Stopping by Woods on a Black Fly Infested Summer Day

Such is life.

Posted Aug 06, 2017

County Park/Seaburn
Source: County Park/Seaburn

It was hot when I pulled into the parking lot. Breezy, too. The air and the armada of puffy clouds would offset the heat and humidity. Walking in the park would be perfect. I parked by one of the many trails that crisscross the 1,500 acres that once was an orchard. There are five trails to choose from, each defined by a slightly different habitat — Creek Trail, Hickory Trail, Wetland Trail. In the end, which of these trails did I choose? I have no idea.

It was a little more humid than I had anticipated, and I began to perspire immediately, despite the ample shade cast by thickets of hickory and ash and maple trees. Did I mention the insects? There were a lot of bugs. Flying bugs, like mosquitos and black flies. I was amazed at how persistent they were; how much they wanted to tag along, some completely obsessed with the part in my hair (Note to self: wear hat next time).

But it was so beautiful, how could I complain?

I continued along the trail, keeping my eyes peeled for woodland creatures. Maybe I would see a deer. I came to a fork in the road and decided to go left, figuring that if I always turned left, I would complete a circle and be back where I started.  Good to have a solid plan. A few hundred yards later I hit a dead end. Hm. I wanted to go left but there wasn’t a ‘left’ left. So I went back from where I had come and turned right, assuming I would compensate with a few well-considered left turns later, thus staying true to my plan.

Did I mention the insects? Nothing like a hot humid day full of insects. I decided to go full Zen and accept whatever came. I would turn this into an experiment in "walking meditation." With each step I focused on the feel of my foot on the ground, the nuances of nature’s floor. But a black fly flew into my right nostril just as I was about to achieve enlightenment, shattering my concentration. Dammit! I blew my nose on the one tissue I had in my pocket (Note to self: bring many tissues next time).

I came to another intersection. This time there was a sign with 22 carved into it. But no arrows or explanations. I was happy to see evidence of civilization, though—a human being must have stood on this spot and pounded a sign into the ground. Too bad he or she didn’t think to leave a message to explain the meaning of the sign. Hm. I wonder if there are maps somewhere. (Note to self: get map at park office next time) (Note to self: locate park office).

I had stopped perspiring. Now I was sweating. Profusely. Did I mention the swarming insects?

At the next crossroad there was another sign. It said 21. Hm. A sequence. Meaning what? I was committed to turning right now. Off I went. I looked up through the trees, limbs waving lazily. There were delicate white flowers in the grass (I’ll bet they had names!). There was a rotting fallen tree leaning precariously against a massive hickory. Beyond them was the pond, the water motionless in the heat. I had yet to meet anyone on my journey.

It had rained the day before, so there was mud. Lots of mud. Something rustled through the tall grass. I never saw what it was, but I was glad it didn’t kill me. Perhaps the black flies had warned every other living thing to stay away; I belonged to them and them alone.

Along I went, now unable to turn left or right. The path was straight and clear for a while. I breathed easy and stopped to listen to the quiet, which was punctuated by bird sounds and rustling leaves. I smiled. And then swatted a mosquito (Note to self: large can of insect repellent next time).

Several hundred yards later, the slope on the left side of the trail began to deepen. Below was a slow moving muddy creek with tree limbs suspended over it. Ahead I heard splashing. A young man was tossing a Frisbee into the creek and his Labrador was diving into the water to retrieve it. I stood for a long moment, watching. The young man turned to me and smiled. I waved and nodded my appreciation for his beautiful dog.

I walked on, waving my arms over my head, hoping this might scare off the insects. It didn’t.

I stopped again to watch a mother smiling at her three kids as they waded in the shallows.

The path arced dramatically to the right (I knew turning right was the thing to do!) and soon I was in a grassy field, a man walking toward me studying the camera in his hands. We nodded and smiled and each went our own way.

In a few minutes I was back in the parking lot. I turned around and looked across the open field to the tall trees which hid the pond and the creek and the path. I thought how beautiful it was and how much I loved walking there.

Hm. Kind of like life. I go out, thinking that I have a plan that will see me through to my destination, only to discover that my plan is inadequate, that the map in my mind does not match the territory at my feet. I hit dead ends, impossible jumbles ahead of me. I go forward, nevertheless, wandering, trying to figure out which direction to go. I see signs and symbols along the way, but I often don’t understand what they mean. I am anxious and annoyed by the miniscule obstacles that consume my attention and my time. I swat at them, but I can’t get rid of them.

I keep going. In spite of myself, I notice a tree, the breeze, mud at my feet, tree limbs swaying, a brown creek, my chest rising and falling rhythmically, and the quiet at the center of it all. I have to stop because it requires my attention. Then I go on, lost again, but feeling my way. I meet a person here, a person there, who are welcoming, who are engaged in things that are meaningful to them. I am buoyed by this. And encouraged. Soon I am overwhelmed by minutiae again. But I stay on the path for the path’s sake, slowly understanding that the end point is nowhere near as important as the walk itself. (Note to self: keep a sense of humor all the time.)

David B. Seaburn is a writer. His latest novel, Parrot Talk, is available at . Seaburn is also a retired marriage and family therapist, psychologist and minister.