This Thing Called Courage

Friday, June 26, 2009

Joe and Fionn's Excellent Adventure

WHEN PEOPLE TELL ME THERE'S NOTHING TO DO, or that nothing much happens in their life, I tell them to take a walk, preferably a long one. And keep the eyes and ears open. You might just save a life. So many things happen on our daily walks that I could easily spend half the day writing about each one. Yesterday was just such a case in point. The sky was brightening and the sun was flitting in and out of the clouds when we embarked-- the first time we'd seen the sun in at least a week: reason enough for a walk. We have various routes that we take around here, each one calibrated for different lengths. Yesterday we felt like a good stretch of the leg, as my grandmother would call it, so we opted for a six mile walk-- down the Fellsway, over by the Stone Zoo, around Spot Pond, and then back up the Fellsway again to home.

Whenever we pass the zoo, I always have to laugh, as invariably there will be small children on the other side of the fence from us. As they pass the jaguar and Mexican Crane (both of whom we have a salutory relationship with as we walk by, they looking, us waving) the children stop what they're doing to say, "Look,a dog!" and nevermind the exotic animals they could look at instead. It's all the same to children-- one thing in this fresh new world of wonder is as startling and noteworthy as another. Fionn was already hot and panting as we passed the two-mile mark, so he tried to pull me down a wooded path that leads to the edges of Spot Pond. At first I resisted this (I had hit a good stride by then) but then changed my mind, turned back, and let him pull me (he's surprisingly strong) down this little-used path, almost choked with poison ivy. Of course I was wearing shorts, and the trifoliate ("leaves of three, watch out for me") leaves brushed up against my bare shins and calves lovingly as we passed through. Fortunately I don't seem very susceptible to its bubbling, itchy charms. Fionn plunged into the water, and took a little doggie-paddle swim as he gulped water. This pleases me mightily. For the first year or two of our association together, Fionn avoided water like the plague. "Just throw him in," one of my brothers advised at the time. "He'll get used to it and grow to love it." That, of course, would have made him panic further, and so instead we just would walk by water quite a bit, and then the warm weather came, and little by little he discovered this strange fluid stuff could cool and refresh. We continued along, then, after this quick pause, rounded a bend, climbed the hill by the Botume House (the headquarters for the North Region of the DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation) then hit a long straight unshaded stretch, during which we were fully blasted by the suddenly hot and searing sun. Then another rise in the path, a twist of a corner, and the path enters thick pine woods, and that wonderful hot tang piney smell has at you. Heaven, and it was at least ten degrees cooler in here. At this point one is so high in elevation, the Boston skyline appears in the distance, wedged between the trees. A lovely dichotomy. Now you come upon Quarter Mile Pond (and one recalls the local joke, How Long is Quarter Mile Pond?) and yesterday there were two eldery brothers (clearly there were brothers) fishing there. Lovely people. The far side of the pond's fallen logs are replete with sunning turtles on a day like yesterday, painted turtles and snappers taking the sun. It's in this same pond that we've spotted, over the years, eider ducks, mergansers, herons, and mallards, as well as one couple whose species I couldn't identify-- always a good thing, for mystery is the sister of wonder. Then you come out into the parking lot for the Flynn Skating Rink, where a few trails running through this eastern part of the Fells converge, most notably the Hemlock Pool Trail and the Cross Fells Trail. It was while we were traversing the far end of the parking lot that we espied a beautiful painted turtle, with wandering on his mind: he was on the edge of the sidewalk, and heading onto the parkway, which is four lanes, with a grassy and tree-planted meridian separating east-bound from west-bound. Not so good! As we watched, the turtle tumbled over the curbing's edge, and we noted, as we hurried along to help, the on-rushing traffic. In the old days all these parkways had wonderful signage reminding people of the names of the parkway, as well as the delightful admonition, FOR PLEASURE VEHICLES ONLY. As a child, I often wondered what exactly this meant: was one supposed to turn around if you were having an argument in the car? Could you not take these roads if you were on your way to work, say? Or a dental appointment?

