Happy Trails

It’s not impressive when, on the way out, you peer over your shoulder from the lip overlooking Sunken Meadow. Just a thin, meandering line in the snow, less than a foot wide, a path to winter fitness and sanity, plus fresh air and exercise for me and the dogs, them cutting tributaries willy-nilly in pursuit of fresh scent.

No, it doesn’t look like much unless you yourself have made it. Then you understand the work involved to bust it out through deep, crusty snow. I hesitated for a few days after the snowstorm, mainly because I feared the truck wouldn’t make it to my preferred parking place, out of the way along a high, elevated Green River escarpment. Finally, I couldn’t endure slothful indoor purgatory any longer, even though I do love reading, once I noticed that the backyard snow by the kennel had compressed a bit by late last week. So I gave it a shot, loading up the dogs, kicking the truck into 4-wheel drive through the upper-meadow snow, and breaking a double-rutted path to my spot. Then the travail began, the chore of cutting a footpath, which required raising my feet high on each step to crash through cumbersome crust. Crunch, crunch, crunch I trod, footprints a bit splayed, aggressive boot tread crisp and clear.

Whew! The first two days were by far the worst.

Day one, I got halfway around the first field and thought, gee, maybe a man my age (only 59) ought not to be tempting the fates in cold, lung-burning air. And yes, that thought did squeeze out a drop of conservative juice I mostly conceal, swinging me to my senses and back toward the truck, an abbreviated trek. Why push it? I’d see what the next day brought.

Most interesting on that refreshing maiden journey were the tracks left by four deer I have likely watched since they were fawns. They had been all through the meadow, hugging the first wild-rose-bush border, likely nibbling at the Vitamin C-rich rose hips before wandering in and out of the Christmas trees to eat a buried, green, fuzzy, large-leafed weed they seemed to prefer that looked like rhubarb and didn’t interest them a bit before it snowed. Surprising was the large rectangle pawed up below outreaching boughs from a massive beech tree I wrote much about two summers ago, when there were meaty beechnuts everywhere on the ground below. This year, despite never finding a good nut on my daily walks, there were apparently some there, judging from 10- by 3-foot patch dug out where a large, low, muscular leader once drooped out six or eight feet over the open field before climbing to the sky. That was before the memorable late-October snowstorm of 2011 snapped it like a twig and dropped it to the ground, where it still today lies, waiting to be cut into firewood. So, yeah, I guess there were nuts this year. News to me. Like I told the boys at work one night this fall: my eyes ain’t what they used to be but my vision has never been better. They got a good laugh out of that. I wasn’t lying.

That evening, when my wife returned from work, I think I sprang concern by telling her I had taken a walk and, at one point, thought it could be my last, the walking that heavy. She just looked at me like only a woman can. I guess women will never understand what drives men to do some of the things the fairer sex views as foolish. Then, the next morning, Saturday, as I was obviously preparing for another snowy ramble, she dug out her little-used, 10-inch L.L. Bean Maine Hunting Shoes, laced them up tight sitting in the burgundy leather wing chair in front of the toasty soapstone woodstove and said, “I figured it’s so nice out that I’d join you.”

Nice, I thought. No, I never object to two-legged companionship for my daily adventures, which are more typically solo. It seems I’ve become quite a loner as I age, though I must say I’m seldom bored. So along my wife came on day two, telling me soon after exiting the truck to just go along without worrying about her keeping up. She’d follow at her own pace. Cool with that, off I went, looking down so that I could step where I hadn’t the previous day, kicking out the ridges along the sides. It brought me back many decades to the days of breaking such happy trails through deeper snow of my South Deerfield childhood, when we still enjoyed a brand of freedom today’s kids can only fantasize about. I’m glad I got to sample Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn freedom, and vowed to never allow anyone to deny it. It’s called free will and autonomy, which I still savor.

As I passed a couple of small apple trees and swung left at the edge of a thin marsh and straight beaver channel, I reached the spot where, tired, I had the previous day turned back to the truck. This time, I decided to break a trail around the second field, bordered at the back by a large swamp, woods and a beaver dam and pond, past the dam to a large riverbank apple tree standing tall and proud in the open, 10 feet overlooking the rattling river. Although I had delayed till noontime to give the snow softening time for easy walking, no such luck, with crust still there to increase the workload. But hey, what the heck? Hadn’t I come for exercise? Yeah. And that’s exactly what I was getting as I passed the beaver dam and heard a distant call.



“Oh, just checking. I couldn’t see you.”

Wives are born worry warts? I guess they don’t want to be widows. Who can blame them? Even if you do carry whole-life protection.

“Follow the road to the woods’ edge,” I yelled. “I’ll meet you there.”

The brief interaction got young Chubby’s attention. At the sound of Joey’s voice, he turned, froze like a statue facing her, perked his liver-colored ears up, and sprinted toward her in joyous six-foot leaps, arriving at her side quickly. “Stay down,” she ordered, and he reluctantly heeded her stern command, tail wagging his entire hind end before wheeling around, sprinting back to me, spotting Lily nearby and bowling his mom over in the snow. Then the chase was on, indignant Lily-Butt having none of it, quickly reciprocating by rough-housing Chub-Chub over on his back in the snow. Me? Well, by then my wool hat was off, the red tassel hanging out my wool vest’s pocket, sweat streaming down my brow, into my eyes and over my rosy-red cheeks.

“It’s good for ya,” I told my wife upon reconnecting. “Gotta open up your carburetors, get the blood flowing.”

She just shook her head a bit and gave me one of those looks all men have seen from spouses. She wasn’t going to argue, knew I was right. We finished breaking the trail together, her following me back to the truck, carefully stepping where I hadn’t. Teamwork.

Since that day, I’ve returned to the scene several times, clearing the trail a little more each day, just like I used to as a boy doing what boys do, much of it unprintable. I’m never shy to tell the fellas that the best tales can seldom be written, at least not in a newspaper. But perhaps the times, they are a changin’. I keep reading that newspapers are passé, dying slow, tedious deaths. If so, it’ll be from self-inflicted wounds. Conservatism ain’t where it’s at. Never was, never will be. If you don’t believe it, study history. Interpret. The message is clear.

Pay heed.

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