Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Crisis On the Not So Lonely Trail

It's not what my calendar says, but winter is here. Snow came the other day and although it was but a thin vail it snarled up the evening traffic, and it has not left. It coats my yard, it coats the path I'm on and the icy finger of Old Man Winter has stirred the water and I see something I have never seen, ice floes streaming down the Brandywine.

They may not technically fit the dictionary definition, not being sea water, but these are ice floes non the less, large flat rafts of ice speeding along on the current.

The geese don't seem phased one bit.

I've never seen this before.

It is cold, has been cold, the ground is brick, the air is so crisp it snaps. I have grown to like the chill again even though it goes deep to the bone. I do not know if it is age or my lack of a thyroid. I do not care. I am growing use to the frost.

Weather predictions did determine my destination this morn. On Thursday AccuWeather said today's temperatures would be in the mid-twenties and the RealFeel would be the same. Sunday, it said, would also be in the twenties, but the RealFeel would drop into the low teens. I would do Brandywine Creek today, because it is more distant, more country and more frigid off the creek.

The main trail here is 2.9 miles, perhaps I will stick to it, go up to the end and back. It's what I say at the beginning, but it's a promise I will not keep.

I guess I'm making progress. I only got lost in the woods for one and a half hours this time.

This is how I judged my progress in golf back in the 1970s when I regularly chased the white ball or as one wag put it, "A good walk spoiled". I did not look at improvement by my score, but by the number of golf balls I lost. When I reached a point where the ball I started with was the ball I finished with I felt I was mastering the game.

Perhaps when I get lost no more I will have mastered the game of hiking, but what's the fun in that?

On the radio coming here they played "Ripple" by The Grateful Dead. As I listened it seemed familiar and then I began to hear in my head Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Any Dream Will Do" from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Now I wondered who may have borrowed the tune from whom? As it were, Joseph came out in 1968 and "Ripple" was released in 1970. So was Jerry Garcia guilty of something?

Or was it some old traditional tune they both borrowed from?

There are a lot of treefalls along the trail. I wrote a novel called, Gray, and then one day did a photographic study called, Art of Place. Art of Place took passages from the novel and illustrated them with real life equivalents of what inspired the particular scene. My object was to show the difference between reality and author's art. There was a point in the novel when one of the characters escapes from her kidnapper, a very evil person only known as "The Gray Man". She manages to elude him at night, running barefoot into a nearby woods where she tried to make it to the main highway to get help. This is that portion:

"Near the point where the woods thinned the traffic was more than moving lights. It was dark whizzing shapes pushing her with air and sound. Just a little further and she would be at the highway, but then she came to a tangle of fallen or cut down trees. She would have to stumble across this jumble of logs. As she stepped atop one a broken remnant of branch jabbed into the soft flesh of her arch. When she yanked her foot away the log rolled backward and she tumbled forward, striking her head on the next in the pile. After a moment of swirling lights, Mary Beth Darlington fell into unconsciousness."

I hadn't a good picture of such a jumbled treefall, so perhaps these along this path would work.

Just pass this pile we come to the end of the flat ground alongside the Brandywine. We are past the picnic tables and the river is bending away to my left. It is carrying the ice floes from my sight as I cross the bridge over Rocky Run.

This is where I turned last time to wander lost for those two hours. Today I pass by and stay the main course as I enter into woods on both sides.

I feel I have stepped into a strange episode of Axmen, where all the lumberjacks fled the scene when snow fell and never pulled their timber up to the yarder site. The hills are littered with fallen trees. It's as if some typhoon blew through and tumbled a third of the forest.

It is this way all through the park. Did all these fall within the past year? Was this the result of last years blizzards?

Were these all natural or was this a thinning?

Some trees I can see were deliberately cut, but most looks accidental, natural in an oddly supernatural way. And I wonder about next summer when it turns hot again and all this tumbled wood is dried to giant kindling. I wonder about next summer when  thunder smacks the sky as lightning seeks the ground.

Is this clutter a forest fire waiting to happen?

Just meandering.

Today I don't hear any gunshots as I did last time when I went into these hills. What I heard wasn't thunderclaps, no, I know the sound of rifle shot when I hear it. It echoed through the air that morning. I checked later and this whole park is zoned for hunting. Last week was antlerless deer season. I am not a deer, but I'm antlerless and I am mostly dressed in brown. Please all you hunters look before you shoot.  It is a bit disconcerting to have all these hiking-biking trails located in the middle of a war zone.

