Slow-Cooked Sentences

Kenspeckle or visiting the ravine

Rachael Conlin Levy

kenspeckle /ken-spek-uhl/ n., conspicuous; easily seen or recognized.

I went to the ravine near my house, a neglected bit of land neither wild nor tame, only forgotten. This scrappy patch of forest is buttressed by houses and sits across the street from the elementary school. The sidewalk teeters on its lip and there’s a dirt path that leads down to a creek. Ivan and I followed the path through muddied sunlight and green shadow. He wore his cape and carried a pop gun, but stooped down to pick up a stick and hand it to me. “Your sword,” he said. We passed an old cedar with its trunk marked by graffiti and met the creek where it winds around an abandoned tire.

The kids and I discovered the ravine shortly after we moved here last summer. We had taken a walk to check out the school and were coming home, tired and thirsty, when a watery wind drew us to its edge. I told the kids it reminded me of a forest from my childhood, really nothing more than a vacant lot that promised freedom within the walls of smokey pine and the rooms of sunlight filled with weeds and yellow jackets. I promised we’d return and we did a few times before the cold gray rain drove us inside.

Over the winter I occasionally glanced into the tangle of dark wood and dull green, but it wasn’t until spring, when the tree branches bristled with stiff shoots, that I again felt welcomed. At the creek, Ivan tossed catkins fat as his fingers, limp as worms into the water and watched them float past spirals of uncurling ferns and fleshy skunk cabbage. Finally I convinced him to leave the stream and climb the path along the ravine’s south flank. Ivy licked the edges of this trail, twisted itself in bushes and choked the trunks of trees. We walked past a beer can, a plastic bucket, a leather jacket, then stopped to look back. From this height I could see another tree tagged by graffiti. A horsefly buzzed nearby and above us I saw two city workers tethered to a line and leaning over the ravine’s edge. We watched for a while, but couldn’t figure out their intent. On the opposite side of the ravine, I spotted a kenspeckle of blue in a thicket and could make out a stack of scrap wood or cardboard. Suddenly, I was grateful the workers were here, puncturing the silence and disturbing the crows. Loose strands of hair on my forehead lifted and alighted as a breath of air rose off the forest floor several seconds before the wind was heard in the trees. Ivan whimpered. He distrusted the trees, which leaned against each other like pick-up sticks in a losing game against the ivy, so we rested on a rotting log and silently shared three crackers before retracing our steps to the street.

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4 responses to “Kenspeckle or visiting the ravine”

  1. Andrea says:

    Lovely–we had a secret path behind the “city ditch” that wound along the edge of the park, up against the fences of the abutting houses…it was always a grand adventure to scramble our way along the path, trying not to fall into the ditch festering with craw daddies.

  2. kyndale says:

    Even when I walk in the desert above our house with it’s trash, abandoned mattresses and empty shotgun shells, I am intrigued. I hope we can go there when I visit this summer.

  3. Sometimes I distrust the trees. Beautiful description of your small journey. I really like “silently shared three crackers”.

  4. Rachael says:

    Andrea, it’s funny how those wild places are so often neither wild nor remote, just overlooked.

    Kyndale, I would love to show you the ravine this summer.

    Denise, thank you.

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