Winter in the Wissahickon
Tonight, this Trail Ambassador is off duty. As I head out on the trail, I leave one world and enter another. The trail leads me directly into lower Houston Meadow, a recent site where Fairmount Park and the Philadelphia Water Dept are working to reduce runoff and eliminate soil erosion and water degradation in the Wissahickon Creek. Last year they cleared approximately 25 acres of trees. The meadow is vast and as far as the eye can see to the south, dark. I head right on the trail, down into the Valley along Cathedral Run, but nestled deep in the woods. The only light is that from the waning moon reflecting off the snow. The only sound is that of the snow, crunching under my horses hooves. The only smell, besides that of a distant fireplace, is that of my warm horse beneath me. I feel his heart beating in his chest and the gentle inhales and exhales. It will be a quiet ride tonight. It is just past sunset but there is still just a bit of daylight left in the sky.
I head down along Cathedral Road and there are no visitors tonight, for who else would be out here on such a cold night. I think it is about 21 degrees F. It feels like the set of some eerie movie, but it is heaven to me, my refuge, and right outside my back door. It is where I go to forget the work of my day and enjoy the quiet pleasure that I long for. How can I even begin to explain how my soul needs this? And how can I explain how this park never lets me down? I head down the trail under a fallen tree towards Forbidden Drive. Off in the distance I hear voices, I cannot be sure of where they are coming from; down below in the Valley sounds bounce off the gorge walls, so their origins are tough to pinpoint. As I head west, parallel below me is Forbidden Drive and the Rex Avenue Bridge, another work site of FPC and PWD, but tonight it is quiet. The solar panels that power the new composting toilet are there as well, I cannot see them, but I know they are there. Across the river and high atop the Valley sits the statue of Tedyescung, “looking west”.
I travel northbound and can see to my left above me, the lights from Houston Playground. They are way too bright and should be dimmed, but someone must have forgotten to flick the switch. Below me is the Red Covered Bridge at the bottom of Thomas Mill Road, it is the last remaining in the Wissahickon, sitting right here in the middle of the city, this “metropolitan paradise” as it has been so aptly named, a gem. I swear last night, the falls were frozen in mid air, tonight I think they have begun to flow again, the weight of the water is heavier than the cold in the air.
I begin my ascent up a sharp slope. I can feel the power and the effort my horse uses to take us up this steep incline safely. Equipped with snow pads and borium, what we equestrians affectionately call “4 wheel drive”, he has extra traction for the snow which helps us not to slip or slide. As we reach the top he senses that we have reached our halfway point and my steed begins to pick up speed, his walk quickens as he knows we now are on the way home. 2 white tail deer dart across the trail; my horse stops and offers them the right of way and then continues. To one side, a slight hue of red is left in the sky from the final throws of the sunset, to my right the darkness of the Andorra Natural Area looms between the dense forest. Now entering the upper end of Houston Meadow, again a vast open meadow since the clearing, it is now completely dark. There is no daylight left in the sky, but I didn’t notice that until I reached the clearing, odd? Enveloped and completely surrounded by the woods, I did not realize how dark it was. It was most calming and pleasant, peaceful and quiet, not at all eerie or frightening. There are 4 deer in the meadow and our presence suggests no threat at all and they continue to graze. What could possibly be there to offer any sort of nutrition? They just have a few more months until spring.
As I come to the end of my ride I am thankful that we have all returned safe and express again to the powers that be, my gratefulness to be so lucky to enjoy such pleasures. Where else would I be, except for right in my own backyard!
Thank you, Old Man Winter, until we meet again next year. Welcome Spring!