Walking McLoud Run

Iris G. Garcia

We are singing a song from Disney's The Little Mermaid called "Part of your World," which incidentally is about how much the mermaid wants legs so that she can walk.

None of us being from Cedar Rapids, Sarah MacRae, Sarah Small and I are all tentatively feeling our way across twisting sidewalks and paved roads toward the trail. We make our way down College Avenue, or Coe Drive, and then down J Avenue, jumping out of the way of bike riders. One middle aged woman with short blond hair turns back and actually thanks us for moving. We are looking for the McLoud Run trail, but we see the fair sized stream before we find it. We stumble onto the paved bike trail and stop at a green child-sized water fountain in front of a playground. Sarah refills her water bottle, and Sara and I take a drink. Then we set off on our adventure.

The first flower we see is what Sara MacRae identifies as Queen Ann's Lace.

Delicate Blossoms of miniscule size
A white that reminds me of purity
Innocent circles
A circle
A fleck of crimson
In the center of
The clusters of tiny pallid delight.

I am fascinated by the legend that Sara relates to me. The tiny red flowers in the middle of the cluster are Queen Ann's drop of blood from when she pricked her fingers making lace. I caress the delicate ruby-stained blossoms.

Sarah Small calls us from a short distance away. She excitedly tells us to look into some rocks. I look and see nothing, but apparently a little earlier a snake was poking its small head our. I deftly drop some small rocks into any visible holes, knowing that I probably will not hurt it. It refuses to visit with more strangers. Sarah is enough for the day. Only she gets the pleasure of meeting him. I am a little disappointed.

When I was nine years old one of our neighbors owned a snake that he wore around his neck everyday, and with which he would try to scare the kids in the apartment complex, including my younger sisters and me. In all honesty, we were scared of him much more than his snake. It's funny how the simple intuition of children works; it is like the possess an extra sense. My mom, who is one of the few adults that can trust the honesty of kids, didn't trust our neighbor because we didn't like him. In Mexico there is a saying, "Los niños y los barrachos nunca mienten," children and drunks never lie. Before a full year of living there the neighbor with the boa around his neck got in an argument with my father. The same evening he came to our door with a gun.

I turn away from the rocks and their reluctant host, letting go of childhood memories, and find some Tall Goldenrods.

Cones of brilliant yellow
Made from hundreds of small blossoms
Almost a more striking version
Of and ear of corn
Topping the modest stalks
In a less intimidating way than
The spear-shaped leaves with jagged edges
That adorn the sides.
A small white butterfly lands lightly on it.
Its delicate wings have a single spot on them.
How exquisite nature is in its modest elegance.

I walk over to the stream and look in. The water looks cleaner than what I was led to believe. It is pretty clear and I can see the bottom. I sit on a grayish rock close to the water. The rock is more comfortable than its jagged edges make it appear. I watch the water run its course and think of Thoreau, "The saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea." We are not just roaming. We are like Gretel Ehrlich, we have a purpose, but no clear destination. This fact does not make our walking meaningless. It does not make us vagabonds, but seekers and observers. Like the river that seeks the sea, we seek knowledge, or feeling, to complete whatever vague sense we may have of ourselves. Every individual life is, in itself, a path- a path that has only one certain destination, but everyway of getting there is always different. The Sara(h)s and I experienced different twists and turns earlier while walking the streets of Cedar Rapids. We all walked in the same direction, but none of our impressions were the same. Each house and lawn and flower and leaf was different in each set of eyes.

I turn to my left and notice some Black-eyed Susans.

Each petal an exquisite oval
Long and thin.
A foreboding center
A black hole

As I turn up from looking at the river, I see a small wooded area in front of me. It looks so peaceful. Almost as if I really was in a secluded forest. Then I hear the chaotic medley of rushing cars. I tilt my head to the left and see the highway beyond the Black-eyed Susans. The traffic is visible from where I sit. The glare of metal and glass contrasts with the subtle and flowing greens of this scrap of nature, and the gurgle of the stream mingles with the symphony of car engines. It is a peculiar sight. It reminds me of Albuquerque, New Mexico. One night I having dinner with a good friend in the patio of a Jamaican restaurant in Albuquerque, with Jamaican music playing in the background, yet right across the street we could see a Mexican restaurant, we could almost smell the richness of its spicy jalapeños beyond the spiciness of our own plates; we could also see a McDonald's down the street, its golden arches visible for miles, its deep fried greasiness thick and visible in the air. Right next to us there was a cheap motel the word "v__anci__s" in fluorescent red. I focused on the missing letters whose neon must have died. There were orange barrels on the street and left over road-destroying equipment, evidence of a crew probably on break in one of the restaurants. Next to us stood a huge cottonwood- a sign of nature in urbanity. he diversity of American culture and landscapes is a always amazing to me. I always find extremes living in harmony.

