Backpacking alone 5 days before my 70th birthday.
Walking down to my campsite in otherwise ordinary woods, pretty enough, a beam of sunlight hits a cluster of neon purple berries on a fruiting American Beauty Bush. What is it doing here?
I skinny-dip in the river to freshen up before bed. No one is around—I am the only camper in a park section that has six sites. At happy hour a small plane flew low over my campsite. I watch it but it doesn’t know I am here. How often does someone else see what we don’t see?
Dusk. The Whip-poor-will starts up. My fire glows. A hornet as big as my thumb comes around while I am waiting for my food to heat. Formidable– black and yellow stripes, whirring louder than a hummingbird and wings beating so hard the ashes of an old fire dance six inches into the air. I watch still as the rock I used to pound my tent stakes and it left.
Supper is finished and coffee waits to be sipped and dunked into with a crisp biscotti. The night sounds increase—one creature after another in turn—the timing of which is part of the infinite wisdom that occasionally honors me with tinkling grace notes.
In the morning I meet an old man fishing pole in one hand, folding chair in the other, on my pre-breakfast walk. Three times he tells me he is 70 and that he is old. I don’t say anything. Finally, I ask what kind of fish he catches— he smiles and says– “Peace and Quiet.” I laugh. Later he apologizes, “I can’t think no more or remember nothing. My wife talks to me all day and it don’t leave me no time to think.” Forty years ago, he tells me, the forest where we are standing was all cow pasture.