A simple walk by the river can turn into a journey to someplace special... all within walking distance of our backyards.
So I went for a walk again recently, on a trail that goes beside the Passaic River near my house.
It’s one of my favorite places to go for a walk, especially in the evening, since the reflections in the river can be amazing.
I always tell people that New Jersey isn’t called “The Garden State” for nothing – everywhere I go, I find nothing but lush green growth. (Newark and the bits near New York are the exception, of course.)
Even more amazing is how the setting sun lights up the green of the trees and undergrowth along the river. It’s almost like something out of a painting.
This time I went a bit further than I normally do, and as usual, I was rewarded with beautiful scenes. You never know what might be around the next corner.
Finally of course I had to turn back – the trail probably goes on, but I figure I can save that for another day.
No matter where you are, there’s always something special waiting, hidden, in the most unlikely or even ordinary of places – if you just take the time to look. Often these special places are right nearby, around corners we routinely ignore.
Wherever you are, or wherever you end up, I hope you take the time – once in a while, at least – to look around you, to turn down that path you always walk by, or that place you’ve always seen but never stopped at. Your curiosity will almost certainly be rewarded.
So recently I took a little photowalk along the river behind my condo complex. As I was setting out, I noticed a path heading in a direction I’d never seen before, and I decided to take it.
Right away I was rewarded with seeing some deer prints in the sand beside the river, which is not very unusual because deer are very common in New Jersey.
Still, it was very nice beside the water’s edge, with the sound of the river flowing and the crickets chirping in the early Summer evening.
The river was rather low though, because it’s been such a dry summer, which meant I could get to some places I normally wouldn’t be able to.
I eventually found a way across a little side stream, which led me further upstream…
…and then I found the path took a sharp turn up a steep slope, which – strangely enough! – had a rope tied off to help you climb up it. Very strange, considering you normally can’t get over here…
Once I was up, the path wound on a bit further, which led me to a bit of a… smelly… surprise.
Although all it had in common was the bad smell, I’m still calling this place the “bog of eternal stench.”
By this point, things were starting to feel a little weird – this was a strange new place, and it’d gone very quiet – you couldn’t hear the sounds of cars on the road where I’d parked, and the air had taken on that strange still feeling that you get in the deep countryside in late summer.
Looking a bit closer, I saw that the log that was lying in the bog (heh) had a lot of growth on it, which looked really neat, so I (very carefully) climbed out there to take a closer look. I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to see faeries or smurfs or something like that crawling around.
Still, despite all of this, the path was clearly marked, although I don’t know who had done this.
As I moved further, you could just see that everything was absolutely covered with green, like an overgrown ruin of some sort…
Eventually I stumbled across this strange structure, although I think you can guess what it is.
The trail briefly exited onto a road at this point, and I turned around and almost couldn’t find the path I’d just come out of!
It really was a very well hidden entrance.
Heading back (somewhat) the way I came, I found myself next to this surprisingly pleasant pool (aside from the inevitable bugs).
At this point I had to retrace my steps somewhat, and returned to the path beside the river.
That’s when I stumbled across this – a lone bench, sitting beside the river, on a section of riverbank that normally would be submerged. Suffice to say, I was rather surprised to see it there.
That said, it was a lovely place to sit and admire the river.
The water was really calm at this point, and the reflections of the trees in the late afternoon sun was really just beautiful.
But then I noticed this weird stone next to the bench, with this odd symbol carved onto it.
I began to wonder if I had wandered into some strange world.
The path continued on, with more rope guides…
Then, things became overgrown again – this time, the overgrown remains of a ladder.
And yet, the path continued on…
At one point, the path went under this giant fallen tree, but as soon as I stepped under it, things didn’t feel quite the same anymore, and I heard the sounds of people again, so I decided this was the end of this path, and turned back and took a different branch.
This time, I followed a ravine, where I saw a washed out bridge – no doubt this was why everything felt so isolated.
Unsurprisingly, I ran into some more deer. Although I was actually quite close to them, I did not have a zoom lens on (it’s too dark for my zoom lenses) so I had to crop a bit to get these pictures.