I look down the stream again. It is still pretty clear. I haven't seen any trout in this urban trout stream. I have learned that urban trout streams are a rarity. Greg's Lawn and Landscaping wants to build an 80-space parking lot upstream that is causing much controversy. Trout can only live in cold water; they can't survive if the temperature of the water rises above 70 degrees. Local scientists are afraid that the runoff water from the parking lot will find its way into the stream and raids the temperature of the water. The population of trout has already been affected by runoff from nearby areas. A group of volunteers has built small caves under the banks that keep the water at a cooler temperature. When the stream's temperature rises the fish can find cool shelter in the small caves. I am sad at the prospect of losing out on the simple pleasure of watching fish. In New Mexico this past year, there has been an almost similar debate that has made it all the way to Congress, that of the silvery minnow. The silvery minnow makes its home in the Rio Grande, which is slowly running out of water. The river is not a source of water in New Mexico, but during the years-long drought, the muddy waters started looking pretty good. The problem is that there is only enough water in the desolate river for one species, humans or fish. I think that humans are unfair competition for the fish. Humans have the technology to bring water in from other places of the world, whereas fish have the impulse to die outside of their natural habitat. In the end the fish win; there are still silvery minnows in the Rio Grande.
I don't resist the temptation and bend down to dip my hand in the water. The iciness of the water flowing, finding its way around the obstruction of my flesh, sends a shiver through my body. I almost allow myself to jump in, but instead I get back on the trail.

I catch up with Sara MacRae. She is transfixed by a vine. I look at it as well. Sara says that it looks like a pumpkin or squash vine, but the flowers that are protruding from the vine are tiny and white. I think that it looks like a plant that my mother once pointed out in Mexico; she called it "calabaza de vibora," Snake Squash. All I really remember are the shape of the leaves, which are threateningly pointy, and the prickly fuzziness of the vine itself. My memories of Mexico are some of my fondest. My grandmother is a kindly old lady who loves to cook for us. I remember my mom pointing out "Snake Squash" clearly because one of our favorite things to eat in Mexico was squash flower soup, made with the actual blossoms of the Mexican squash plant. I remember wanting some, but the plant was not yet flowering. I was helping my mother look for any sign of the blossoms and made my way to the menacing vine, but my mother warned me to stay away.

"It's poisonous," she said.

I wander off on another side trail and find a flower that is exceptionally hard to describe. It looks like a plant that I know called Lady's Slippers, or something along those lines, but I may not be remembering the name correctly.

Strangest of shapes
Brightest of colors
Orange with red spots
It is a gorgeous sight
Compared to the bland yellows
And mellow purples
That have been drenching all the petals
Until now

The plant is actually a jewel-plant, a touch-me-not. I have heard that these lovely little flowers grow next to poison ivy, and that its crushed petals can help your skin if you touch the ivy. I think that this is one of the sweetest things I have ever heard. It just seems so fascinating to me that nature can be so remarkable in its mysterious ways. I savor the sight.

Every flower that I have seen has been very small. Prairie flowers must not need the extravagance of my grandmother's roses. When I was about ten years old, I saw the biggest butterfly I have ever seen, a monarch in its majestic beauty against the backdrop of a fuchsia blossom. I tried to touch the monarch's wing, which was bigger than my small extended hand, but it flew to a rose higher on the bush, not completely jaded by my closeness. The most striking flowers I have seen so far have been the orange and red touch-me-nots.

I move on to a yellow sign warning anglers or their reeling methods and some more tiny flowers.

Miniature purple petals
One yellow cylinder
In the center
Blossoms dropping
Late summer's fruit
Where the flowers
Once were,
Bright red cherries-
Almost orange

Sara MacRae has been standing behind me this entire time; I don't notice for a while.

