Today the corn is new, no higher than my knee, and at this height it has a special color: luminous green under the overcast sky. The clouds are thick and dark, like a stew. For some, this place might seem always the same: the corn growing, the looming mountain, the lone trees far off across the fields still and silent, punctuating the view. But for me there is always something to see.
As a youngster, in the youth magazine of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England, I read that adopting a single place, and learning it in all its moods, can teach a naturalist as much as constant travel. Everywhere I live I seek out such a place, and by observing quietly try to find new things each time.
On my journey in, I found several small but engaging items. First: a field-full of orange day lilies, exuberant, impossibly abundant. I don’t know who planted them in that empty grassy stretch alongside the sewage treatment plant, or if they established themselves of their own volition. But they filled the slope of the grassy expanse with brilliant orange. Soon, too, I noticed that all around my feet slithered little snails no larger than a penny. Their shells were a thin translucent brown, and their tan bodies, outstretched from the shell, bore pretty dark stripes up to their eyestalks. Some had been crushed against the dirt drive on which I stood. I berated myself for likely causing the death of one or two of those delicate beings.
Arriving then in the corn fields I discovered myself not the only bicycle to have braved their expanses. Along the border of the woodland by the fields, near the intersection of two paths, a green mountain bike sat pertly. No lock protected it. I paused, stared for a moment. Then I withdrew my cell phone and took a picture. I was intrigued by how it sat there, its owner seemingly vanished into thin air, the woods too thick and laden with poison ivy to be penetrable, the fields empty of any apparent human shape.
A sudden voice broke the stillness. “Hard to spot against the woods like that, en’t it?”
I startled, peered to find where on earth the voice had come from. Just at the join of the two dirt roads, one traveling alongside the woods and the other toward the fields, a thick copse of trees and brush had grown. Between the leaves, I spotted the grinning face of a long-bearded scruffy gentleman, peering out from a seating place within the greenery.
“Oh, there you are!” I said. “I wondered who left their bicycle.”
“I leave it there because no one sees it,” he said, a note of pride in his voice. He was sitting on a stump, tapping away on his cell phone.
“A good idea,” I said.
I smiled, and nodded, and began to bicycle away. But soon I paused, and thought. I wheeled back. “I took a picture of your bicycle,” I said to him. “May I take one of you?”
He shrugged and looked doubtful. But nevertheless he said, “Sure.”
I am always too shy to approach closely, to invade people’s space in that way. If ever I want to take better photos I must learn to be braver, bolder, less polite, and yet perhaps, through all that, more friendly. I took a quick shy photo of him among the brush from the path, still perched on my bicycle. And indeed he was worth photographing, with his long brushy ZZ Top beard, his sunglasses and printed black t-shirt and wrinkled hands, one laid on his knee, one clutching his phone. He looked like a lanky forest gnome. I should have asked him for three wishes.
Naila Moreira’s journalism, nature essays, and children’s nonfiction have been published in The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, Science News, The CommonOnline, and other venues.
Photo by author.