The ravine eventually narrowed and another, smaller bridge crossed it.
This brought me out briefly to a path where the grass had been recently mowed. If you look closely, you can even see a groundhog I ran into – he waddled off back into the undergrowth after a brief staring contest with me.
The path then branched back into the woods, and once again things became green and overgrown.
At times the path was so overgrown that the occasional stone popping up was my only guide to keep me on the almost-vanished path.
It was a very inspiring journey, but eventually I found myself heading back the way I came.
And then, at last, I was back where I started, at the bridge crossing the river, and the sounds of the ordinary world returned, and everything seemed just a little bit duller.
Still, it was an interesting adventure, and a reminder of the hidden worlds we can all find in our own backyards, if we’re just willing to look.
From up in heaven, the angels looked down upon the world. From the glory and the light they looked at a black spot upon the brown face of a sad and lonley world, and saw a demon. This was the demon, the one who had walked in the light for a time, who had sailed in bliss upon the blue sea and upon the green hills. Though none of the angels would admit it, each felt in their own heart that fate had been unkind to this pitiful creature, to leave him writhing and crying and sobbing with wet tears in the cold mud of an unthankful world.
The angels watched as the demon cried out – cried in a voice that no demon had ever used; cried out with a sorrow so pure, that it peirced the walls of heaven and brought tears to eyes that had never before known pain, never heard the sound of unhappiness, and never contemplated the consequences of loss.
And when the demons wail finally stopped, and he lay upon the cold ground in a sleep that was not far from death, there was silence in the kingdom of heaven for the first time since the creation of the world.
But from that silence a voice began to grow – no one knew whose it was at first, as it began so softly, that many thought it was meerly a thought in their mind. But slowly, like the first flower of spring, like the dawn of a new day or the whisper of a summer’s breeze, the voice grew, and the song that it sang began to flower and spread among the angels.
Gently at first they sang, weaving the sound around their hearts to heal the wounds of a thousand years – and the song grew.
Softly at first they sang, the dreams of endless choirs of angels whispering in the morning sun – and the song grew.
Like the voice of a mountain stream, or the rustle of the leaves in summer, their song twisting and turning in the air – and the song grew.
Like the crash of waves against the sea, an endless rush of water and air, the song grew in force and volume. With each new voice a new harmony was created, until the very foundations of heaven quaked with sound, and the angels – heedless of any danger – sang louder and louder, their song growing to fill the endless void above, sweeping around them and lifting them up on high. Their song touched the sun, touched the stars and the moon and all the worlds beyond – and still it grew, filling, flowing, rushing, racing, rolling on waves of joy and sorrow and misery and pity and unhappiness and peace and love and fear.
And then a single lone voice rose above the waves of tone. It was clear like a thousand crystals, and cold like the ice beyond the void. This voice sang no words, but its song was filled with love and joy and sorrow so deep that it echoed in all creation – from the highest tower of heaven to the lowest pit of hell. And when it stopped, with an abruptness so sharp that many of the angels started as if cut by a knife, clearly it could be seen that this was the angel, the one who had befrended the demon, who sang this final chord.
And all the angels and people of heaven looked down as one upon the face of the Earth, and the cold body of the demon lying prone in the dark mud.
…To be continued. The ending will depend greatly on how things go for me in the near future. Is this an allegory? You betcha. Stay tuned for updates.
This is going to get a bit sappy, so for those of you reading this who aren't interested in that sort of thing, just move along.
This is going to get a bit sappy, so for those of you reading this who aren’t interested in that sort of thing, just move along.
This is a story I wrote the other night. It came to me as I was lying down in bed for the night. It kind of explains how I’ve been feeling lately. Or something like that.
Once, there was a demon, a great ugly, bloated, disgusting, nasty little thing. He wasn’t a greater demon, he was a lesser demon – one of a million lesser demons, crawling around in filth and doing what demons do.
