There is a little strip of land along the Wisconsin River. It could be considered useless land. From the top perch the steep bank drops 20 feet to the river and travels for four hundred yards, covered with trees, brush, ‘weeds’ and rocks. Squeezed between the river and a blacktop access road behind the buildings of the city, it is forgotten and avoided by all but the wildlife that lives there.
I have walked this path twice a day for eight years, mostly because I love the view, but it also allows me to walk in the wild for just a bit, to get lost in the trees and sound of the river. To squint my eyes against the reflected sun as it kisses the waves. To rekindle a life I once knew, to smell the familiar and listen to the song of the birds. It brings an opportunity to watch the ice knit its way across the moving water and sometimes, when the ice has formed in the deepest winter it allows the silence to drop in big flakes and hushes the river until warmer winds release him.
This place is important to me. But more important for the wildlife that calls this forgotten bit of embankment home. To the harried who glance at the scrub, a quick look on the way to somewhere more important, this place can appear to be a barren waste land, yet I have witnessed Otter playing on this bank and every once in a while, he lopes through the brush to have a look at me. Rabbit lives there with her many broods, her bunnies hopping along the edge of the asphalt in search of tender greens. Woodchuck sits in the evening sun, undisturbed by my passing. Deer comes to wade in the river on a late afternoon in august, to cool her feet among the shade of the bank.
The other day I was surprised to meet Mink. I had not seen him before but he bounded right up to me in the drizzle and mist of a cool fall day, the precursor to what will come. He said his hellos, and then scampered back through the grass and weeds, back to his home along the water. I have not seen Raccoon, but he leaves his tracks in the mud along the road. Deer Mouse, Vole, and Chipmunk live here too. Ovenbird calls this place home. Catbird raises her chicks in the dogwood brush. Red-wing Blackbird nests here too, and dive-bombs all who challenge his territory. Cedar Waxwing brings the entire extended family to clear the chokecherry of surplus fruits. Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Grebe and Osprey all call this tiny piece of steep bank home. This jumbled of un-manicured wild, growing without our assistance and trying to hang on to its natural self despite our want for order is alive with life.
The little pieces of land we think to be useless, an eyesore and in need of ‘restoration’ would be better left to themselves and I am reminded we sometimes forget what true beauty looks like in our man-made world. But a walk along the river reminds me every day.