We go on with our perambulating. I find a hut. It is not really a hut. It is a clearing in the middle of some trees. A green canopy spreads above my head. There is a stump in the ground that is perfect for sitting on, so I sit on it. It all feels so lovely and quaint. It feels like a home, like a place you could belong to, like the back garden of my grandmother's house where my sisters and I would sit under the shad of a young willow and make mud pies, "pasteles de soceté." I also remember the apple tree in the backyard of my family's house in Albuquerque. It is my baby sister's turn to play the lighthearted games of childhood under the shade of a home-like tree. I again remember Thoreau's words; a saunterer is "having no particular home, but [being] equally at home everywhere." I leave the coziness of the tree hut.

A bit down the trail I find the stream again. This time the water is much murkier; it has a greenish color, a sickly shade of olive. I regret my hand's earlier escapade into the enticing shallow liquid. I leave the cloudy stream and get going again.

I walk back near the bank of the stream and am sad to see a rather large pile of trash, including about a dozen empty, rusting soda cans and a horse brush. I walk past it having nothing with which to pick any of it up. I make a mental note to try to come back later for that purpose. I find my self on a sandy part of the bank. I see the large tracks of a man's shoes; they are set in the sand, which is already dry. I see the paw prints of an average sized dog, perhaps a lab. I also notice the rather large imprints of a bird. The three claws are crisp in the sand. They are about one and a half, tow inches long. That's a big bird. I leave my own shoe prints for the next stranger to study, or for the next rain to wash away, making the land smooth again so that it can receive new scrawls. I look up and see ducks wading on the gentle water. They look at me warily so, not wanting to disturb them, I leave.

Sara MacRae is waiting for me at the entrance to a tunnel of trees. We have lost Sarah Small. The trees seem to have gotten much taller than they were at the beginning of our walk. The tree tunnel looks and feels like a fairy talk; it reeks of Disney, so we begin the mermaid song again. Sara and I find a strange flower inside the magical tunnel. Sara has the perfect words to describe it.

Small green pinecone
Purple flowers
In-between wedges
Tall on its stalk

At the end of the tree tunnel we find Sarah Small already returning. It is late and she wants to go back. I need to go back, although I would like to see the end of the trail. We decide to go back on the paved bike trail. From that slightly higher perspective I see where the trail seems to end up ahead. It ends at a concrete bridge. I am a little disappointed. As we turn back I hear the siren of an ambulance or police car; I can't tell the difference.

Now there are red rusty railroad tracks on our left. We keep walking on the bike trail. Sara MacRae finds some thistle which, she informs me, can grant wishes. We both pick some fluffy seeds off of the ground.

"Because," says Sara, "they can't be taken directly from the flower."

We blow the seeds heartily off of our hands. I fill my lungs to their fullest and breathe out, letting go of all my tension and weariness as I exhale. I squeeze my eyes shut and make my wish as I send the seeds on their way.

We keep walking. A huge tree has fallen near the tracks. Its trunk is a reddish brown. It looks almost peaceful, despite the awful noise the train must make, if those rails are still used. I smile at it. Some yards away from the tree there is a bench with a sign that reads:

"In Memory of
Donald R. Nelson"

I sit on the bench, appreciating the thoughtfulness of Donald's family. I hope that he liked benches. This is actually a very nice one. It is simple, but bold. It is inviting after the length of the trail. It even feels comfortable.

I catch up again, feeling like an intruder on the trail that is meant for bikes. Cyclists keep steering around me.

We are once more at the green water fountain. We take turns drinking from it. I go last. As I am drinking a man next to us makes an inquiry as to "you ladies'" whereabouts. I straighten up to provide an answer only to realize that he is talking to two girls just arriving on bicycles. I smile, my cheeks flushed, red as much from the sun as from the embarrassment. I miss the intellectual solitude of the trail already.

We leave McCloud Run and turn left on J Avenue. The first thing that comes into view is a big white sign on the side of a small brick building. It is the Iowa Realty Commercial building, in the driveway of the house next to it sits an old brown station wagon, the kind with strips of wood on its sides. I think of the land that was once untamed prairie, and of the wild beauty of the New Mexican desert, as well as the Mexican Mountains where my grandmother's house is nestled, and keep walking deeper into the city of Cedar Rapids. I think of my squeezed-eyed wish and sigh. I turn to look at Sara and Sarah, and we start another run through the mermaid song.

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