One day, an Angel came down from heaven to the land of the demons. She was a pure Angel, white as snow, and wherever she went, beams of light came streaming down from heaven to light her way, and flowers grew in her footsteps. Her hair was like a million strands of gold, and it streamed behind her like a gown, shimmering and billowing in her pure, untainted radiance.
And it just so happened that as she passed, this one demon looked up from the mud and filth he was wallowing in and saw the Angel, and the Angel saw him, and she smiled and greeted the demon with fair and courteous words, her voice ringing out over the din of the other demons like a thousand golden trumpets blaring at the first sunrise of the world, when everything was perfect and all the plants and animals that ever were sang for the first time and greeted the first heavenly rays of light.
And something happened to the demon – something that had never happened to him before. He was shocked that this pure and beautiful Angel would dare to speak to him, a lowly demon. And something changed in that demon. He looked upon the image of the golden Angel before him, flowing with light and glowing with heavenly radiance, and he felt that his heart would burst – a heart that he had never felt before. And the demon was filled with a desire to leave the filth and evil of the demon world, and make himself worthy of this pure creature that was before him, and, not knowing what he was doing, he raised his hand, and to his surprise and everlasting joy the Angel reached down and took his hand, and lifted him up. And the Angel and the demon walked the Earth together, and the demon felt that he would do anything to stay with this Angel, for she was the most precious thing in his world. And he looked at the Angel, and the Angel looked back, and there was love in their eyes.
But the Angel could not return to heaven, not with a demon. So the Angel stayed on Earth with the demon, and the demon knew bliss for the first time in his life. The sound of the Angel’s laughter was a million drops of water bubbling in a new formed stream, just thawed from the winter’s snow. The light in the Angel’s eyes was reflected as though through a million scattered gems, a billion tiny rainbows lit by her inner light.
But the demon was still a demon, though he wished with all his heart that he was not. He poured forth all his power and his will to try to become something other than a demon, but it was not enough. And slowly, gradually, like a stream carving its path through soft earth, the light of the Angel began to fade. And the Angel laughed less and less, and her eyes became dark, like the dark of the deepest night, when the moon is gone and all the stars have faded into the depths of time. And the demon saw himself through the Angel’s eyes – saw himself for the demon he still was, and would always be. Saw his clawed hands, his filthy skin, his black teeth. He smelled his own stench, and saw with horror and revulsion the work of all his years in the filth of demon land, causing misery, pain, and suffering. And it seemed that his heart would break, when he saw the Angel standing steadfast beside him, her light fading,
her smile vanishing, her voice silenced – because he knew that all this was his doing. No matter what he did, or how hard he tried, the demon was still a demon.
And then one day, the Angel left – called back into heaven in a shower of light that blinded the demon so that he couldn’t see. And when the blare of the trumpets and the song of the light had faded, the demon was alone, and all the world was dark. Clouds covered the sun and the moon and the stars, all the streams ran dry, the animals went silent, and the only sound was the rustle of dead leaves in a sorrowful, moaning wind that echoed the moaning of the demon in his black, cracking, crumbling heart. He knew that he would never see the Angel again, and all the light was gone from his life. He could not go back to the demon world. He could not rise into heaven. He was doomed to walk the Earth alone and empty hearted, filled up with pity and sorrow – sorrow so deep he felt as though he would drown in it, sucked down forever into a cold, black, slimy pit, to rot and be forgotten.
The demon cried for days; his tears shattering upon the hard earth and bringing back memories of the sound of the Angel’s laughter, which only made him ache for her all the more. His disfigured body shuddered with each moaning sob, his body wracked with guilt and pain and sorrow. He cursed himself, and he cursed his lot in life – cursed fate for putting him in that place where he was able to catch a glimpse of real beauty, only to deny him the strength to change himself and then take away the only thing that had ever brought him true joy.
His strength exhausted, his tears used up, the demon fell into a deep sleep, and as he did, he secretly hoped that he would never wake. But the demon was tormented in his sleep with his memories of the Angel, of her radiance and beauty – though it was always slightly faded in his memory; faded by the darkness of his own soul. And so the demon slept, and dreamed, and it felt like he had died.