It’s warmer today. More people are here, mostly pushing strollers. There’s more animal activity. In the distance, there are sirens. Closer, there are starlings moving in unison, sounding an alarm. I can just see them in the tops of pine across the creek -across the park where the land was graded into steps. Where I used to stare at the sky with my older brother. I’m missing him today. He’s freezing in Brooklyn, I’m still here in Charlotte. Still here, after all these years of hoping I’d be gone, too.
I walk a little ways down the green way, down the dirt trail by the creek. The ground is hard, littered with gum balls from the Sweet Gum trees and the remnants of dead leaves. They’re starting to get spidery and thin. Today, there’s a solitary mallard pair.The male stands guard while the female sleeps, her beak tucked in her wing. There’s a patch of indigo near her tail feathers I never noticed before. The male watches me. I walk on, my feet heavy, my shoulders slouched. I’m tired of the stress of a house in disarray and the pressure of impending work. It’s a struggle to be in the moment. A struggle to keep the panic attack from moving into my chest. I focus on breathing and walking and getting outside my dusty head.
The creek has momentum today.
I walk past a squirrel’s tail. I hope he’s okay and that somehow, I might come across a slightly grouchy bob-tailed squirrel. But that is unlikely.
I find a bench in the sun where the creek curves. Behind me, they have installed what they’re calling environmental art to protect the creek bed from silt, debris, and other pollutants. It looks like a rolled up net of leaves. A snake made of tree remains. Birds are calling all around me. I don’t hear any Carolina Chickadees though I was hoping to finally be able to identify a bird by sound alone. A cardinal lands on an infant cypress, but he doesn’t stay long.
A small squirrel (with tail) runs up the tree next to me. Rather than lower limbs, the tree seems to have only sprouts of limbs, twigs really. They look like twigs sticking out of a snowman. She alights and stops on one that’s barely big enough to hold her. She’s only about twelve feet away. I watch her eat her nut, hold it in her paws, drop pieces of shell, stare in my direction. For a minute or two, she sits and eats. I try not to move. I think about how some people hate squirrels and some find them adorable. I’m usually one of the latter. At least I am until they start digging up bulbs I planted or knocking over bird feeders. She scrambles to the top of the tree. I’m grateful for the moment we spent together.
I walk back toward the car and spot a Carolina Chickadee with a family of Cardinals. I still don’t hear its song.