Today was a beautiful day, much too nice to stay in and code, though the coding goes well. I had forgotten whether my legs could still work, so thought I would take them out, give them a run. Walk. I also thought I would add another notch to my water mill picture belt, and today’s Mill was Dillard, in the northern Ozarkian territory.
An hour or so out of St. Louis I took the turn for Highway 19, and headed into the Ozark countryside. As always happens when I go on one of these trips, when I first enter the foothills and feel the twisted trees and the even more twisted iron in the soil, I experience a moment of melancholy and sadness. It’s not as if the area is dismal or shadowed or of any kind of character to bring these emotions forth. The vista is usually vast fields of bright green, with red or weathered gray barns, and fat and happy cows; cut here and there by sparkling clear and colorful rivers, streams, and creeks. Or it’s wild rock and forest, and today’s forest was filled with bright purple and pink blooms in and among the cream and pale green of flowering dogwood.
No, it’s not the surroundings that causes these moments of quiet reflection, and what comes to mind changes with each trip.
One time I’ll think about friends who aren’t as close as they once were, and I regret the distance, and the loss of intimacy. In these moments of clarity, if I look closely, I’ll most likely see my fingerprints on the pick that broke the ground between us. Not the only set, usually, but they’re there.
Other times, I’ll think on when I’ve been unkind or peevish with my pets; actions I regret each time I’m reminded, because I’ve only ever received unconditional love from each of them. Oh I was never cruel or mean–just distracted at times and neglectful, or stressed and short tempered and I would yell at the cat or dog to “Give me some space!”
“Give me some space.” “Give me space”, does not give you solitude. “Give me some space”, does not give you peace. More importantly, animals, small children, and other people who love us do not understand, “Give me some space!”
Today, though, I thought on the squirrel I hit and killed my last time into the Ozarks — a little guy who ran out in front of my car before I could stop. He ran into the road and then froze, half way; I started to hit the brake, realized I couldn’t stop in time and tried to steer around him. At the same moment, he ran again, right under my front right tire. I felt the thump, which surprised me because he was such a small creature. Really not much bigger than my hand.
I spilled some water as libation for the gods today, in memory of that squirrel.
But enough of this wet and silly reflection, well, other than the reflection of the wet waters off the Mill, and the silly goose that got all ruffled when I intruded into his (or her) space. The goose who actually contemplated chasing me before I tapped, hard, on the ground with my walking stick–I’ll spill water for you, you silly twit, on my next trip if I must but I won’t be chased by a goose. I may be a push over for my cat at home, but a woman has to draw a line and say, “I’ll be pushed this far, but no farther, bird.”
Dillard Mill is lovely–not as nice as Alley Spring, but still a pleasant jaunt. I need to start arriving earlier in the day, though, as the water side is always in shadow at these mills when I arrive. It’s difficult to get pictures, but I managed one or two. Or three. The water was low enough that I was able to walk around on the river bed, looking for trout fingerlings. Like other rivers in the Ozark Scenic River district, the waters are crystal clear, and extremely pure — not having been polluted by industrial waste, or even runoff from the nearby farms.
Well, mostly pure. I still wouldn’t drink it. Remember, though, when we would walk in the woods by a cool stream and would stop and cup water in our hands to drink? Do you remember the slightly metallic flavor and the bite of the cold against our teeth? And how good it tasted on a warm, dusty day?
Now we don’t know the taste of water that hasn’t been filtered, refined, and stored in plastic. Of course, we also don’t have to run to the bathrooms, quickly, after drinking this water, either. Yeah, I remember that, too.
I spent a couple of hours exploring the mill and being chased by flies and wasps, all the while attempting to find the first ticks of the season–watched carefully the entire time by the goose. It’s times like this that I am ever so glad that we humans are the superior animal on this planet. I’d hate to think what would happen if we weren’t.
When I headed home, it was warm enough to drive with the window down, which gave me a better view of the birds flying in and out of the grasses and bushes by the side of the road: blue jays and bluebirds, cardinals, woodpeckers, and the golden hues of the various birds of prey. I couldn’t see much of them, just a flashes forming ribbons of color among the green of the plants. Nature’s neon: colorful birds and a fast car.
If I enter the Ozarks feeling sad, I always leave feeling good. Thoughtful maybe, but good. It’s as if my past guilts, current cares, and future worries are a skin I can scrape off against the mountain rocks and leave by the side of the road; a pile of scaled debris to mystify passerby. It’s magic, really.