In a million years I never expected to live here. My plan was to teach elementary school in the mountains. The only job I found was on Long Island, the suburbs! Okay, I’ll get some experience and try again. Instead, I met Karen, fell in love, got married, bought a house, and welcomed two boys, Zack and Scott into our lives. Thirty years later I am blessed, happy and still here.
The place that saved me is Shu Swamp, forty acres of suburban wilderness 5 miles from our house. A detailed map lives in my head.
It has been at least a walk a week over the past 30 years. Which translates into about 1500 visits. It is not just the number of times but by being there over time that has given me such an intimate relationship with this place.
I know secrets. What logs host salamanders. The quietest places to sit. Snapping turtles lay their eggs in the gravel. There is one spot where water bubbles out of the aquifer and the wood ducks hang out.
I know changes. Zack and Scott use to race leaf boats down one of the streams. A storm changed the flow of water and the stream is filling in with plants. Deer have recently moved in but it has been a long time since the muskrats have been there. The Purple loosestrife that threatened to take over the pond are pretty much gone. Ospreys have returned. Brook trout have been reintroduced. There are carp now. The cattails are losing the battle against the phragmites. The boys loved to walk across this one fallen tree. In their 20 years the bark is all gone and the end has melted into the soil.
Our best relationships grow over time. My history with this place and has made me more aware of the small, the subtle, the wonder. My desire to be in big wilderness is no less strong but I have learned to let go of notions that wonder and beauty is only found in the big wild. I try not to compare Shu Swamp to other places. It stands on its own.