Saturday, April 12, 2008

Patterns, People, Trails and Tales

I am out on the land in Belvedere again, but this time with two grown men as opposed to the 9 year old boys I usually track with. And this time, we are not tracking, we are trailing. Rivanna trailing to be exact. Chris Schooley of Stonehaus is meeting with Dan Mahon of Albemarle Parks and Recreation to map out how trails in Dunlora will connect with trails in Belvedere, and then on into the Rivanna trail system and over to 29 north. It is pretty exciting and I am so happy to be asked to go along and excited to be outside, at least for a few hours, and in the company of such interesting people. I have to admit though, those guys are a lot bigger than the boys I usually track with so I end up feeling small, and my enthusiasm blends with my playful nature so that I feel like a kid. Maybe even like a puppy, my tail wagging all over the place. This is fun, fun, fun. And when the men begin to talk about landscape architecture I half listen and begin to scurry about, sniffing here and there, looking under leaves and for patterns on the land. They take me places I had not been before.

Earlier in the week, my son and I went tracking, looking for tracks to dig up for a presentation on animal tracking at his school. He held my hand most of the way, and talked and talked about all kinds of things. We found some excellent tracks but I really needed a shovel to get them up undisturbed. In the Zone, we walked all the way to the Rivanna River and stared at the small set of falls there. Lovely. This time in the Zone, what I saw most was how people used the land instead of animal track and sign. A few dirt bikes had been there recently, and what looked like a small woman with a big dog. The roads have huge ruts and the dirt has been disturbed from vehicle usage. Someone left their cooler. I don't know. I get a little upset by unconscious human use of land, so I noticed how somber I began to feel. My son noticed all the poison ivy. Some of the trails are quite steep, and my son balked. "Come on," I said, "Let's go down." "No Mom, don't go, it's too scary." "I'm tough!" I said, "I'm tougher than you, " I teased. That got him, and we laughed, slid and climbed up and down the steepest part of the trails.

But today, I am not sure exactly where we are going, all I know is that I am super pleased to be out and can just float in and out of the seriousness of the men as they talk and walk. We start out finding where the properties meet. Dan has a GPS unit and the men talk about when they were there before. Before Dan arrived, Chris pointed out landmarks to me on a topographic map, and we talked about the process of building Belvedere. Yes, the loss of trees is terrible for everyone, Chris and Stonehaus, too. Chris talked about the process of becoming a developer and making hard choices. That is a theme of the men's talk, too, and I hear how weary it can be to develop natural areas. Chris has had to make some hard choices, and since he is quite lovely, you can see his distress on his face and hear it in his voice. I have heard a lot of chatter about how terrible Stonehaus is for developing, but I challenge anyone who wants to follow that line of talk to stand in front of Chris and feel the truth of the process.

Dan Mahon is quite interesting. Even in the car before setting foot on the land we talk about patterns in the natural world. Dan tells story of his childhood in the Chesapeake and his ability to see wild asparagus against the tall grasses. Dan Asparagus Man. This guy has the eye! His stories are lovely, and I hear the specialness of his boyhood and know it is important and was perhaps the root of his adult success. Back then, people still wildcrafted for food, and Dan tells stories of going along with his papa, his father with a Budweiser in his lap, driving slow, looking for food in the wild places along the Chesapeake. Chris joins in with stories from his childhood, growing up on a farm in Augusta. But children don't roam the way they used to. Jim Duncan passed along an interesting link about the roaming patterns of children:
How children lost the right to roam in four generations.

I know these men represent the past and I am hoping that we can recreate at least some of their wilderness experience for children today, knowing that that wildness mixed in with their personalities to create the men they are.

We walk down an existing road and onto the flood plain into the magic of green grass, and then along the river, noticing beaver sign, river topography, frogs and toads. Chris and Dan talk about creating a put in for boats (canoes and kayaks) and maybe even a locker system for residents so that the boats can be stored there. Chris narrates the location of SOCA, and parking lots and bathrooms. Sounds so organized. We hike up the extremely steep road along the sewer line that will eventually, supposedly, become the road to SOCA. Dan talks about the trailhead.

Along the way, I gently prod Dan for stories. We have the same passion: how to embody indigenous ways of connecting with nature without appropriating native culture. He has been on the journey a long time. He tells tales of the Monacan people and how they used the land, some places near Belvedere. How do we teach the children to see the land in a good way, to find that sense of place that both men have that I know is part of the living fabric of their interior? Dan says, "Tell them that the landscape is like a blog." We all laugh. But, the landscape is not a blog, it is not linear, and is circular and three dimensional, and full of patterns.

We end our two hour walk standing on top of the Village Green. Chris narrates the design: a serpentine hill to observe the mountain ridge; tunnels for kids to hide and go through, boulders to climb on, and amphitheater for activities for families, and lots of trees. Chris also points out the trees Stonehaus has just planted, some 40 feet tall. Chris and Dan make a plan to do a presentation for National Trails Day in June. Sounds exciting.

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