It’s a beautiful Tuesday at lunchtime, and I need to be outside. I hit up a McDonald’s drive-through and park near the Rock Creek Trail. I eat hurriedly and begin a stroll with rap music incongruously providing a mental accompaniment (I’ve been reading Shea Serrano’s The Rap Year Book). Robins sing and doves coo while squirrels scurry by amid a blanket of lesser celandine and leaf litter. The cover is dotted here and there with purple violets and white spring beauties. I hear the calls of other birds I don’t quite recognize, but I have forgotten my binoculars. One in particular is harsh and low, tantalizing in the middle distance. Squinting and straining, I almost misstep into a pile of deer scat. When I recover and glance down, I spy a water strider gently keeping pace against the slow flow of the stream before me.
A moment later I spot a single bloodroot in bloom on the other side of the path and pause to snap some quick pictures with my phone. A nuthatch scolds me; I accept the criticism and move on. With my shift in perspective more bloodroots and some cutleaf toothwort emerge from the background. A review of my photos tells me I had completely missed a small patch of ground ivy, as well.
As I near the stream’s mouth where it joins Rock Creek proper, a tree hangs perilously over the far bank, its mossy roots exposed and entangled like something Jurassic. Goldfinches and crows punctuate this scene with their starkly contrasting calls.
I turn back, knowing I have little time left to appreciate nature’s masterwork. Either the cacophany or my perception of it intensifies. I pick out a cardinal here, a downy woodpecker there, then suddenly and obviously a pileated woodpecker. Frogs, too, add their voices to the composition. I pause to roll over a log, remembering a handsome garter snake I’d found in this exact spot some months ago. Nothing this time, so I rock the log easily back into place.
During the final steps of my journey, a few less than pleasant thoughts start to creep in: the invasiveness of all that lesser celandine, the casually discarded garbage scattered about the streambed, my need to return to my office in but a few moments. I push them aside, aided by a pair of passing blue jays calling back and forth. “This,” I think. “All of this is life.”