Tuesday, November 22, 2011
One takes a nature walk, I assume, to experience the natural world. It is not clear to me, however, just how deeply one’s experience of nature depends on a sharp division between nature and society, or nature and culture. To the extent that the nature walk depends on such a distinction it is, of course, problematic. For the walker is always, by definition, inextricably bound up in society and culture, no matter how long the walk nor how remote that place.
My nature walks do not take place in remote locations. I doubt that I’ve even been to a truly remote location, not when flying over the Grand Canyon in a small plane, not when walking in a deep wooded glen at summer camp near Altoona, Pa., nor when walking with a woman in a field near Laramie, Wyoming. For all of these places were within easy distance of roads, villages, and towns.
These days I take my nature walks in Liberty State Park, which is in Jersey City, on the shore of New York Harbor opposite the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. That is to say, in the middle of one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. Hardly a wilderness.
I’m told that this, more or less, is where Henry Hudson first set foot in the New World in 1609, near a footpath the Lenni Lanape walked down to the shore to fish. Their footpath became a road, and that road became a street, Communipaw Avenue. I live a block off Communipaw on Van Horne, a Dutch name I assume.
That’s near the northern end of the park. There’s an abandoned railroad station there, and a ferry dock, from which one can get a ride to the Statue of Liberty. Which I’ve not done. I mostly photograph the statue from afar, on my walks at the southern end of the park. There’s a salt marsh down there, and an interpretive center that tells you about the wildlife in that marsh and more widely in the general area.
I don’t really know, as I’ve only been there once and didn’t pay much attention to the exhibits. They were mostly about the birds—ducks are plentiful, and I’ve seen a white heron or two—which don’t interest me that much. Don’t have the patience, or the camera, to photograph them. I’m more interested in the flora, the weeds, flowers and trees. The interpretive center didn’t seem to have any exhibits devoted to them, though one did identify those yellow flowers and goldenrods. “Ah, goldenrods, that’s what they are. Now I remember.” And so I did.
I generally, almost always, in fact, so far, always, have my camera. I like to take pictures. It would be a bit misleading to say that I’m in a meditative state when I’m walking nature, taking pictures. But not terribly misleading. I’m in a zone.
Certainly not an exclusive zone. My mind does wander. I DO hear the planes and helicopters that fly overhead. Once I’m off the path I’ve got to attend to my footing, for the ground can be a bit treacherous, low crawling vines to trip on, leaves piling and obscuring the firmness, rocks here and there, and so forth.
Looking for shots, always looking for shots. One here, three there, move back, or ahead, to the left or right, depending on the framing I’m after. Maybe catch the sun in a corner or along an edge. Whatever calls.