Sunday, January 6, 2013


I have always preferred my new year to take its first conscious breath quietly, as if waking up from a nap on a cold afternoon rather than with a newborn scream or a bang of fireworks. It has been my custom for as long as I can remember to wander the woods or marsh on the first of 365 new days, a place where I can sense the world in a suspended state, breathing deeply through the ripples in the water and the wind rustling Autumn's leftover leaves.

In the past, when my children were young, we would take a New Year's Day stroll to a beloved haunt from my childhood and theirs called Stanley Park where there were acres of enchanted woods to explore. When we relocated to the Outer Banks in the 90s, our New Year's walk took place on Bodie Island, wandering the trails and contemplating the water in the creeks and sound. But as children tend to do, my boys grew up and chased their own dreams. Three became two, and then there was one. So now I tuck my memories into my field bag along with my sketchbook and pencils, wondering if my children still celebrate the arrival of the new year with nature playing a supporting role.

Bodie Island has always been my "go to" place to welcome in the new year, but with sorely neglected trails, due to lack of funding I'm guessing, making them impassable, I decided to head to a new flirtation, Sandy Run Park. This year the weather has been so unpredictable I didn't wait for New Year's Day but took advantage of a clear afternoon and one son agreeing to accompany me on a short foray on Christmas Eve. And on New Year's Eve I was lured back knowing that New Year's Day would be spitting raindrops.

The empty boardwalk echoed with our footsteps in the winter-whisper quiet. Even the few people we encountered nodded and passed in a hush, lost in their own reflections and hopes. The Yellow Bellied Sliders and Painted Turtles no longer crowded the water near the walkway waiting for handfuls of popcorn or cereal or bread. They have muddied down, spending their days and nights dreaming of spring and turtle love. Hiding places in snags and fallen logs now appear with no illusions, stripped bare and exposed, open to the raw winds now that the surrounding foliage has lost its grip and plunged to the ground. Two pairs of Mallards found safety on the back pond, hiding from the duck hunters that now work the marshes.
I became intrigued by the Bald Cypress knees, more visible in the stagnant water now that the reeds and grasses are past their prime. The knees grow up from the roots of the trees, popping through the murky water like creatures from a Tolkien tale. Some believe these projections help to bring needed oxygen to the root system though there is no concrete evidence of that. More likely is the theory that these knees act as a stabilizer for the tree itself.

I saw very little in the way of feathers, fur or scales besides the ducks and an occasional hawk overhead. But by using all my senses I could detect life all around me. I could feel small creatures watching and waiting for me to pass by, and I heard rustling in the grasses. Enormous circles appeared in the still water where something had splashed, and shadows flitted in and out of the tightly packed trees. Everyone is still here. They are just being quiet and reflective, like me.

"One regret, dear world, that I am determined not to have when I am lying on my deathbed is that I did not kiss you enough."   -   Hafiz


  1. I always try to get out to the woods now around New Year's. This year it was Shallow Ford, my own mid-NC Bodie Island.