A mild January day is a gift any time but on New Year’s Day it seems a good omen. Most every January 1 my Dear One and I go walking, partly to allow the miasma of rich meals, welcomes prepared, and emotions charged to dissipate, mostly to regain the sense of us that we feel when wrapped in the quiet of some corner of Nature. One-One-Two Thousand and Twelve was about perfect, about 50 degrees, not much in the way of a breeze, sun squinting between patches of cloud.
The goats of Robin Hood Road were relaxing on the far side of the field when we pulled up, but curiosity pulled them over to the fence as I called out good wishes and waved apples and ears of corn. They’re an amiable lot, and friendly—well, greedy. Big Billy seems to exert leadership but there is no obvious hierarchy, perhaps because they’re moving from long in the tooth to toothless.
We drove into Susquehanna State Park along Deer Creek, which is flowing briskly and wide these days, last year’s hurricanes Irene and Lee having swept away brush and deeply undercut the banks on both sides. We parked across from the restored flint furnace where the town of Stafford existed until the last resident left in 1904. The old cast-iron bridge was replaced long ago by a sturdier and more modern bed on concrete on steel—although not so long ago that the original has been erased from living memory.
It is a favorite spot. A wide trail curves through the woods, occasionally arcing close to the river, at other times cutting nave-like through the forest. Once we surprised a stag—or perhaps he surprised us. We spend a fair amount of time in the Park yet we do not see deer. Squirrels, certainly, and the occasional chipmunk, and lots of birds, but no deer and certainly not in herds like those we watch from the comfort of the our deck. This young monarch of the glen bore a substantial crown and regarded us with some disdain as he vaulted up the hill and out of sight.
There were others there that afternoon. A couple walked tiny dogs, he a chihuahua, she a miniature dachshund. Athletes jogged past and a fellow on a mountain bike wheeled through the brush into the road. We shook our heads. Sure it’s legal, sure it’s a good thing to be out on a bicycle enjoying some exercise, but mountain-bikers wreak such havoc on delicate ground, ripping through moss and wildflowers, gouging ruts into the dirt.
The brook that runs alongside Stafford Road had grown during the wet autumn and a series of small cataracts marked its merge with Deer Creek. I creep down the slope, clinging to the squared-off rocks that act as a retaining wall below the furnace, so I can get closer. The water is so clear, heavy as lead crystal, as it sheets over granite rocks. It is a scene of subtle colors, the pale brown of dead leaves, gray stone, dry green grasses, white and pink gleams of quartz, and moments of blue sky.
We are not far from the creek when I hear an odd sound, not the chatter of stream and rocks but an insistent tapping. Rain? I hold out my hand and a feel nothing, but then I see ripples on the water’s surface and suddenly a drop or two on my cheek. Mother Nature says it’s time to go home and start supper.
I am thinking about a glass of wine, organizing a plan for cocktails and wondering if I need to toss apples and corn out for the deer that seem to think Happy Hour starts around 4:30, when the room filled with reflections from the setting sun. Rain and sun? Their sum is rainbow and as I looked into the east I saw it grasping the bare treetops and reaching down, just beyond the edge of the neighborhood.
Welcome the New Year.