A certain land is calling me. The shape of it rolls into the horizon, clear, nothing in the way. The wind blows tall grass and wild flowers.
There is so much space.
Past the open fields there are trees, clusters of oaks, maples, hickories, pines. It’s quiet, and it smells like fresh dirt.
My birth place, the Midwest, is calling me back to the trails I knew as a kid, the ones my brothers and I named- The Old Logger’s Trail that wound through the back woods, The Dike that buffered a drain ditch along Gus’s corn, the Tractor Trail that cut through an alfalfa field to Willard’s Pond, and the countless, unnamed deer trails where we romped as little animals on a wild playground.
Scaling trees, we trusted the weight of branches. We scampered hills, resting on glacial rocks for views of our dog on a chase-first the rabbit, then Duke with ears tucked back, a golden streak of fur. We gathered maple leaves, cat tails and fuzzy dandelions for mom’s autumnal arrangements. We ‘foraged’ for raspberries, choke cherries, sour apples, honeysuckle, garden green beans, sugar snap peas and kohlrabi. We built forts out of high grass and corn stalks, so we could “spy” on Canadian geese. When the moment was right, we’d run out, flapping our arms, sending those grand birds into the sky for the biggest sound we knew. Trudging uphill through heavy snow, we dragged our sleds to the top, over and over, for the sheer thrill of sliding down fast, and after ice skating for hours, until our feet were almost frozen, we walked miles back to the house, welcoming the return of circulation, chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven and the warmth of home.
Home was comforting, but we preferred to stay outside until the sky turned a swirling purple and pink.
Outside is calling me once more, because I was inside for ten, long years. Within the grip of arthritis, I was deep in my body, adapted to a high level of pain and resigned to the idea that I had limits, that there were things I couldn’t do anymore, or maybe ever again, like wander in the woods.
But last year around this time, during a visit to my orthopedic surgeon, I saw the stress fracture. Seeing a picture of my bones breaking, broke me, in the most positive way. I faced my fear of surgery, yielded control of my body to others, and then patiently (and impatiently) healed throughout last winter.
When spring arrived, I was given the ‘go’ sign from my surgeon and PT, and I took to the woods!
The expression on Benjamin’s face as I walk these New York hills has been the best reward. He and I have shared trails in all the places we’ve lived or traveled. Outside Chicago, at Moraine Hills State Park, we biked a trail where two whooping cranes performed a mating dance. In Raleigh, on the Greenway, we biked through a torrential rain, laughing the entire ride, and in Umstead State Park, we rode past lovely spring choruses of frogs, under blue skies dotted red with flocks of cardinals. Along the C&O Rail Trail, from DC into Maryland, we saw countless turtles and herons, one giant Eastern indigo snake curling up a snag, and a small herd of deer swimming in the canal. Outside Berlin, in Potsdam, we rode past castles, pretending we were in a fairy tale. Once a year, we bike Gordon’s Pond in Cape Henlopen State Park, and a few years ago we took a trip to Cape Cod for rides along the Kennedy National Seashore. Breathing in salty air, among sand dunes and scrub pines, the waves of the Atlantic calm us, a favorite kind of vacation.
Now in New York, with my new hip, we average 2-4 miles each time. We wander the Old Croton Aqueduct with its ancient sycamore trees, bending grand branches to the ground and Tarrytown Lakes with its marshy shores and secret trails. And we’ve covered several of the trails at Rockefeller State Park. We usually begin with The Brothers’ Path which circles Swan Lake. From Brother’s, we’ve walked the Farm Meadow Trail (which reminds me of Wisconsin) to the Ash Tree Loop, and finally to The Overlook which goes up, up, up, offering views of The Hudson and Palisades. We’ve also taken the Brothers’ to The Old Railroad Bed past a lovely babbling brook, around the Peaceful Path, and back to the lake. This journey is quiet, so quiet, perfect for settling our brains. When we park at the Sleepy Hollow entrance, we begin with the Pocantico River Path to Witch’s Spring, up Eagle Hill, and back down to the river again. Once on this jaunt, we saw a sign written on blue, laminated paper, nailed to an electrical pole. It read:
“Please Keep Rock Clean. Keep everything clean. Would you like somebody putting trash in your land?”
It was signed “Megan.”
I loved this! Megan hears the land calling, and she’s fierce to protect it. Thank you, clever witch, and may all your trails be clear.