It’s such an edgy business practising caution so I may enjoy my fervent love of ranging widely over the land as long as possible. “When you go off walking, you have to leave me a note, telling me where you’re going and when you’ll be back,” Barry very reasonably insists. “At our age, you can’t be too careful. What if you fell and broke your leg? How would I find you?” Well, I think rebelliously, maybe you can be overly cautious. Although I’m always surprised and pleased that he wants to find me, all the same, I want to insist that when the spirit of randomness is denied, something powerful dies out of the experience of walking.
Let’s look at a recent trip to revisit some much-loved haunts at Foley Mountain. On this afternoon, thanks to the rain-hardened snow, walking was a joy. Oh my, I wanted to go everywhere, see everything again. What about my promise to follow a certain path, stay within a certain area north of the park road? Well, I did set out to visit a certain hidden grove of shag-barked hickory trees, as stated. However, pernicious dense stands of prickly ash which had multiplied in the four years since I had passed that way, deflected me once, and then again.
To the east, my eye was caught by the glistening ice on “farm pond” as we used to call the pond nearest our house. I simply had to scramble down a slope to check the large, old beaver lodge there. After assuring myself that the lodge and pond were well, I really intended to go straight back to the trail, however I hadn’t realized the extent of the treacherous patches of ice, lying in hollows and spreading over rocks as well. Dodging around these, I decided that there could be no such thing as a straight line. And indeed the peripatetic nature of my walking added greatly to my relish of it. Here I lingered under some of the superb old oaks that survive spite of the harsh microclimates along the ridges. Trying to find a remembered passage across the creek that leads to the farm pond, I paused to enjoy the greenness of a lush bed of moss, a startling contrast to whiteness.
“plain”>When I pulled my way up the great, eastern ridge using the ski poles I now carry to help my balance, I completely lost my intention to keep to a specific way. The trouble was that there was so much I needed to see. Gazing down over the sun-warmed worn pink granite its vast view down the Little Rideau Lake, I knew just how much I missed living daily in the park. Now, for this afternoon when I was back, I needed to cover as much of spreading, lichen-crusted rocks as possible. Yes, just as I feared, some of the skeletal trees had lost their struggle to survive. Yes. the blueberry bushes still clung in the crevices. Yes. the deer still came here to savor the warmth caught by the rock faces. Over behind a stunted ash tree, a winter white snowshoe hare fixed me with a round eye, enjoying his private winter world.
Heading back down off the ridge to the main park road, I decided to take a different route, one that spared me the steeper hills, which now are more difficult for me to descend. And this lead me straight into a grove of tall, lovely pines, singing in the northwest wind. Hopping west to avoid an immense fallen tree, skirting a pool, clumsily but successfully leaping a small chasm, I scrambled out onto the park road, hearing the raucous, welcome sounds of early crows flying overhead.
It was here that I broke my promise completely. Overjoyed to be back again, heading south of the road, I paused to watch a red squirrel, serenely washing his chest in the cold sunshine and then was lured a little further by the sound of a pair of red-breasted nuthatches, whom I discovered in an ironwood grove. Since I’d gone this far, I might as well galumph over to check on a favorite yellow birch, with bark just as deliciously shiny and curly as it always was. And there was the butternut, still prospering in these hard times for this species, and if I just headed south a bit, I could look in on the grandmother beech beeches… Perhaps you know how it is.
I haven’t told Barry yet, although, I suspect he does understand, really. A certain amount of risk is the price of liberty, and I’m not ready to set that aside yet.