David Nightingale: A Walk

Feb 11, 2018

I left home and parked at the side of a little-used off-road. Where my tires had been in 5” of snow a week ago, there was now only muddy water. Maybe a walk would clear the mind of a degree of hopelessness, concerning world news, rampant flu, and/or the hopelessness of the current administration.

Although it was a weekend I passed only one person out in the foothills, a lady winding and unwinding herself from her 2 dogs' leashes as she engaged animatedly with her cell-phone.

I walked uphill, past a seldom-used barn, and the temperature was 47- 48 F as it had been for 3 days. With snow gone the January scene was countryside brown, except for patches of coniferous green. Higher up the hillside the sun hadn’t completely melted things and there were a few residual ice-y puddles of intriguing colors, white to dark, best described perhaps as 50 shades of gray. Although comfortable, the weather was not spring-like, not with any smell or aroma as one enjoys in spring, when buds are appearing and grass just trying – but pleasing temperature-wise.

A tree, leafless of course, caught my attention. It was totally symmetrical, and it spread upwards from a huge girth and on to its median branches, still amazingly symmetrical, until just the whole array of tiny bare finger twigs were reaching up to the sky. I imagined its roots with a similar configuration, as one sees in botany books. It seemed that nothing could exceed such perfection.

Gradually, as I glanced back, the views opened up. Panorama of fields, all fallow, way down in the distance. Higher up a huge bird – white throat it seemed – could it have been a bald eagle? – gliding to an upper branch of another tree. As I walked nearer it flew off confidently, the slow powerful work from heavy wings soon turning into just a glide, as it drifted on regally, like an Olympian, down over the valley.

After a while I was at the height I'd aimed for, the height with a view. It would be tempting to go off to higher ground still, stone tower in the distance, but this had been my aim – and anyway daylight would be ending within the hour.

I stood looking around my 360 degrees. To one side, through more trees, a glimpse of a big pond, with anomalous frozen surface; to the other side, the north, more parts of the valley; and to the east that panorama of peace, fields, ribbons of road, distant elevations of other low-lying hill ranges and a couple of towns.

I knew there was a remote earthquake sensor, energized by two small solar panels, not far off the track. I looked at its map, a little fuzzy under its older plastic protection, showing how earthquakes dotted NY state, from the Atlantic to Long Island, to the Adirondacks to Erie and towards Pennsylvania. Interestingly, none of these, it said, had been much more than 4, 5 or 6 on the Richter scale, and I still remember one, one that had awakened us with an extremely explosive bang, in Blue Mountain Lake while we were vacationing with our 5 and 2 year olds in 1973.

Daylight began to fade and all was beautifully quiet. As I began the descent a man came panting up the hill towards me, with a dog looking even more exhausted. We said 'hi' and passed. My path led down towards bare trees, past one that my grandson had found eminently climbable, and I cut to the left on a less-used path – before reaching the pond proper – that 3 acre pond that looked as if it shouldn't have had a covering of ice when all was so mild.

I returned to my car. By 5:30 it was dark, and I was home – negativity gone. Hope regained.

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at NewPaltz and is the co-author of the text, A Short Course in General Relativity.

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