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  • RPA


When I stepped out of the woods and onto the rock bed of Slaughter Creek, I flushed out cardinals who criss-crossed trees in vivid, red streaks. I could hear the creek purl into little pools all around me, and I tucked my chin into my jacket, cold, smiling as I listened to the teeming sounds of the wood. The redbirds returned to perch and observe me, quizzically tilting their heads side to side, only to fly off again, as it began to drizzle, a thousand droplets tingling my skin. I heard hikers and a dog approaching from the other side, so I quickly side-stepped onto a trail along the creek bed and headed for my destination. The leafless cedars before me seemed to pose, reaching out like dancers in Arabesque, pointing in the direction of my oasis. My wife and I had recently discovered a lagoon on a hidden path by great, stacked boulders below a limestone bluff. A shallow stream there trickles over rocks underneath a towering, leafless Maple tree, with bark white as bone.

On my way down the trail, I stopped at the ruins of two twin trees facing each other, floating on the water on opposite sides of the creek. They were both held by their last, unbroken roots on the bank. It was if they had long reached out for each other across the water, in futility, until the reaching made them break.

I came upon a bouquet of palmettos, those tropical fans, and passed a junkyard of tossed tree trunks lying on top of each other, pushed landward from some past, agitated flood. I made it to the lagoon, a dark creek, boulders toppled over one another. I laughed when I saw the bank full of seashells, the tiniest beach I’ve ever seen. I picked up a white seashell and stroked the ridges on the back with my thumb, rubbing it like an old coin.

The hikers behind me caught up again, so I hurried on and stepped onto the larger rockbed and crossed over to the other side of the creek. By the time I made it to the other side, I had the lagoon to myself, marvelling at the caves and boulders covered with jade lichens, peeling off like pastel paint. I know in my heart this was an oasis for the Tonkawa at one time, or for cowboys when this was a cattle ranch. I can see the cowhand take off his hat and bring his steaming cup to his lips, his horse neighing close by, lowering his head to drink.

I climbed over one of the boulders, and stopped, the rocks becoming much too slick with algae, and noticed a bare branch with glowing honey-amber leaves. They looked like they were made of blown glass full of orange light. I stopped to take a picture and stepped off. Come to find out it was poison oak. Careful now.

The drizzle soon became an agitated mist and I hiked on for the overlook on the west side of Slaughter Creek. I stopped only to look at the bare, grey trees lining the slopes, and made it to my destination, the sun now set. The haze settled over the valley, the view like a black and white photograph.

On my way back, as I approached the path where I’d cross the creek, I startled a herd of deer who had stopped for a drink. They crashed out of the water like a team of horses pulling wagons, steam coming out of their mouths & noses, dashing up the hill beside me. They stared down at me from above.

I trembled as I put on my headlamp and crossed the rocks, splashing puddles with my shoes. I stepped back into the woods, hiking on mud, and found the sidewalk back to my car. The mist drifted like flurries across the beam of my light, the plump cedars in the shadows dark as ink, and dark as the night.


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