Richard Kerns: On the fringe of wilderness, a hint of autumn

Richard Kerns

I want to write about being in the woods this time of year, but as I have not known such reward yet this fall, it will be a pull from memory, and that’s always a dicey bet.

The Boy and I got a taste of it Thursday at Constitution Park in Keyser, W.Va. It was a bit of magical history that named Cumberland’s peerless hilltop preserve, and a grand choice by some long-ago city fathers.

Cumberland was founded in 1787, the year the U.S. Constitution was ratified, so in 1937 the city named its brand new park after the Constitution, on the occasion of their shared 150th birthdays.

Known to many, Constitution is a truly regional treasure, and its operation is credit to the city.

Trash cans throughout and none overflowing, the sprawling grounds trimmed, a pool with a two-story slide, new playground equipment, park benches and picnic tables scattered to the park's abundant nooks and crannies.

Will and I were cooling our heels waiting on his big, middle sister to finish the first of six babysitting classes that will earn her a certificate, and a ticket to cash.

I know, because my three older sibs cleaned up back in the day.

So Abbey is headed to money, but the first stop is Constitution Park, where the Cumberland Parks and Recreation Department conducts the babysitting class. Topics range from making nutritional snacks to feeding and diapering infants, and then fire safety and First Aid. Amazingly, the course is free, with no residency requirement. Free vocational training, no background check, and solid employment prospects upon successful completion. Not a bad deal.

We had dropped Abs off 15 minutes early and left to go exploring, at which time she and her bud Alec, who accompanied us, were the only ones there. As Will and I headed for the jet, the tank and the ack-ack gun, I figured attendance would be light, so it was a surprise to see three dozen or so young people emerge at the end of class, an army of baby sitters recruited, trained and sent out to serve parents who want to party at night. The height of civilization.

During our park exploration, Will and I remained on the fringes of Constitution's wild places, so I caught barely a whiff of woodsy fall. Maybe it’s early, but the only way to really wrap yourself in that sun-baked, dry-leaf aroma is to truly be among the woods, where naught but native scent arises; preferably in the stillness of remote cathedral, open to the sky, distant from man.

We are come now to the hiking time of year, when reptilian slime retreats beneath the rocks from whence they crawled in spring. Savage River rumor holds that the DNR parachuted rattlesnakes into the state forest to rebuild a dwindling population, sort of like Santa’s sleigh-elves dropping Misfit Toys on that famous first Rudolf run. Only these have fangs and venom.

Which is why I shoot, bash, slash or scare to death in the trying anything that slithers and crawls into my home territory. Unless it’s clad in fishnet.

I go to the woods when snakes are dormant, so I can walk without watching my step, pull up a rock and sit for a spell without keeping a good part of my consciousness tuned to the possibility, however remote, of one coiled unseen beside me.

Beyond Savior born, it is winter’s most precious gift that serpents be gone.

Woods in mid-fall before hunter sprawl are restorative, instructive. Every bit as much as Grand Canyon rings, ocean waves, and mountains timeless, deep woods speak to time beyond us, of a world indifferent to us, enduring in one form or another, regardless of man’s meddling.

Saw a picture on Yahoo News tonight, of traders looking at the Big Board in the wake of the sixth-straight triple-digit loss, and in the face of worse still to come. Two traders were prominent, a woman without makeup staring at a computer screen and looking like hell, and a guy with wild, sleepless eyes, aghast that the Titanic could sink.

Last Christmas, the nation’s four largest investment firms, including now-defunct Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, awarded executive bonuses amounting to nearly $30 billion. Thirty billion dollars, just nine months ago.

And now we the people pay to bail them out.

Just this spring, the Washington Post business writer haughtily opined that the Depression could never happen again. He said we had built a self-regulating system to prevent its recurrence. I don’t doubt the mechanics are in place, but machine has yet to be invented to heel greed, the base instinct at the heart of all such economic upheavals.

The shell-shocked guy in the Yahoo pic knew better, but chose to attach his fortune to a fairy tell. Top to bottom, they crafted a make-believe world of ever ascending value, and sold themselves on it so they could better peddle it to others.

Sort of like buying the whole world a Coke, only in this case it was purple Kool-Aid.

I was out of touch running and funning Thursday, so I didn’t catch the market tumble. All I saw was a step ladder beside the gas station on National Highway in LaVale. Sign said $2.99.

It appears that stocks aren’t the only thing falling.

If you’re in the woods and Wall Street crumbles, will you hear it fall?

Not hardly…