In June, purple musk thistles took over the banks of the river, where they attracted the ministrations of skittering swallowtails and slow fat lazy bees that wobbled over the blooms like grumbling, yellow-and-black pom poms. I took pictures because they reminded me of artichoke flowers and I thought they were pretty, although when I looked them up later on the internet, they were described everywhere as a scourge and a pestilence. I understand that it would be horrible to have to clear entire fields of this resilient thistle. I suppose I really shouldn’t like them very much. But I hate being told what to do, so even still, I can’t stop my eyes from taking pleasure in them.
Late in the afternoon, the carp mill about near the surface, feeding on insects. Mostly, they are just the idea of carp all mysterious fin, shape, and shadow but sometimes I can see their open mouths breaking the surface of the water, snapping open and shut like greedy plastic coin purses. Sometimes I hear them leap and splash back into the river like big, slippery bars of soap.
Once there was a turtle, with a blue-green shell, sunning itself on a rock underneath the lookout. It slowly stretched its head to look up at me. When I moved to try and take a closer look back, it slid off the rock into the water, and a spume of silt curlicued up in the water like a silky question mark.
Once I passed a bank of deep grass, where a wild turkey first stuck out its preposterous head, then padded down to the bike path and jogged away pausing to turn around and look back at me for a moment before resuming its jogging down the asphalt path.
Sometimes, there are talcum-powder-soft toads that lightly plop about along the same bike path.
Swallows’ nests are stuck up in the crevices of the bridge’s underpass like gum under a desk, and the swallows also fly up inside the bridge itself through structural metal piping. When they swiftly disappear up into one of the metal tubes, they almost look as if they’re being sucked up into a vacuum cleaner attachment.
Once, in the old riverbed underneath the suspension bridge, where oyster mushrooms unfold themselves like ivory fans on fallen tree trunks, and the hoof prints of deer send mixed messages regarding direction, I found a foot-long earthworm, damp coils gently pulsing in the shade. What rhythms, I wonder, does it answer to? Does its unconscious rippling open and close to the same magnetic metronome that makes our own hearts open and close? Why doesn’t it find its own largeness, its raw vulnerability, more disturbing?
Once, a Painted Lady butterfly Painted Ladies are always friendly landed on my hand and decorated my skin like a bright, three-dimensional tattoo for over a mile. She uncoiled her sharp tongue, clever as a coat hanger, to taste the salt on my skin, and when the wind blew, I could feel the tiny pincer grips of her feet dig in so that even as her wings riffled in the breeze, she held fast, until we finally parted ways before crossing the suspension bridge.
On the bridge, there is a message. Someone has written:
If I can’t be
with her I’ll
be there for her
I’ll wait forever.
And, if one is traveling away from me (or perhaps coming my way, but only if one insists on looking in the rear-view mirror), there are even meta-narratives on the street signs.
No one likes to be told what to do. But still, it’s hard to stop the eyes from reading, isn’t it?
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