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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
I move on to a yellow sign warning anglers or their reeling methods and
some more tiny flowers.
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.
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
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
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
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.
This web site created and maintained by the Coe Writing Center. Copyright 2001.
E-mail Dr. Bob Marrs with any questions, comments or suggestions.