Saturday, March 22, 2014

Fifteen After Seven

I'm not sure when I became a person of such regular habits, but at fifteen after seven this morning, a snowy Saturday morning, I was pulling out of the garage. With the dog whining in my ear, no doubt in hopes that I would speed up, I waved to my neighbor who I knew would be pulling out of his drive to follow me to the hill.

I've been doing this for years now, this getting out in every kind of weather to hike or snow shoe on a Nature Conservancy property a quick drive from our house, but my neighbor only joined me about a year and a half ago.  He's a consulting geologist who works out of his house and I of course, sit in my little office upstairs in hopes that books result from all this sitting. My family was delighted when he joined me, given my history with this property and my well-deserved reputation for a miserable sense of direction. (As a bonus he has two dogs who have graciously volunteered to teach our nine-month-old golden retriever the basics of dog etiquette while we're on the trail.

Barr Hill is the place we go every morning with the aforementioned pack of dogs.  The land was donated by Alfred Barr,a long time summer resident of Greensboro Vermont, and the founder of MOMA in New York. Barr Hill also plays a part in Wallace Stegner's wonderful novel Crossing to Safety.

It's has a quiet, gentle beauty that changes daily, and never fails to remind me that this is why we live here. This is farm country and in the summer a young farmer summers his herd down at the bottom of the hill and farther up the hill, almost at the top, you can see a fallen stone wall, a testament to the loss of a nineteenth century farmer's dream. One can only marvel at the audacity of that farmer, thinking that he could tame that forested section of this beautiful hill and turn it into a farm.  The audacity or perhaps the desperation.

Several years ago, long before my neighbor began to join me, something happened that still makes me think that this hill has a mind of its own and that it has rules that must be honored.  It was late fall, an inch or two of snow was on the ground, and I was hiking with my dog up at the top in the most forested area, knowing that any day a good snow was going to make that section impassable until Spring. I was hiking along when I suddenly realized that I was no longer on the trail. Not only could I not find the trail, I couldn't recognize any tree, couldn't see a blaze or identify any outcropping of rocks.  I looked down at the dog, hoping that he would simply keep going and lead me out, but he looked as confused as I did. I told him to go on, but he simply kept sniffing the ground as he circled me.

I rarely wear a watch so I don't know how long I was up there, but it was long enough to get me to edge of scared. I had walked this trail hundreds, maybe thousands of times, but didn't see a thing that was familiar. I went back and forth, up and down and finally had to admit to myself that I was well and truly lost. Finally in absolute desperation, and relieved that no one was able to hear me, I said aloud, "If you let me leave I won't come back until the snow is gone".  I looked up again and saw a white blaze painted on a tree. I slowly walked a little further and saw a second blaze, and I knew I was back on the trail and we were safe

Barr Hill is a beautiful place, but there are rules that have to be honored. I learned that and I suspect that nineteenth century farmer did too.