Holy Prairie (aka Ebb and Flow)
by Mark Nielsen March 4, 2010
Same fast walk,
same destination: the FPD prairie conservation area.
Only today I take a different route.
I’m on the fast track to the bridge:
The paved bike path through deciduous woods.
Only this week it’s also paved with six inches
Of snow and ice.
I step carefully,
Looking down as often as out and up,
To keep from falling.
But nothing — not snow or turned ankles
Or the razor’s edge we’re walking
To get the mortgage paid this month,
Nothing! –will keep me from my appointed rounds.
That prairie has a message to deliver,
And I cannot be stopped in my retrieval
And delivery of that message to you.
Two shaggy dogs, one saggy, one spry
Are walking off-leash with a man up ahead.
I catch up to them quickly,
At which point they each give a sniff
(except for the man)
and join me at a trot for a dozen paces
before deciding they’re not in that much of a hurry
and turning back to their master.
Now that I’ve crossed Horse Bridge,
The prairie is not far.
As a natural, unspoiled habitat
This prairie leaves much to be desired—
What with the high-tension power lines along its northern edge
And the commuter train tracks on the west.
But it’s all we’ve got within walking distance,
And it’s somehow managed to stay holy
Despite the trappings of modern mechanical mayhem
That border it on three sides.
I take the second path to the prairie,
Having been distracted by the dogs
When I was passing the first.
So I come out into the clearing
At the northeast corner of the dry, rustling,
Forty acre cathedral.
This puts me on course to reverse my usual direction,
To go counterclockwise
In the circular circuit of my weekly rounds:
A full circle around this blessed forty acres.
No more than forty paces on down the path
I see blood on the snow.
I can’t tell whose it is
Till I spot Sergeant Robin’s left wing,
Ripped from her breast,
A few paces further on.
Redtail was here not long ago.
I am sorry I missed him,
Especially sorry I missed the morning matinee.
There are signs of a struggle:
It was not a quick kill.
Given how spread out the feathers are,
With the left wing a full thirty yards
From where I first saw the blood.
I walk back, pick up the right wing
and gently place it in the pocket of my sweatpants.
Then ahead, the more damaged left
To complete the set.
I consider the clump of tailfeathers,
But decide to leave them behind
For some other craftsman or curiosity-seeker.
I recall with a smile
A scene from last summer,
When Robin defended her nest
By mussing the hair
Of a startled Chinese man
At our favorite (often crowded) public garden.
She had come at me, too,
But I was on-guard and ducked.
Robin had her hands full that day,
What with all the newlywed couples.
They and their peach-flavored bridal parties –
all the decked-out Ashleys, Sun Yees, Robins and Frankies —
Were waiting in line,
To take photos on the Japanese bridge,
just fifteen feet from her nest
(where the gorgeous evergreens
of a sacred unspoiled island
wove gently in the background
behind them all).
Funny (not really)
how we love to tame the wilderness in our midst:
we tend it when it suits us,
discard it when it’s in our way.
Funnier still when the earth hits back,
Reminding us that every day is an adventure –
A life and death struggle –
For most other species on the planet.
I come here each week to reclaim my wildness.
Robin and Redtail remind me I bleed.
I scratch my sweaty cheek.
My hands smell gamey.
This, however, is a very different sort of roadkill
On a newly resurgent road/not road.
The limestone path
Back to the paved road later on,
Has a discarded, curled up steel drainpipe near it
That reminds me of the fallen stone pillars
On the Palatine Hill in Rome last summer.
When I consider that someday
These overhead powerlines,
Diesel train tracks,
“Don’t Pick Flowers” signs,
sewerpipe hollow pillars,
bridges, and trash,
–all traces of tame, technological,
will likely be gone,
reclaimed by prairie,
I feel Redtail’s glee,
Overcome by his hunter’s heartfire.