Friday, October 8, 2010

Tiny Adventures

Duffy & Mike on the trail in Mt. Airy

Dear George,

When I was a kid, going on an expedition in the forest was always a big adventure. I’d usually take our family dog Mike, and with only boy and dog together I had an exhilarating sense of freedom – from parents, routine home life, the whole social world. Sometimes I’d head east along the river to Brewery Park or even all the way downstream to the Meyers property near the cemetery. Other times I’d head upriver, past Lou Reed’s house, and search for artifacts in the collapsed silo at an old abandoned farm. Or across the road to the huge field full of flowers, shrubs, ant hills, and butterflies. There was always interesting stuff to see or do – dried up milkweed pods, Indian tobacco, birds’ nests, acorns, garter snakes to catch, stones to throw. There was also a mild feeling of suspense and potential danger – getting lost, encountering wild animals or even robbers or murderers, falling into a sinkhole. But, happily, bad things almost never happened.

Nowadays going out in the forest still is an adventure, though not as magical as it was in childhood. Yesterday I took our sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, on an expedition to Mt. Airy Forest. We went on a different trail than usual, down the hill toward the Tree House. At the hill’s bottom we came across a dried up creek bed, and I decided to abandon the regular trail and see where it went. The creek bed was covered in large, irregular, sometimes jagged rocks, and, because of its steady downward descent, there were frequent rock ledges to climb down. I worried about the dogs hurting themselves on the rugged terrain, but in fact they were more sure-footed than I.

Hiking on the creek bed

Whenever we go hiking, Duffy often sticks close to me. I don’t know if this reflects his herding instinct or his insecurity, but he’s definitely connected to me. Mike, with a more relaxed disposition as well as arthritic hips, is in no hurry and usually lags behind. I was taking photos of tree roots on this particular outing, and whenever I stopped to take a picture Duffy would come right to my side, but Mike would sit down wherever he was and wait patiently till he was certain I was ready to move on.

Mt. Airy tree roots

About midway on our journey I found a whole bevy of interesting tree roots and was busy stopping at one spot, then another. When I finished I called for the dogs to move on, but, when I turned around, only Duffy was there. I turned around and looked in front of where I was standing – no Mike there either. My heart sunk into my stomach. I’d just seen him moments before, and I couldn’t imagine how he’d vanished. “Mike!” I yelled as loud as I could, my voice quavering. I could see twenty or thirty yards behind me, and there was no sign of the dog anywhere. “Mike, Mike, Mike,” I started yelling while I ran back along the creek’s bed of rocks, looking up both of the hillsides. I thought about Mike wearing his I.D. tag and wondered if someone would call our phone number to return him. Then I imagined how Katja would react – she would never forgive me. “Mike!” I screamed at the top of my voice. Then, just as suddenly as he’d disappeared, he stepped out from a cluster of shrubs some fifty feet away. He’d apparently gone into the bushes to get out of the sun till I finished taking photographs, and he’d been in no hurry to come back out. I was never so happy to see anybody in my life. I gave him a pet on the back, and we set off again. For the rest of the trip I looked back to check on the dogs’ whereabouts every ten or fifteen seconds.

Mike reappears from the shrubs

My sense was that our trail ran parallel to the creek, and, after a while, I wanted to leave the creek and climb back up to the trail, but the ravine walls had become steeper and were essentially unclimbable. The creek went on for a long distance, and maneuvering it became increasingly challenging. The dogs had to climb over fallen tree trunks and piles of brush and jump down three-foot heights of rock. Duffy leapt over the obstacles easily and Mike approached them more gingerly, but both dogs made their way successfully. I didn’t know quite where we were, but after forty minutes or so we found ourselves at West Fork Road at the opposite side of the park. The hill was less steep at the edge of the road and I took the dogs up to its top, hoping to find a trail there. We had no luck, so we came back down and took the creek in the reverse direction. Halfway back I stumbled over a large rock and fell to the ground, cradling my camera with one arm. I broke the fall with my right hand, and my body made a bumpy landing on the rocks. The dogs ran to me out of concern, but I was o.k. As I slowly got up, I thought about Katja’s recently broken arm and how we couldn’t afford to have two disabled people. I worried about getting hurt when there was no human traffic around, and I started watching more carefully where I was stepping.

The Mt. Airy Tree House

After a lengthy uphill trek we got back to our original forest trail, then walked up the hill to the Tree House and back to the parking area where the dogs got a drink at the water fountain. Their tongues were hanging out by then, and, figuratively, so was mine. We’d all had a good workout and I’d taken 139 photos. Even so, we were happy to be back to civilization.



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