Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day 158 - Owen Conservation Park


I have never been to Owen Conservation Park. In fact, I was unaware of this large plot of untouched land on Madison’s west side until I stumbled upon it early in my “I have never...” research. Although I found photos of the park exceedingly rare, the few images of the Owen Park’s grassy fields surrounded by forests were enough to make me want to visit the location. As a result, I kept the new experience in my back pocket over the last five months, waiting for the opportune time to experience Owen Conservation Park for the first time. At first, I didn’t know what “opportune” really meant, but I knew I would know it was I came across it. I just needed to wait, and act on visiting Owen Conservation Park when the moment struck me; whenever that may come.

When I woke to foggy, cool, and misty weather this morning, my initial thought was one of despair. With many of my potential “I have never...” events depending on good weather, dreary days meant my options were limited and that I would likely have to take on the task of reorganizing my “I have never...” calendar, which has been one of the only downsides in this journey. Sitting on the side of my bed, I thought through my options as I looked out the window to the bleak city streets. Their vacancy made it seem as though the city had been lulled into a sort of quiet sleep in the midst of the gloomy weather conditions, which garnered my focus as I continued mulling over ideas in my mind. Then, in a flash of thought and idea struck me, “If the city is this quiet today, imagine how quiet it must be at Owen Park... and I bet it is beautiful in the autumn.”

My welcome to the park
The thought promptly forced me to my feet. In a flash I had committed to making the trip to Owen Conservation Park, even if it meant facing the cool air and the dampening mist. In response to my decision, I rapidly set to work getting ready for the day. With limited time available before I had to head to work, I knew I needed to be quick in my preparations, which left me cleaned up and ready to face the day faster than I had ever been capable of doing any other day in my life. Gear in hand, I flew through the last tasks I had at home before breaking for the door and making my way to Owen Park.

After a short drive to the western outskirts of downtown, I found myself turning onto a narrow stretch of blacktop at the gates of Owen Conservation Park. With roughly one hour to spend on the grounds, I was quick to park my car, grab my camera, and hit the trails winding through the park grounds. My focus on timeliness initially made me overlook the beautiful surroundings that occupied every space around me. Splashes of color lit up the trees despite the low rolling fog persisting beyond daybreak, and fields of grass covered vast spaces between swaths of forest. It was already beautiful and I had yet to get more than a few steps off of the parking lot.

Turkeys!
Taking my first few steps toward the trails, I was immediately startled by a group of eleven wild turkeys emerging from the brush. Equally set back by the presence of an unanticipated creature, the turkeys gathered closely upon realizing their proximity to me and tentatively made a move back toward the cover of the grasses. Ever vigilant, they kept their eyes fixed on me for some time, gauging my threat level as they slowly moved across the trail. With their fear eventually diminishing, the group slowly started pecking away at the ground around them as they moved in front of me, being sure to maintain their distance as they eased back into their routine. Realizing I had a limited time to be in the park, I slowly moved toward the animals as I proceeded down the trail, which caused them to split into two groups as they cautiously went about their business. Once past the flock, I turned around one more time to take in the sight of the substantial birds. Against the hazy backdrop of the autumn morning the sound of the turkey’s subtle movements and muffled chatter were amplified by the stillness around us. I watched for a moment as the birds slowly moved into the woods before turning and continuing down the path lifted by the passing experience with the wild animals.

With the mist turning to a light rain, I worked my way down the path, which descended down a hill bordered by forest on one side and towering prairie grasses on the other. Although the rain was cold enough to leave a chill, it reminded me I was alive, and it somehow made the experience among the natural beauty of Owen Conservation Park feel more complete. Eventually, the path led me into a forest of maple and birch trees brilliantly brightened by an overwhelming array of yellow leaves. As I walked the path narrowed and stretched deeper into the forest, leaving me bound by the borders of dense forest less than an arm length away on either side of my body.


I pressed on down the path until I saw a sudden change in the distance, which I came to find was the border of the park spilling into an unfamiliar street. With my time at the park running short, I doubled back and began walking back down the path that guided me into the park. As I came back out of the forest, I decided I would alter my course slightly by taking another turn in the path, which led me around the central prairie grasses in the park and looped back to the familiar space the turkeys had occupied some 30 minutes earlier. After a brief pause, I turned toward the grass field rolling down the hill and took in the sight of the autumn landscape one last before continuing back to my car. With no time left to spare before I had to start the drive to work, I quickly put my things away, did my best to dry off a bit, and made my way back to the park entrance. My first, brief experience with Owen Conservation Park was over, and although I only felt like I had scratched the surface of what it had to offer, I was glad it had become my new experience for the day.

My last view of the park

Over the past five months I have gained many new experiences with the natural beauty of the world around me, and like today, I have been lucky enough to have some close encounters with the animals that call the land their home. Each time it has been enlightening and uplifting, and today was no different. I expected quiet and peace when I left for Owen Conservation Park this morning. While I found plenty of both in the beauty of the park, the greatest single part of the experience was realizing the scenery and the experience I had in Owen Conservation Park today was unlike the experience I would ever have in the park again. Sure, I might visit the park on a hazy, rainy day in the future and I might have a close encounter with some wild turkeys, but the sense of discovery and the feelings of wonder that came with today are entirely unique. They made me feel connected to this morning, and they made me feel alive. As far as I’m concerned, there is no better way to start an otherwise typical workday.

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