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Across the Field and Into the Woods (Part I)

Feb 5, 2017

It was a nice day for a winter walk; sunny, temperature around thirty, with a breeze. Jesse and I set out around 1:30 pm, out the back door, through the backyard and under the pine trees, across the road, and into the snow covered field, in a northward direction. Rocky, the dog, followed us or rather he walked in the same general direction we did but made his own path sometimes far from us. Once across the gravel drive, we stepped down into the ditch and the field. Snow crunched underfoot. The conditions were just right so that most often we barely sunk into the snow. We’d only gone a few yards into the field before we came to a temporary fence, stretching east to west across our path. The posts were just small white fiberglass posts with s single strand, not so much wire but string. Jesse stepped over it with ease. Being considerably shorter, I had to be more mindful, stepping over very cautiously being sure not to touch the strand. Rocky had already walked under it and wandered around in the field some distance away. We tramped through the snow, across the large field. In some places, the snow was soft and in others hard and crusty. The snow glared brightly in the full sun. The snow varied in depth, it was deep and crusty where it had drifted, blown by fierce winds, but shallow, barely covering the ground where the wind had gathered it from and the sun had melted. With the easy walking across the open field we made very good time. The field is on a hill, it sloped down toward another fence, this one permanent high tensile fence. Jesse angled us slightly to the east to get us to the gate, there was no stepping over this fence. As we veered northeast, walking down the slope, a large hawk flew overhead and landed on the hill southeast of us, quite a long distance away. It was too bright to take a good look at it as it flew over so we weren’t able to identify it. We halted to take a look at it but we could only just make out its silhouette. Jesse marveled at the large bird and wondered why it had landed in the field.

We continued onward to the fence. We rounded the corner post to the gate which was two coiled, springy wires, like a slinky, with a plastic handle, to avoid being shocked and a metal hook on the end. Jesse unhooked the top wire. Holding on the corner post for balance, I stepped over the bottom wire. Then Jesse stepped over it, again, it was much easier for him to so he didn’t grab the corner post for support. He then re-hooked the wire, closing the gate. Now we were in a pasture. Jesse took the lead again, this time taking us northwest, downhill toward a big manmade pond. There was evidence that the pond had thawed and refroze a couple of times recently. Jesse wondered about the thickness of the ice and whether or not we should walk on it. I weighed in that we should be careful about walking on it. As we drew nearer, Jesse decided we should go around it. So we skirted the pond, heading up the northwest slope above it. Rocky chose to go around it on the northeast side. A dike stretched across the north end. Woods make a point on the other side of the dam, sloping downward. A deep ravine cut down the hill side perpendicular to the dam. On the slope above and almost even with the dam, we found coyote tracks in the snow. It’s always fun to see that they are around. We came to another fence and go through the already open gate. Large trees rose up on our right side, on the east. We walked across a very small pond, more like just a place where water will pool. More coyote tracks. Jesse wondered, “How do birds get water in the winter time?” I didn’t really have an answer for him. We climbed up out of the pond area, following a deer track. A few feet away, on our right, was an orange, metal pipe gate. As Jesse approached the gate he said, “I’d like to see tracks in the snow from the wing tips of an owl or hawk chasing and catching a rodent.”

I replied, “I have seen wing tip tracks in the snow, it is pretty cool.” Jesse undid the chain and opened the gate. We left the pasture behind and entered the woods. Near the gate, the wood and ravine were narrow. On the other side, Rocky was trotting in the pasture near the fence. As we began waking downhill, and further into the woods, Rocky found a way under the fence and explored the woods on the opposite side of the ravine from us, but heading more or less in the same direction. We hiked down a narrow old road, hugging the side of the bluff as it made its way down it, the ravine which became increasingly deeper and wider yawned on our right. Somewhat across from the gate, where the ravine is just a small ditch, is an old limestone foundation, the remains of a homestead. The first time Jesse brought me here, he told me people once drove Model-Ts up that trail. More recently it was a snowmobile trail, now it’s an easy trail for Jesse and I to hike down the bluff – hiking back up is not so easy. The trail is laden with branches, sticks, rocks, and in some places, during the summer, it gets overgrown with vegetation. It is also quite steep with short flat stretches or a gentle incline before resuming steepness. As always, I enjoy the trees, their beauty and relaxing power, as we walk under and among them. Jesse enjoys them too, at one point he said, “Behold, the mighty white pine,” when a white pine stuck out conspicuously from the deciduous trees around it across the ravine. It was indeed a mighty tree, tall, stately, fairly straight and with a large circumference. We observed several sets of raccoon tracks here and there along the trail. This spot is one of my favorites, it’s just so lovely. As we descended further and further down the bluff, the top of it loomed and then towered above us, an impressive sight, lending a fresh perspective on just how small we are. The side of the bluff just drops away on our right into the yawning deep ravine, going over the edge would be disastrous, which is part of the thrill and majesty of this place. The sun filters through the trees above us. In some places, layers of sedimentary rock are exposed. Somewhere close to halfway down, on the bluff slope above us, are two very large limestone rock formations, two halves of a whole. They had once been one piece, now cleaved in half with a good sized gap between them. Jesse pondered when and how they’d been split apart, and did it happen very slowly over time, or quickly in one day? Did it happen hundreds or thousands of years ago or in the last fifty years or perhaps even more recently than that? Did it make a loud noise or silently drift apart? Again, I had no answer, though this time he didn’t expect me to. It would take a geologist with special equipment to venture an answer to the why, how, and when, and even then it may only be speculation. I had an urge to leave the trail, climb up the bluff and check out the rock formations and possibly climb them, may be next time.

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