THE GIFTS OF FOLEY MOUNTAIN
The interview was almost at an end. It had been an intense hour of revisiting the 30 years my husband had been Supervisor at the Foley Mountain Conservation Area overlooking Westport, and where we and our two sons had lived in the little supervisor’s house there.
“So, what is your most treasured memory of the time you were at Foley Mountain?”
How to choose? It was an impossible question. Memories swirled, some too private to talk about.
But, in a flash it came to me:
On a bright, wintry February afternoon I closed the door on our house, blissfully free to visit the back of Foley Mountain’s 800 acres all by myself. Tying on the leather thongs of my old, hide snowshoes, I raised my cheeks to the invigorating sting of the north wind, heartened by the promise of the strengthening sun.
Whooshing through the deep, fluffy snow, I knew where I was going. For me, winter was the best time to explore, a time when I could go where I never could in the other seasons, confident that I could follow my snowshoe trail safely back home at the end of the day.
Heading out to traverse a string of connecting small, shallow ponds which were only accessible in winter once the ice was well-frozen, I swung behind the barn and through the old orchard. I was exploring with the exuberance I had when I was a girl in my long ago home of woodland and streams, but today I was heading for a very different, wilder landscape. I thrust my way through the thickets of willows, stopping to admire small birds’ nests and insect galls. Oh, already the pussy willow buds were swelling, promising spring. Just me, in a secret, enclosed space, heading out to the open centre, where the going was easy. In some cases, the wind had swept away the snow altogether. In other places reeds had scraped across the sparkling snow, leaving their calligraphy. From out of the bushes came chickadees, my familiar chickadees, surprised to encounter me here, but wheedling cheerily, perhaps pleased to see me in their home.
Everywhere I walked, inwardly I was asking “Is it well? Is it well?” And, as it did in those days, my beloved land was affirming that the patterns were continuing.
I lived for those signals. Everywhere I went, always, instinctively, I was searching for those signals, messages reassuring me that this ever-changing, yet ever-constant precious, hard life would continue. The clamouring bluejays flapping over my head. The raven sweeping by, rauking at me, but always in a hurry to fly elsewhere. Last year’s fat cones standing on the tall spruces that fringed the meadow surrounding the ponds, speaking of regeneration. Ash saplings growing in from the verges. (In those days, before the emerald ash borer, I could rejoice in the fast-growing ash trees.)
Scraping the length of the ice to where I heard the tumbling music of the tiny waterfall which led to the next in the chain of ponds, I scrambled my snowshoes up a thicket, past the slight open water and onward. Always I was pushing onward with the sheer delight of exploring, each pond with different things to say to me.
At last, the sun was lowering, casting long, lavender shadows over the little hills, but first I needed to visit the deeper, longer pond which bordered the back edge of the park property. I was heading to visit a large, old beaver lodge, far out from the shore. Using my binoculars, checking for beaver signs, I was reassured to see that there still was open water by the lodge, which would enable the beaver family to escape the pond’s icy lid and continue to head for the shore to harvest saplings for bark. And indeed, at the water’s edge I spotted telltale fresh shavings beside what was clearly a recently felled maple. Eagerly I plodded out over heavy, wind-driven snowbanks, carefully skirting the fragile ice near the lodge, thankful my weight was distributed over the snowshoes. Judging by the tracks over the ice and up the snowy side of the lodge to sniff the breath hole coyotes had known there were beaver within. And there, surrounded by telltale frost crystals, was the small opening, nested between branches near the top of the six foot lodge. Beside my feet was the plunge hole, where a few peeled sticks floated. I kicked off my snowshoes and clambered clumsily up the lodge, where I lay on my belly, spread over the lodge, ear close to the warm air from the breath hole. Beneath me, with extraordinary intimacy I could hear the grunting talking of the family, the gurgling as a beaver slipped off the platform into the interior pond water, the gnawing of sticks from their indoor food pile. Eagle-spread over the conical lodge, it was as if I were sheltering them in my heart.
So this is my best memory of the gifts of Foley Mountain. Wild, instinctive, blending into the land, I was home. As I lay there, I knew in my heart that this was who I always was meant to be.