At any rate, when we reached the edge of the road, the painted turtle-- a healthy specimen, about salad-plate size-- was on his back, struggling against the hot macadam to right himself. This we did for him, but then-- much more quickly than I would have thought possible-- he scooted right out into the middle of the road, before we could snag him! There was only one thing to do, and that was to step out into the Boulevard ourselves, and escort him across, bringing the onrushing traffic to a halt. Surprisingly, no one beeped or cussed us out. Perhaps they were all pleasure vehicles. Once the turtle reached the high curbing at the other side of the road-- a barrier he found insurmountable-- we snatched him and picked him up. (see pic) This he didn't especially care for, and he began thrashing and squabbling and waving his head and arms and legs every whcih way, movements that only further enflamed an already over-stimulated Fionn the Dog, who all this time was leaping off the ground, trying to get a snatch. Talk about multi-tasking-- Fionn by the leash in one hand, the freaking-out turtle in the other, on-rushing traffic, and, of course, a suddenly fiercely itchy pair of calves.

I decided I would put the turtle in Quarter Mile Pond, which we had passed some time ago, so we hiked at a double-time rate back in the direction we had just come from, walking along the edge of the Parkway. By this time the turtle had decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and he had decamped-- head, arms, legs and all-- into the cozy confines of his shell. But the second we reached the woods again-- boing! Out he came, flailing away like crazy again, thus re-exciting Fionn. Now we were headed downhill to the edges of the pond, going through mossy pine woods replete with slippery ledge, slippery from the week of rain we'd just had. Apparently Fionn was ready for another plunge-drink into the water, and, just in case I wasn't, he began to yank like a 40-mule team-- not a good thing when one is going down the proverbial slippery slope. You can probably guess, dear reader, what happened next; but when we fell, we were careful to keep the right hand upraised, so the turtle ensconced therein would come to no harm. He didn't, and once we uprighted ourselves, I placed him at the edge of the pond, and from there he took off into the water like a shot: there was absolutely nothing slow about this turtle. As I always say, there's nothing like field experience to refute old chestnuts.

This accomplished, we breathed a sign of satisfaction, wiped ourselves off, then climbed the woodsy hill and resumed our walk. I marveled at the synchronicty of things: if Fionn hadn't dragged me down the path to the pond earlier in our walk, we would have reached the turtle too late-- or too early-- to rescue him, and there would have been one less salad-plate sized Painted Turtle in the world-- a sad thing. We rouned the corner and plunged down Elm Street, past Wright's Pond, and then reconnected with the Fellsway again. From here it's two and a half final miles, all up-hill. Fionn used to get confused at this point, and stop, and pull his mule routine, not understanding that the quickest way home was in front of us, rather than behind us-- but now he gets it. The sky put on quite a show as we gained altitude-- while it was gleaming blue to the east of us, the west was darkening, as billowing black clouds puffed onto the sky-stage. I doubted we'd make it home before the deluge, so we increased our cadence to a quick double-time. How the sweat rolled off us! But as we approached the top of the second hill, we espied in the near distance an ambulance; then a fire engine roared onto the scene; then a state police car came zooming by us, bells and whistles fully engaged. They were all pulled over at the side of the wooded road, right at a trail ("The Pickeral Path," say the maps) that a lot of local urchins use when they go swimming in Spot Pond. We said a silent prayer that no one had drowned. It wasn't that-- a carful of youths had somehow driven into the woods here, and the driver, still wedged in his seat, was unable to move his neck. Not so good, and we wish them the best. Finally, just before reaching Friendly's again, we passed the deep thickets where The Fellsway West and North Border Road intersect: and calling from the depths of these was the unmistakable, liquid trill of the wood thrush: signoreen-- signorina he always seems to be singing to me. Heaven, and the perfect farewell to our excellent adventure. Go and do likewise, I say!


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