The Trail

An Invitation

by Ken Rummer


The High Trestle Trail, Iowa. Photo Credit: K.Rummer

There’s a trail I’d like to show you, the one that passes behind our place. It was part of the appeal of the property for me. For some reason, “By the High Trestle Trail” seemed like an address of some distinction. Now I get to live here.

Are you up for a walk? We can hop on the trail over here. Just keep to the right. Rules of the road and all.

Yes, those are wild roses. State flower of Iowa. And over there, on the metal post, a red-winged black bird.

Hear the creek? It’s splashing over a beaver dam, just ahead by the bridge.

We may see a mother deer along the way, or a baby rabbit, or a papa pheasant showing his colors. And keep an eye out for the Canada geese. They sometimes glide low over the trail on final approach to the pond over there.

I love the tall prairie grass, up to your chin along here. Long ago, before the plow, it stretched for miles. When the sky breathes, the grass moves, and the setting sun turns every stem to gold.

A while back a young lady invited me to join her in eating mulberries picked off that tree over there. She found them good, and from the purple on the trail the birds agreed, but I declined as politely as I could.

Can you spot the old railroad sign under the climbing vine? It’s been used for target practice over the years but you can still make it out. Union Pacific trains once passed this way, and the X warned the engineers they were approaching a crossing. 

This stretch of the line, no longer in use, was sold in 2005 for development as a trail. The gentle, railroad-spec grades make it great for biking or roller-blading. Walking, too.

The most striking remnant from the time of the trains is the gravel ballast forming the shoulders of the trail. See the pink rocks? Slow-weathering quartzite, a sandstone tempered in the deep forges of the earth.

Bicycle riders are the main users of the trail. A couple are coming up behind us now. When they shout “On the left!”, it means they are preparing to pass. Just stay to the right and they’ll go around.

Did you notice the music surrounding the cyclists like a swarm of gnats? It’s a modern marvel, being able to bring your favorite tunes along, but I find I prefer the playlist that is already here, the one that features bird song, and the murmur of the creek, and a conversation between the breeze and the cottonwood trees.

Doesn’t it feel good to be walking outside in a less citified setting, even if it’s only this narrow wilderness between farm fields and suburbs? A yoga instructor from where we used to live calls her country walks “nature therapy.” The rhythm of an easy stride, the deeper breathing, the time to think and then not to think—perhaps you’ve noticed an invitation to inner quietness and calm in all of that. 

I know, I know. Nature is not always benign. I have acquaintance with tornados and I remember Mount St. Helen and I have seen the bones of creatures that became extinct long before humans started messing up the planet.

Still, I find there’s something renewing about spending time where the call of the mourning dove can be heard, where the sky can stretch out its arms all the way to the horizon, where the weather gives no nod to human comfort but just does whatever it wants. Wendell Berry writes about experiencing “the peace of wild things” (The Peace of Wild Things and Other Poems, 1991, Penguin). I think I’ve felt that.

You ask if God speaks more clearly on the trail? Perhaps. Or maybe, in a place like this, I’m more inclined to listen.

We’ve walked a ways now, and my legs are starting to complain. Yours, too? Maybe we’ve ventured far enough for one day. Do you have time to sit a spell before we head back? There’s a bench just ahead, and it’s in the shade.

Ken Rummer, a retired Presbyterian pastor,  writes about life and faith from the middle of Iowa by the High Trestle Trail. His previous posts can be found at http://presbyterian