Icy breeze tunnels through the woods and down the snow sprinkled blue trail, to whip at the part of her face not covered by a ski cap and a hoodie. Maureen wonders how long before she can get frost bite on her nose.
It is a sunny, incredibly freezing, and clear early morning. Maureen can feel and move ten toes ensconced in two pairs of socks and hiking boots. Those boots have walked at least 100 miles of trails. Her fingers are tightly tucked into black and white ski gloves. Maureen is grateful once again for wonderfully designed cold weather gear. She thinks of the trekking poles Rachel gave her as a good bye gift and of cross country trails and skis.
Maureen’s furry hiking companions are joyfully running everywhere on the trail and in the nearby woods. She sees a small herd of white tailed deer emerge from the bushes, before the canines do, and distraction in the form of Zukes treats does the trick. The white “flags” raised high in alarm and warning, run off in another direction. ‘Human’! ‘Canines’! Eight or ten wide eyed, long eared deer get away.
Maureen and the dogs are looking for a survival shelter on this cold February morning. Or rather the human is looking; the canines are just happy to “be dogs”. They’re glad Maureen finally decided they were overdue for a hike.
In December Aunt Maureen, Uncle Charlie and a seven year old “super kid” built the shelter using downed tree branches and other deadfall. They noted the coordinates on the map. Noted “handrails”; drainage on one side and wide open trail marked gas line on the other. And the lake visible to the south.
This morning she took one false turn into the woods where ‘we are too close to the blue trail’. The woods look the same everywhere. Many bare trees. Lots of dead branches. Millions of dead leaves and everything dusted in just a little bit of white and dappled in sunshine. Walked away from the misleading drainage… checked the terrain and headed to “our” drainage and the survival shelter is right where they left it six weeks ago. Yes. It would be!
This is a good bye of sorts. Or maybe just “see you later”. To elevations and drainages and trails and landmarks that gave her navigation skills. Map and compass were her tools and GPS was backup as Maureen zig zagged back and forth and all over these acres of woodland.
She and her dogs walked these trails through all manner of rain and shine. Snow, ice, wind, even a thunder storm. Some glorious hikes under canopies of green alternated with oranges, reds and yellows and finally bare tree limbs. Sunshine, gray thick clouds, fog, humidity and bugs that barely stayed away from the obligatory “off” sprays.
It was where she recuperated from a flu that brought Maureen to her knees one relatively warm January. She sat on a bench at the lake in the winter sunshine for hours while the dogs ran on the sandy beach and chased each other into the water.
It was where she took her hiking stick and “rehabbed” a recovering sprained knee one hot and muggy August. Moving slowly at first and finally able to walk a quarter of a mile in half an hour.
It was where she went to rest from surgery one September. Abdominal binder in place and every bootfall a calculated event. She invited a slower walking friend to come along on that “walk”.
This August, she was face to face with the remains of Hurricane Irene everywhere in those woods. Green leaves and fresh broken trees and branches lay across and in between trails. She stumbled onto a geocache in a storm damaged tree trunk as she walked over logs and downed trees off the green trail. Geocache. There’s a thought.
Studied for ACLS one May sitting on a log off the red trail. Had subjects hide in those woods for her training search dog to find. Even took her broken aspirations for the same SAR dog to those trails to grieve a genetic disorder called EIC in dogs.
Adieu. How does one say thank you for being my grounding and sanity for years of confining city living? Who is Maureen? And Charlie?