(According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, Intrinsic is an adjective defined as belonging to the essential nature of a thing : occurring as a natural part of something.)
Three crows sit on the branch of a cottonwood tree alongside the Highline Canal. They are there most mornings when I do my three-mile walk on the pedestrian/bicycle path that follows the man-made canal.
I walk at the same time every day. The same route. It is a walking meditation.
Listening for bird song, I ignore the sound of the highway to the north and east of me. I focus my eyes on generations-old cottonwood trees hoping to glimpse movement that may indicate a flitting bird. If the sky is bright blue and cloudless, black-capped chickadees, Eastern bluejays, Northern flickers, black-billed magpies, and American robins swoop and call and crash around in the bare and brittle branches. Rufous-sided towhees call drink your tea, tea, tea from low shrubs. Other birds have made occasional appearances: downy woodpeckers, red-napes sapsuckers, red-breasted nuthatches, brown creepers, red-tail hawks, Northern harriers. Near a herd of several hundred Canada geese, a bald eagle perched in the top of a Ponderosa pine one morning. The low murmuring of the geese implied their discomfort with the situation. Before long though, a handful of crows harassed the eagle sufficiently to drive her off.
On days where the sky is cloud-shrouded, I see and hear very few birds. They apparently like the sunshine as much as I do. Mallard ducks dabble in what little water may be in the canal no matter the weather. Usually there are seven: four males and three females. They are always absolutely silent.
The half-way point of my walk is a tunnel underneath the very busy Interstate 25. Here, the sound of traffic is so fabulously loud, that I turn around. On my return I remind myself that these trees, these birds, the water, the squirrels that acrobat from branch to branch and perform their high-wire act, the cottontail rabbits that scoot through leaf litter, have been thriving in this somewhat urban environment for decades. Some of the cottonwood trunks are so huge they can be encircled only by multiple people with outstretched arms. Woodpeckers and flickers, squirrels and robins, even hummingbirds, make their nests amid branches and in hollowed out holes in the trunks of these wonderful old trees. Ponderosa pines reach 80-100 feet in height; warmed by the sun, the vanilla scent of their bark permeates the air. Oak, elm, ash, chokecherry, wild rose, and huge old junipers have set their roots into the soil along the canal.
These walking meditations are essential to my soul. My connection to our natural world informs my painting and my writing. The Highline Canal Trail is what passes for the “natural world” here in urban/suburban Denver. The term “natural world” is a human construct. It implies the hand of man has not sullied a particular place. The Highline Canal Trail where I walk is bordered by homes and yards on one side — the narrow riparian ribbon of the canal is on the other. Even this ribbon backs up to more homes and yards, leaving only the ten-foot-wide canal to provide water and refuge for birds and plants.
Yet, as artificial as this “natural” place may be, birds still hunt for food, build nests, reproduce. and forage for seeds, rose hips, beetles and bugs. Trees energize juicy new leaf buds and grow to loftier heights and girths. Squirrels store Ponderosa pine seeds and acorns from oaks.
I will continue my walks throughout the year, relishing the changes the seasons bring, nourishing my soul with the knowledge that life, in all its forms, will find a place to thrive — to continue the cycle. As I must.