Miniscule purple pebbles crunch under his feet like so much gravel as he followed the winding path down the gentle slope. Pebbles give way to dirt, which gives way to asphalt. The charcoal black, cracked and tarred path squirms through the like an ancient serpent. He walks alongside the crude road, his steps leaving shoe prints in the sandy soil that borders each side of it.
Turning left, he steps from the path into a teeming, shallow sea of grass, dotted with islands of wooden planks, welded metal, and sage green acrylic paint. The “sea’s” own dewey moisture dampens the toes of his shoes: he frowns. Turning again, he again finds himself on the road, between two straight rows of great trees.
Like an arched gateway in a wall, the branches of these trees separate the openness of the greater park behind him from the bordered playground to his front. He steps back onto pebbles, of the same size, but this time, multicolored, in a billion different shades of alabaster and shale. The playground itself is a coiled mess of plastic tubing and metal pipes. All the same, it does inspire a certain sense of nostalgia.
He moves on. Beyond the playground is perhaps the closest thing to a forest to be found in the park. A shallow, grassy depression in the earth rolls out before him, shadowed by a parasol of oak and maple leaves. The indentation carries on for a few dozen yards, stunted grasses and flat, coniferous weeds compose the floor. Leaving the little copse behind, he comes to a neglected dirt road that branched off from the asphalt as it curved to divide the park in half.
Beyond this road sits a series of boulders, hefted into place before he was born, they have grown mossy and dirt-encrusted because of it. These stones rest like silent observers, overlooking the rough cuts that lead down to the riverbank. The river, wide, shallow, teeming and dirty, separates the park from the nigh sheer earthen cliffs on the opposite bank, and, save for a handful of aging bridges, cuts off the greater village of Madelia from the rest of the world, at least to the south, anyway.
The river, it’s earthy brown waters bubbling and babbling over rounded, weathered stones, flows slowly and evenly. In a way, it resembles another footpath, although not one that he would follow on a whim. The incomparable mineral stink of runoff rises from the river’s waters, and in them breed all manner of water bugs, biting, parasitic insects, as well as slimy, shallow-dwelling fishes. And yet, the river flows on.
Looking back, he ponders. Perhaps that’s why he lives for visitations like this, maybe that’s why he loves this place so. It was so busy, so absolutely teeming with life all its own, and yet it was, in its’ own way, tranquil, because of it. Because, like some renaissance masterwork painting, the busy, noisy, unclean elements of this place all come together to form their own magnificent, quiet gestalt.
He smiled. This was one of the few places on the planet where he could appreciate the forest, not the trees.