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Leaning Sycamores: Natural Worlds of the Upper Potomac


     “Far ahead, as you round a bend in the river, a creature stands still on a gravel bar. The dawn light is dim, the ground fog lingers, and your sense that it is living fades, for a great brownish snag absorbs the immobile outline. It now seems all of a piece and the “creature” but a wooden illusion. But your boat drifts nearer, and the simultaneous cocking of a slender head and rotation of an upright, mitten-size ear, together as distinctive as a dog’s wagging tail, confirm your first impression. The chestnut doe then stiffens and completes her stare, faintly lifts her tail, and merges with casual grace, a few mincing steps at a time, back into the bankside forest. The little pang comes afterward, in the moment just past parting, when you recall the doe’s frugal movements and dignified silence and you savor that sense of fleeting beauty which is the true taste of wildness.”

     “On some fundamental level I see the songbird cacophony of April and May as a clamor of unreason, out of sync with analysis and the world of measurable events. It is an undertone of confusion, a nonsense tune on the rim of sleep, a layered lullaby of birdways, of life just beyond full focus. No one can fathom its profligate discharge, its ephemeral tease of opulence, and perhaps no one should try. Its tremors concuss some placid film, disturb some fluid cushion around the soft gray matter of reality, and induce hallucination. The Potomac sprites we call warblers are goads to the verifiable, abraders of smooth-edged reason, tormentors of the knowing and known, gremlins defying the clerics of science and the hoarders of concrete data…
     First there were profligate discharges in the spring of man’s existence, fluxing constellations against a darkened sky, things he could not name or know or plausibly absorb, ripples on the film that cushioned his reality, subliminal abrasive dream tones beyond the range of reason.”



     "Thus it continues — the huge ephemeral pageant of the upper Potomac floodplain. It is played out not just week to week and month to month in the blooming schedule of its plants, but decade to decade, century to century, millennium to millennium, on the very ephemera that the plants call home — their seemingly static and immutable beds, their firm plateau moorings of chlorite and schist, quartzite and graywacke, all of them changing, becoming something else, moving this way and that, waxing and waning down the long beach of time like so many tides of stone.

     Nothing stands still by the Potomac. Nothing ever will. Its varied beauty mirrors movement, hinges on the fleeting and flowing, scintillates over time like sunlight on rapids, is a kind of trembling and lifting off the dark stream of the ages, and in passing is a kind of flight."