge – are in constant change. And, so are we.

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