Whenever I’m at the edge of a woods – or other ‘wild’ place, I always find myself listening; I’m not sure where I picked up the habit – maybe my brothers, or father, or grandfather – or maybe from one of those other writer guys, like James Fenimore Cooper, or Hemingway- or even Ken Kesey. But, come to think of it, those guys were probably all listening for different things – and they might not have known what it was, either. But, sure enough, I found myself one recent foggy morning at the edge of a very undisciplined growth of trees and brush, and I caught myself: Standing there, breathing quietly, surveying the 60 or so yards into which my vision penetrated the darkness, listening and waiting. About all I heard was the nearby traffic on Belmont Ridge Road, and the occasional jet taking off or landing at Dulles Airport – and maybe a faint drip of melting snow and ice.
This was my first visit to Edgar Tillett Memorial Park – in Ashburn, just south of the Greenway. There wasn’t another soul utilizing the park that morning – they were all probably heading off to work – and, even if they had the day off, one of the last things on their agenda – likely – was traipsing around the half-frozen ballfields and scattered stands of trees at this neighborhood recreation area.
Those commuters had more important things to do than stand on the edge of civilization and await communication with the great mysteries to perhaps be discovered at Edgar Tillett Park. Not me. I had the day off, so there I stood… no, I didn’t receive any deep messages from beyond, or anything; I really didn’t experience a great deal in the way of excitement or drama – but I did feel the ice crunching under my boots, felt the cool, crisp damp air fortified by all the melting, and enjoyed quite a few minutes of the closest thing to solitude I could probably find this far from the Blue Ridge. Or at least that’s what I told myself.
Now, I’m imagining that my experience on a summer Saturday afternoon would be quite different: All four ballfields would most likely be in use – maybe the park would even be hosting a youth athletic tournament of some sort, with families gathered from across the region to enjoy some friendly competition at this convenient site for such activities. The noise of play and the cheering of the crowd might even drown out the sounds of traffic from Belmont Ridge Road and that of the overhead planes from Dulles. All that activity might even give the scattered Saturday commuters a moment of pause as they headed for all that important stuff up or down the road, too. Yeah, if I were to pay a visit to this place on a summer weekend, during heavy ball-playing season, I may not even have a stray moment to catch myself listening for whatever it is that I listen for at the edge of those woods. Maybe ‘it’ wouldn’t even be there for me to listen for – who knows?
But, I’ll bet that it’s still pretty peaceful there on the mornings of those games and tournaments, and it might even be foggy on some of them, and, if a guy like me were to take an early stroll out there, he could even find himself standing on the edge of the woods, as if almost listening for something – even if it was something he couldn’t positively identify. And the traffic on the road and the planes in the sky would be all the sounds he could recall – other than, perhaps the echoes of last year’s ball games, or that lone tree falling in the forest which he needed to be present for to make audible, or maybe even the faint reverberations of that long-ago Big Bang from which we’re still evolving.
I suppose the ball players will continue ball playing, the commuters will continue driving, the planes will keep on flying, and me – I’ll keep on finding myself on the property lines of places like Edgar Tillett Memorial Park – listening for something I’ve never experienced.