By the Alouette

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A large heron lifts from the river’s edge. He flies low, an angular cut against the bright blue sky and then dips below the level of the tall river grasses into a secluded pool. Here it is, the height of summer. The height of grasses. The pathways are overgrown to the point where a single person can hardly pass, edged with wild eglantine, the true rose; with blackberry encroaching, with small shrubs tipped by fluffy pink flowers.

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Coming towards me are two dogs. One is small, wiry white one with a black patch on his eye and a small Shepherd cross, both dripping from an early morning swim. Their masters follow, shading their eyes from the hammering sun, apologizing for the liquidity of their dogs.

Last night, Mrs. Stepford declined the offer to accompany me on a walk saying, “Let’s go early in the morning. I’d like to walk. How about leaving at seven.”
I’m not normally a morning person but this hot weather is not conducive to sleep. At six o’clock, Soleil had been up a few hours and  is shining through my windows, laughing at my sleeplessness.  So this morning, bright an early, I bathe in cool waters before I  get ready for our walk.

It’s seven thirty. Mrs. Stepford was going to telephone by seven to make sure I was up but the phone is silent. It is I who phones.

“Are you ready?”

“Heaven’s no. I’m just awake. I don’t think I’ll go. I’m too sleepy. Besides, I have to call the computer contractor at nine.”  So I go alone.

The parking lot is empty of all but a half dozen early cars. Once I’m atop the first rise of the dike, the lagoon spreads before me like a sheet of glass, reflecting back-lit trees. There’s not a ripple. The lily pads form a contrapuntal perspective of overlapping round shapes.

There’s not a person to be seen. I’m in paradise alone. A dragonfly zooms by, a little moth flutters over the grasses, birds are discussing the quality of their early breakfast and deciding where best they can shelter from the coming heat. In the background, I can hear the steady drone of an excavator. It’s towards this yellow machine that I make my way through the overgrown path. I want to see what Mammon is up to in Eden.

It lifts its jaws and swings about, lowers its voracious head and snaps up a rotted chunk of log, tosses it high in the air and deposits it high up on the embankment. Once again it swings, grabs a mouthful to be spit out in the pile of waste accumulating on the verge. Were it not that brilliant orange and growling steadily with its industrial motor, one might think it was some prehistoric dinosaur grazing in the marsh.

That was a rather short path, so I return. A woman wearing logger-shirt plaid is tossing a Frisbee into the lagoon for her Labrador dog. The water spreads with liquid ripples. Something is un-Labrador-like with this dog. He gazes up at her as if waiting for something. He won’t go in the water.

We chat.

“No,  the dog won’t bother me as long as he doesn’t jump.”

“Did you notice the water lilies?”

“When I came by half an hour ago, they were all closed up  Now they are fully open,  white, pristine.”

“Funny, heh?”

Then I start my usual walk. A kilometer out and the same back, up to Neames Road. There are a few more walkers now. A woman with two children in a stroller is jogging at a slow pace. Another comes in a long running stride towards me dressed in black shorts and a halter top. She is tall, bronzed and fit. Her hips alternate forward as if driven by an inner clockwork. The light falls on her deliciously. If only figure drawing classes could capture all that aliveness!

The morning light is so different from the evening light. It’s about at the same angle but lights things from the opposite side. I stop and take pictures and then get serious about the walking. I’ve been a slackard on that account lately with excuses of visitors and seasonably high heat, but I’m missing the serotonin fix and energy that I get from the exercise.

I watch more Great Blue Herons squabbling in the sky, one chasing another away. A lone heron sticks out of the top of a tree, a sentinel.  It must be a territorial thing.  Here down on the path way, two small dogs face off with a heavy set German Shepard, but it’s all friendly posturing, it seems. Tails wag. Sniffing rituals begin. More territory.

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On my way back, there are more runners, more mothers with children in strollers, more dogs.  By the parking lot entrance, there is a single thistle plant in bloom, their furry pink Busby hats capped with a tiny butterfly decoration. It made my day, and it’s only nine in the morning!

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