Smaller Adventure

Stephens Creek Natural Area

It’s sunny in the neighborhood today. I head north with my sketchbook. A tiny grocery list is in my pocket because I love to be quaint and today that means walking to the store for my weekly food stuffs. It would be 24 minutes to Fred Meyer by foot if I took Barbur but a stroll along the main thoroughfare sounds like a terrible morning. Besides, I’m short on adventure lately so I take the long route, crossing Barbur to meander through South Burlingame. From the Terwilliger exit the patch of trees along Burlingame park looks like a dense forest. From here in the park I am surprised to find it a thin, scraggly barrier barely veiling the cement wasteland behind it.

I walk past the playgrounds and through the abandoned tennis court at the end of the park then up the hill to Canby street where there is a shrine of various toys and figurines on an ivy covered burm. I’m not drawn to plastic toys even in the spirit of irony and these dolls have become so dirty outdoors they look even more like trash.

I walk down stairs in the hillside and watch a Cooper’s Hawk hunt in a neighbor’s yard across the street. He dives into the ivy but comes up with nothing before disappearing around the backside of the house, each movement so quick it is only the distinct stripes on his tail that confide his identity.

I take another staircase up to Terwilliger and endure several minutes of traffic hell while I cross main streets to get to the store where I engage in the odd practice of selecting my groceries by weight so my book bag won’t be too heavy on the way home. Next time I’m going to wear my backpacking backpack so I can distribute the weight onto my hips and buy more food.

I feel squeamish about becoming impractically idealistic. No one is going to be happy to bag my groceries into a deep outdoor backpack and placing the eggs just right will be an act of unwieldy devotion. In my 20s I refused to buy a car, new clothes or even packaged food. One day I felt I needed some clear tape and it was a moral dilemma. I bought the tape but I’m not sure if I have forgiven myself yet.

At the time I thought I was an inspiration for good stewardship but looking back I believe I was mostly just a grim and neglected relic of my own ideals.

I leave the store out the parking garage and take Bertha Street to Stephens Creek Natural Area. The first time I came here it was dusk. I was on my bike headed home from downtown and more than a little saddle sore. I locked my bike up along Capitol Hill Road and descended toward the creek raising the ire of a large group of crows. I wasn’t sure if this was their rookery or if there was a particularly nutritious dead animal in the park but they were quite vocal about not wanting me around. The dark sprawling branches of willows with their odd, obtuse angles in the dim light enhanced the menace of the crows into a Hitchcock-like scene. I loved it of course.

Now it is midday and there is not a single crow here. There is an Anna’s singing it’s lungs out above, robins hopping about listening for worms, a couple song sparrows calling. The crows are elsewhere, possibly even in my back yard hunting for bugs.

I stop and sketch the brambly woods a bit and head up the trail. I’d planned to take Capitol Hill Road but get sidetracked on a foot path that sashays up the hill through the unmanicured neighborhood. Sometimes dirt, sometimes gravel, sometimes the bend of a narrow paved lane or the cracked pavement at the end of a cul-de-sac, sometimes lined by ivy or cut deeply by run-off the path carries me up the hill by the water tower and back down the other side to Barbur passing blackberries, brambles and disheveled gardens, a wooden cart with wheels sunk in the mud, a tarped boat. There’s an impressive variety of evergreen trees I’m not able to identify along with some fragrant cedars and at least one Doug fir so tall the wind sings through its needles like the ocean.

I arrive home tired and happy to put my groceries away, enamored that I just carried them over a small hill having an even smaller adventure. I don’t have to walk to the store. I have a working car in the driveway full of gas. It’s a privilege for me to indulge my quaint notions of life. I think of it like a shrine I built to a simple, slower and possibly fictional time when people weren’t cogs in a fast moving economy. If I don’t maintain this shrine it will get overgrown with ego. I will start walking to the store grim in the notion that it’s the right thing to do, that everyone else should too.

Crows at Stephens Creek Natural Area

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