…in over two years.
It’s been that long since I’ve gone to the woods. When I lived on the twenty-five acre farm in New York, the woods was literally right outside my door. And go I would…with all the dogs.
When I moved to southeast Michigan, that luxury was suddenly gone. The dogs could run without leashes only in the pastures, and there wasn’t the expanse of unoccupied woods within walking distance that we once had the freedom to roam. Metro parks abound here, but the trails have to be shared with other dogs (and they have to be leashed), bikers and runners.
So today, Leika and I took a walk. It began along a narrow dirt road lined with houses. Some are so close you could stand on the property line and touch the other with an outstretched arm. Others stand maybe fifty feet from their neighbor. We walked to the end of that road and considered what to do. Numerous trucks and cars whizzed by me on the adjoining paved road. I could have turned back right then and there, but something in me urged me to turn right and brave the traffic. Thankfully Leika didn’t mind. We were walking and that was fine by her.
A power line crossed over the road about a mile down. I paused, albeit briefly before cutting into the low brush that quickly opened up to a fairly clear trail. I unsnapped the leash from Leika’s collar. She looked at me and I said, “Go. Run!” She did a little jump sideways, walked a few steps ahead, turned back to see if I was serious, and then trotted along the trail.
The road ran parallel to the trail, so the traffic noise cancelled out any other sounds I might have heard. I couldn’t even hear the leaves crunching under my boots as I walked, let alone any bird song. As soon as I could, I diverted my direction and moved deeper into the woods. I eventually popped out onto an old logging trail.
Maple, cherry, shagbark hickory, and others interrupted the endless blue sky with their towering, leafless branches above me. A subtle light green aura filled the woods at eye level as infant leaves begin to emerge from their protective buds. I know in a few short weeks this trail will become nearly impassable. The briars will thicken and grow thorny leafed branches, quite like tentacles, that intertwine with one another. They have no manners and spread into as much space as possible. The tips reach out and grab at clothing and unprotected flesh, quickly drawing blood. The runners on the ground are very adept at tripping up a careless step.
It wasn’t too long before the trees absorbed all noises of human intrusion. Gone were the sounds of engines and tires on the road, replaced by a entirely different living host. The woods. Towhees, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, blue jays, and wrens sang, peeped and flitted on either side of me as I walked. Leika bounced from side to side, exploring, smelling, listening, settling. The deeper I walked, the more centered I became. My chest loosened and I took a deep cleansing breath. Gone was the tension, anxiety, and suffocating feeling I’d had for so long. Gone was the claustrophobia, the insecurity of putting one foot in front of the other, and the self doubt. I tipped my head back and inhaled again. In fact once I took that first cleansing breath, I wanted more. It was like a drug I couldn’t get enough of.
A deer bounded from one side of the trail to the other, disappearing just as silently as she appeared. If I hadn’t seen the movement, I would have believed it my imagination. Leika stopped in her tracks and waited for my signal to continue. A quiet rustle was all I heard to the right of me. But I couldn’t be sure if it was the deer or a squirrel picking its way through the brush. I crested and descended an easy hill. The upward rush of wind lifted the hair from my scalp. Eventually I came to a T in the road. The river was just beyond. By then I figured Leika needed a drink, so I climbed over the windfall, slid down a bank and walked the final twenty feet to the bank. While Leika drank, I looked around and saw something white sticking out from a shallow cover of leaves. As suspected, it was a bone. I looked beyond and picked out more. I waited until Leika finished before meandering over to what I discovered to be the final resting place of a doe. The remainder of her skeleton lay nearly intact.
Loud cawing from a murder of crows told me they’d discovered something and were now harassing the living hell out of it. Intent on seeing what it was, I took the southern route. Downed trees crisscrossed the trail. Leika cleared them easily…I had to go around the larger ones, or fling one leg over, followed by the other.
The closer I got to the white pine tree, the louder the crows got. Whatever was perched deep within the thick needle-filled branches was probably getting nervous with my approach, which enticed the crows to a higher pitch. Suddenly a red-tailed hawk flushed with the black demons right behind it. Silence filled that part of the woods again…even as a solitary brown streaked white feather floated softly to the ground. It was at that point I turned around and followed the same trail back. The sun had warmed considerably. I tasted salt on my lips from where I’d rubbed the back of my hand against them. Leika’s tongue lolled as she walked ahead of me. Her gait had slowed considerably. Instead of darting around, smelling what she could smell, she took on an easy ground covering trot.