I was on a loop hike. I had some sunscreen and a bottle of water. It was very humid; the gross feel of a sweat-wet t-shirt pressed tight under my backpack. My poor shoulders; I wish I had a backpack with a belly strap. I passed a bunch of cannons on a hill a ways back but 'm not much for stopping to read the markers. There's a field with yellowthroat and buntings. Indigo, I can hear them. That's an easy song to learn in the summer. You just sort of get attuned to it and look up and and voila there's a bunting on top of a tree or bush singing its little heart out.
It's a six-point-something loop hike. It hews close to bridle trail for awhile; there's no horses, but lots of fresh horseshit. It isn't such a bad smelling thing, all grassy. When I was fifteen, I shoveled stables one winter for a neighbor. It was lovely; I got paid by the stall rather than the hour, so I could just take my time. The place was filled with dogs and kittens and had a radio and fridge packed with Cokes. I would linger, filling a cart with shit, with a shovel whacking at the piss-caked cedar stuck hard to the floor. I used to dump it all onto a huge manure pile. It wasn't as bad as it might sound, but then again, it was winter. In summer, the flies come out and make everything worse. I know; my mom keeps horses.
There's not much evidence of battle, at least not to my hurrying eyes. There's a boardwalk near the crossing at Bull Run. It crosses over a sort of marsh and I saw a deer there. She jumped over the boardwalk in one leap and then stopped and looked at me. She seemed anxious. She jumped back over the walk the way she had came and just stared. She approached a little and got very close to me. The whole time, I'm walking slowly and saying things in a soothing voice, "It's ok. I'm going. I'm going. Everything's fine." I got past her and she kept staring until I was gone. I suspect she was hiding a fawn.
Along bull Run I stopped for a quick smoke but the humidity was too thick and the mosquitoes too awful. (If there were more mosquitos they would have had to been smaller- often said about Alaska, cribbed from Annie Dillard). rising out of the river bed, I hung close to the edges of fields, before finally entering a large forest. So many trees. It is a deep shame that I cannot call the trees by their proper names. I have had a lifetime to figure this out, and I can only point my finger at my own apathy and laziness. For me, going into the forest is like coming to a party where everyone remembers you and you remember no one. There is a specific guilt there.
I imagine I had three miles to go when I heard the thunder start. The air cooled, the wind picked up. Even deep in the forest, I could feel the pressure drop and the new breeze. There would be rain; I was worried.
When I finally came into a huge open ridgeline, there were meadowlarks and red-winged balckbirds singing on the grasses. I stopped and watched and listend for awhile, trying to memorize the meadowlark sound, before I noticed the sky behind me. It was black and moving my direction. The trees had hidden the storm from me, given me a false sense of security, and now i stand with at least a mile of high, open ridgeline to cross. The storm is throwing lightning casually, the wind has a hurrying feel, as if it were late for a job interview.
I cross the fields in a hurry. I can see the visitor's center, where my car is parked, but I can't judge how far that is. A light rain falls in heavy wind. There is thunder now that sounds like it is right beside me. I pass a solitary tree and think "This is it. This is where the lightning lands."
I made it by seconds. In my car, I watch the storm lash the parking lot. It is a storm to destroy umbrellas, bird's nests, televison sets. The world is water through my windshield. The car is actually rocking in the tempest. The sound of it is massive.
After awhile, it lets up. I hear a chipping sparrow over in the bushes check announcing his deliverance. I head home and listen to the radio. Somewhere close, there were tornadoes.