I found a secret, hidden in plain sight.
The signs that say Stonewood Nature Trail lead to a gate in the fence around this place. The gate opens into a path down into the bed of the small stream that drains into the bayou. You can see it's mouth from my patio.
The steps are beginning to crumble. Two picnic tables are covered with last autumn's dry leaves. The debris of human traffic lies half buried in the dust, and it seems as probable that it was washed here by the last high water as that it was discarded directly by human hands. Beyond one forgotten table, surging mounds of green rustle knee deep on either side of a narrow crease, some lost path, studded with tricornered white flowers no bigger than dimes.
Carefully threading my steps into the void between the ground cover, I walk only ten or fifteen paces into a world that's almost natural forest. With my back to the chain-link fence on the other side of the stream, and to the power lines that run along the opposite ridge, I stare up into a fold of land pillared by tall trees and draped in greenery. Grape vines hang down from the branches, with younger tendrils winding their way up thicker, older vines. A house sparrow, one of the birds that looks ragged and sooty pecking motes out of the asphalt in a parking lot, flits by, and seems transformed from a tattered scavenger to a crisp, alert little wood spirit, eying me not with the skittish edginess it shows in people's world, but with a friendly, if aloof, sort of welcome.
You'd think that the fence and the power lines and the sudden click and whir of an air conditioning unit on the bank across the creek is more than enough to account for my "almost natural" bit above. But those are large, obvious things. And blatantly obvious things are the things that can sometimes be most easily ignored.
The reasons I say almost natural are the things that nag at my mind, that it takes me a moment to pin down. Those broad leaves on the other side of the pooled and trickling water, those aren't native. They're elephant ear plants run wild from some one's yard. The same goes for the huge clover leaves and purple flowers running at the edges of the white-flowered plant that seems to have taken over most of the cleared ground. I've seen them along manicured lawns, never in the wild. There's a smell in the air, pulsing through the earth and water and tree smells, warm on gusts of a high wind that does little more than gently breath down this gully. Then I have it. Rose bushes. From a neighboring yard.
And I wonder what makes the paths. They remind me most of deer trails, but there can't be any deer here. I suppose these could just be very old and almost overgrown man-made trails. Or maybe even water runoff. It's a bit of a mystery, here where people don't seem to have been for a long time. But perhaps the visitors come briefly like me, and leave little behind, not even bothering to sweep the debris from the tables.
I stand in stillness, move only my eyes towards any sound that doesn't seem wind-made. I watch a speck float in the pool below me, cradled in brown banks. I watch my speck speed up as it heads towards silent ripples over ivory colored gravel and fine brown sand. I watch it float into a broader pool. I turn slowly, soaking in sights and smells and sounds from all around.
Then I walk back, so intent on trying to see if any of those itchy little leaflets three are around that I almost walk face first into grapevines. I should come back down in late summer to see if there are any grapes. The idea of picking grapes from wild vines to make jelly takes me back years and miles to Momo's house outside of La Grange. Picking dewberries from the thorny brambles that hide rusting metal in an old scrap yard. Driving up and down the dirt roads, stopping by clumps of trees covered over in broad green leaves to search out the small, dark, sweet mustang grapes.
In spite of the exotic garden plants, in spite of the power lines and leaf-blanketed benches, suddenly this feels like home.