I have been walking alone all this morning. There have been no gunshots, but the geese have filled the air with sound since I arrived. Their honking has been so pervasive it has blended into the background as a strangely harsh Muzak. Now it seems to change, to deepen, one goose dominating with a profundo basso. This voice begins to be distinct amid the clatter and forms words.

I peek back over my shoulder and four bicyclists are coming my way.

They zip on by and up the grade ahead, where they turn off onto a narrow steep path down toward the creek. The booming voice floats back. Orders and directions being called to the others and an occasional call back to this leader.

Down where they go, their helmeted heads just in view as they edge along the water, the ice floes are crashing together and being welded by the pressure into a shore to shore blanket. The air itself is growing colder as if this icy coagulation is acting as a refrigerator. My fingertips, though gloved, tingle.

I will meet these bicyclists again.

I am no longer the lone pioneer trekking the American wilderness. Besides those bikers Some joggers come from behind, with a warning first that they are to my left, then with a greeting as they pass.

I veer down a side path to an overlook.

It looks out across the bend of the Brandywine. I can see the great ice clog clearly from here. I cannot see any sign of the bicyclists.

I can hear more voices and two more joggers run by on the main trail above me. Two men talking of their business instead of escaping from that other world as I am.

There is an uptick in the geese squawking. A V-squadron fly above me, honking, honking, honking.

(Can you see the V through the tree branches? It is perfect, not a goose out of alignment.)

Amazing animals in nature, like these geese who endure this weather. They swim in the creek between those ice cubes without a grumble and don't catch a cold. If I were to strip to my skin and dive into that water I would freeze in minutes. Jumping in with my clothes on would not save me, the heavy cloth would just pull me under and I would drown. It is a good thing that most of us, unlike all those guys and gals in Washington DC, were given a brain and know how to use it. If not, we would probably see those geese and declare, "That looks like fun" and jump in with them, which is pretty much what those guys and gals in Washington do all the time.

And that's a nonpartisan opinion, people.

Standing, staring down at the creek is chilling. I need to get moving again and amble up to the main trail again. Another group of joggers go by.

It is crowded for a cold early morn.

I pass a  narrow trail that goes up the wooded hill. It is a high hill. I can see the trail twist up between trees.

I pass by the mouth of this path and continue on my way to the end of the main path.

Up on the hillside is an old deserted stone cabin. It looks lonely and forlorn. I wonder whose it was, why it was here, how old it may be?

Nothing tells me. There is no marker or sign to explain this.

I don't find any explanations on the park's official website.

It is melancholy looking at something old and deserted in the gray days of naked cold. It is too grim a reminder of some possibilities may lay ahead for a man my age.

Just past this remnant signs announce everything further along is on private property.

Ahead is the end and some apartments or a condominium where people live. These are places lived in and much more an enticing end than that forsaken cabin up on the hill.

They will not be my end, of course, I am sure they are out of my price range and I can only hope that old cabin is not what will be within any future price range.

I walk up to the very end of the trail and look at the scenery these apartments overlook. I realize that the factory-like buildings down below are at the rear boundaries of another park, The Hagley Museum, mills where duPont once made his black powder and grew wealthy.

Our area is rich in preserved history. I've been through Hagley a few times. It's worth the visit. Perhaps in 2011 I will take us all there.

There is a fee for touring Hagley. $9.00 for Students and Seniors. That's I, the senior part. This is the discount fee for those just gaining knowledge and think they will someday know it all and those of us finishing up life who've learned how little we know.

Like how did that huge bolder get in the middle of the path?  I think it was placed there. I don't think it rolled down the hill here. If it had been back in the woods along the steep hill, then it might have, but I don't see any companion rocks up the more modest mound here.

Perhaps it marks the divide between park land and private lots.

As I move around the rock I can see a jogger turn up that side trail that goes up the big hill. I think it is a woman, but am not certain from this distance. I too now turn up that trail.

At first I think if it is a woman she will think I am following her into the deep woods. But I have hardly started the path up and I can see her far up the hill and soon she is gone from view. She probably never even saw me.

And here I am again, off the beaten trail on to the not-so-straight, but very narrow path. I believe it will go up this big hill and then further inside the woods will join the path I had walked last week, which will take me back to the main drag.

And like before I am soon befuddled by the lack of distinguishing landmarks and disoriented by distance. The trail is to prove long. It will become narrow and rutted, full of rocks and broken limbs complicated by snow and ice. The difference this time is I meet more people on the journey. Early on I meet a woman with a large brown dog and we exchange greetings as we pass. I meet a man who tells me a side trail goes up to a road, which is not where I wish to go. I am passed by more bicyclists, whose ability to navigated these trails amazes me. They are becoming more tricky and difficult on foot.

