The Death of a Quiet Valley
by Shane Hayes
Behind St. Louis Church in Yeadon there is a small woods and a very quiet valley. In the winter it is bare, brown, and vulnerable to profane eyes. (To a man in search of solitude all human eyes are profane.) But if you catch it at daybreak in summer, when it thinks it is alone, it will seem for that moment a patch of jungle -- a primeval spot, hardly touched since creation, that has begun again to believe itself wild and free.
Its green soul pants with pollination, grows tumescent with seed, yields itself and is taken in silent rapture amid the chirruping of birds and the chattering of squirrels. The chastity of winter is lost without a pang, without a plea, without a pretense of seduction. Patient pregnancy passes without labor into birth and birth, begun without a cry, lives, grows and flourishes, or placidly dies, as the sun decrees.
There are no roses in this valley, no exotic flames of blossom or passion songs of nightingale, no lethal serpent or rumbling lion or battle cry of mating bull. It may have had its day of glory when the earth was young, may have been prowled in by dinosaur or felt the swooshing wings of giant birds of prey, in some unremembered, half-reptilian past.
Wolves may have howled here through hungry winters, as cavemen huddled in the stony hollows of its heart. Indians may have cast their tents on its hillsides and sent their arrows singing through it leaves -- then buried their scalpless dead beneath the ground on which I'm standing.
But it's a tame woods now (for all its jungle aspect), tame and rather humble and contented to be green -- and for the most part left alone. Small birds still live here, crows and sparrows and robins and cardinals; and occasionally a blue jay or something rare that I can't name. They make their nests and their bird sounds and the squirrels gather nuts and the rabbits hop around, sniffing and nibbling as rabbits do.
Children come and play their games of hideout and make little dams at the creek and climb the trees for fun than men once climbed in earnest. Weekend horseback riders on their tired hacks file listlessly over the gravel path at the eastern rim, just out of sight but their voices echo in.
Now and then, toward evening or after dark, a lad will bring a girl down for the rites of spring. They will celebrate, in their conscious, civilized way -- with hiding and prophylactic precaution
-- the ubiquitous urgency of life to make life, the glorious fertility of flesh and leaf.
And -- oh yes -- it was announced a while ago that the city has planned an expressway (one more shining spoke in the wheel of progress) that will cut, like an executioner's blade, through the heart of the valley behind the church.
And you, dear valley, who through the ages have held so much of life and death, shall die. But not unmourned.
May 22, 1966
Copyright © 2012 by Shane Hayes
Please use this box to leave a comment after reading. Your reactions are of great interest to me, brief or long (one word can say a lot). The comment will reach me even if you don't identify yourself at all. Shane