Nature; Leading Lines

You can return to places you’ve been before, sometimes the very next day, and encounter an entirely different scene, another world.

Maybe you’re in a different mood, and that mood filters your perception. Maybe you’re after something other than what brought you previously.

I returned to the site of the dam in Dover yesterday and had just this sort of encounter. The day shone at times brighter and at others more overcast than last time. When I went back, I wasn’t as interested in capturing the rush of water pouring through the spillways or in framing the dam’s structural features and historical significance.

Yesterday, when I jumped the barrier, instead of floating down along the rocks to stare up at the dam tower’s imposing heights, I walked away, toward the river bank, crossing the lows where river water backed up and pooled after heavy rains.

Like last time, the river remained tamely within its banks. Like last time, the scars of tire tracks gouged the rocky mud flats.

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There’s a kind of history present in these tracks. They suggest prior events, and raise questions those who discover the marks can only ever partially answer.

Tracks mark the spaces others have vacated. Photographing tracks like these represents an attempt to capture what’s left of what happened before.

The water moved toward the dam at a slow crawl. I found a launch and went toward it, stood on the edge of the mud which marked how high the river had recently risen, and watched. Listened. Waited.

At my feet (I can’t remember how long it took me to notice) I saw this.

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The way the paws settled side-by-side suggests the animal — possibly a raccoon, by the look of the toe pad and claw marks — paused just as I did, in just that spot.

Tracks. Again, I stood amazed at all that had gone on here in my absence. This animal, it had paused here to what — drink? Rest? Had it gotten startled and gone still? Or had it been hunting? How long might the animal have lingered?

Trees reached skyward all around me. Grass grew in mangled patches some distance farther along the river bank. The water shushed through the dam, and every so often a car wished by on the road above. Nothing else moved.

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