And of course the further and further I go without crossing the path I expect, the more stubborn I become about pushing forward. So after going much further than I expected and no sign of the other path I come to a fork. One path goes left and I can see it twisting through the woods, somewhat down as if into the valley, but then up again. I start up the other fork instead, but after a bit reconsider. This seems to be headed out of the woods who knows where. That other way holds a promise of eventually turning back the way I think I should go. I retrace to the Y and go that way onto an even more faded, narrow and tricky route.

I pause first here to take a picture of the fork. I wait as a man comes down the path I just returned and let him pass. I ask about the other trail and all he offers is it twists up through the woods. Well, that is real helpful. I take my picture and go that way. I come down into a gully where there is nothing but rocks and within them a frozen stream. I cross on the ice and pick up the trail again now going back up and up. I try to take another picture and my camera won't work. I have decided it isn't the batteries. I think the cold is simply freezing my camera after a while.

Now I am fairly high above the valley below, walking on the very edge upon a path no more than a foot wide. A little shift of dirt and I will tumble down the long side and roll forever. Off in the far distance I can see something that at first appears to be a road, but after a few more steps higher, I recognize as the Brandywine and I can see the bridge just pass the entrance where my car sits. It is quite distance and soon the sight is loss as I leave the rim of the valley into fuller woods again.

My camera is completely dead now and will take no more pictures today.

Now I came to what I took as an old dirt road and I turned left down it. It was wider than any path I had been on in these hills, but it was extremely hard to walk along. It was deeply rutted it the center, with often slanted sides, full of roots and rocks. I think it may have been an old stream bed or perhaps just a sluice caused by years of heavy rain. I hoped it was going the way I needed to go for another problem was pressing upon me.

I hope no one finds this offensive, for it is a part of living, but my bladder was reminding me of the coffees I had drunk before leaving home. There was now a need we have all experienced one time or other in our days, I'm sure. This pressure is bad enough when you know you will be home in moments or you are somewhere and a rest stop is in sight, but I was in the woods with no idea of exactly where or how far to the exit. I knew things were reaching a crucial situation, either I did something about my situation or I was going to suffer wet pants. This would not only be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but the temperature was in the low twenties. I would not like to freeze those parts of my anatomy.

Now some might say,"What's the big problem? You are alone deep in a woods."

The problem was the trails had been unusually crowded this morning, probably because it was the weekend. I had been running into joggers, hikers and bicyclists quite often and I also knew how quickly and quietly some of these came upon one.  It was not summer. The forest was devoid of much cover. I could look out and see far through the trees. Still, something was going to happen one way or another.

At that moment the trail I was on dipped between some dirt banks and not seeing anyone behind or ahead as far as I could tell, I stepped off the trail and did what I had to do. With that embarrassing moment over I continued on more comfortably. (Now I called this an embarrassing moment, but technically I suppose one can only experience embarrassment if on public display. Let's call it a disconcerting moment.)

Afterwards, I had not gone far when I turned a bend and there came that lady and brown dog I had met long ago when I started up into these hills. I was glad to see her. I was also glad I had not seen her, or had she seen me, a few seconds earlier. I was glad to see her because it meant she must have circled around to be meeting me again and so I must be on the right path.

"We meet again," I said as she smiled at me. "Will this path take me back to the main part of the park?"

"Yes," she answered. "Keep going and you'll cross a bridge and that'll be the way to the parking lot."

I continued on and ahead saw a bridge. I crossed it and was amazed to see I came out where last week I had entered these trees for my two hour adventure. As I said at the beginning, I was only lost for an hour and half today, I am improving.

As I started back the main trail to my car, I encountered those first four bicyclists again. Mister Deep Voice was urging them to follow him up a side trail, one marked with the "No Bikes" sign and they were grumbling a bit. he was exhorting them, "Only fifty meters," he said. "You'll love it, I promise."

As I passed the other three I said, "I get the feeling you're not loving it."

They laughed and said something about too much leadership.

I don't know if they went up the trail.

I went home.


Tamela's Place said...

A beautiful walk thru the woods. Be careful during that hunting season Larry. You have got some beautiful pictures here, and such a great story writer you are :)


Tamela's Place said...

Thanks Lar for taking me on your journey thru the woods i felt like i was there with you.. I sure miss the woods.. Thank you for sharing..