The Slow Down

My right foot is almost fatal.

I was not paying attention. I was elsewhere. Deep in my head and thinking of how the bracken has grown so high over the month and a half since my last visit, and how it was that the pearl-bordered fritillaries were skimming the ground then, whereas the later small pearls are raised a little higher; and now the dark green fritillaries of June after the solstice fly metres up over the dense greenery, faster than I struggle up the slope that never used to be this steep until my snack count caught up with my step count and how redstarts do not cross my path the way they haven’t crossed my path all year and this year is racing on and am I being a good parent to take this afternoon off alone and oh damn –

I take evasive action. Throw myself forward and stumble just beyond, the wavering bronze body zigzagging across the path like a broken bracken stem. The slow worm turns to look at me, the way you’d glare at a bad driver. I crouch down. Whisper an apology. Take its picture as it slithers to safety.

The picture is a reminder.

I haven’t been out much recently because responsibility turns you into an accountant of time. On the balance sheet of life, being outside is a luxury that I can’t always afford. When I do get outside I feel a pressure to make it profitable, to apply my knowledge to a place and search for what I think I should find, instead of letting it come to me; of thinking the big thoughts instead of being present. It’s hard to remember that all that is required is to look where you are going and hang your head like a penitent.

It works. I swap track for boardwalk. Tadpoles form a thick soup in the shallow edges of the water. An orchid has risen from the bog like a firework frozen in time. Lizards skitter – blue and green, one thick and sluggish (pregnant, I presume) – scales glittering in the sunlight, down the edges of the boards.

I swap boardwalk for forest path. And something else glitters in the sunlight. A feather. Split down the shaft, the left side a mucky grey-brown, fading at the worn tip. The right side is a series of black lines bleeding colour, an auroral shimmer of blues into white. A jay has passed this way, shedding one of its coverts. I pick it up. In the sunlight, it looks like the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, a thing unpredicted, found by letting my eyes just run across the path with no set ideas.

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