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Incident at PawPaw Creek Bridge

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

You know how I feel about tracks. This winter, I started collecting them. It wasn’t like amassing a salt and pepper shaker collection; it was more like a series of safaris, a deeply satisfying, soul-feeding pursuit of a goal. I didn’t add tracks just to add them; I wanted to learn them, and show them to you. So I was very excited yesterday when I spotted the tracks of a brand-new mammal in the mud alongside PawPaw Creek. Following the rule of All Best Discoveries, I had thought about bringing, but neglected to bring a camera, even my trusty little Olympus. Nada. D'oh.
So this afternoon I left early to pick up the kids halfway down the bus route, and took them down steep, slippery dirt Spears Road to the iron bridge over PawPaw Creek. This is such a quiet road you can park right in the middle of the bridge and not meet a car for two hours. It’s pretty remote. Which is usually a big plus as far as I'm concerned. Just how I like it.
We were planning to spend some time here, and I was feeling good because the kids were into it and excited to find some signs of spring. So I pulled off the road onto a gravel pulloff by the bridge. I was axle-deep in mud the consistency of chokit pudding before I could even drop the F-bomb. Phoebe, feeling the Explorer list to port and suddenly sink in deep, gave vent to her best B-movie scream (right in my ear, incidentally) and began begging frantically to deplane.
I cussed awhile more, got out, freed the kids, looked at the situation, shifted into 4-wheel drive Low, and backed up. The car wriggled hopefully and made about a dozen feet of progress before nestling more comfortably into even deeper, softer mud. Everything I did from then on only made it worse.
I had my camera this time, but had considered bringing and then neglected to bring my cell phone. Why would you need a cell phone when you're just hunting mammal tracks? No reception out here, anyway.
Might as well get some pictures of the tracks while I figure out how to get us out of this.
Mad as I was, I couldn’t stay mad. Dang, these are the coolest possible tracks.Any guesses?
OK. I’m going to give it to you on a big ol’ wooden spoon. The same animal did this.

And this.

The nearest house showed no signs of life and was a bit scary anyway. Window busted out in the attic, that kind of scary, where you figure the coons and squirrels live in there along with the people, if there even are any people in there. There was also an abandoned trailer that was no help. We started walking to the nearest paved road, and decided to flag down the first car we could, and ask the driver to call the Salem Volunteer Fire Department for us. Yeah, that’d work. I decided not to bother Bill about it, because he’d just have to pack up and drive 18 miles home in the van and scramble around for a chain and we’d probably pull the bumper off the van trying to get the Ford out. Nah, I wouldn’t bother Bill.

The first truck that came by had a weathered couple in it, people who looked like they had always lived out here in the hollers and always would. The kind of people who, if you had to guess their age, you'd get it completely wrong. They were quiet and kind and they looked at me silently while I stammered out my problem and made my request that they call the fire department for me when they got home. The man looked thoughtful, waited long enough that I wondered what he was about to reply, then said, “Wal, I s’pose I could go get the Bronco and a chain and pull ye out.” I could hardly believe my ears. But that is exactly what he did.

It took more than an hour for the couple to return. While we waited, we looked for things. The first coltsfoot of spring. A whole mess o' white-tailed deer hair mixed in with ash seeds; the flotsam of the stream. I figured that a deer carcass had found its way into the stream earlier in the year. Hair and seeds, and millions of things carried along by the slow-moving water.

We found minnows in the stream, and heard a brown creeper and the first spring peepers. Creepers, peepers. Phoebe and Baker went exploring in the woods and found two pickerel frogs!!!, a new herp for me for Ohio. Oh! Oh! Oh! What a thrill! O beautiful golden-eyed creatures with their fancy skins. Pickerel frogs call underwater. It sounds like a soft snore. I have heard it, but never seen the perp-herp. They are big, beautiful frogs. Phoebe said she thought the frog's head was a snake when she first spotted it. And then she found another. Too cool.

Expotition done, we fell to watching for our saviors. Phoebe commented that it’s nice to live in the country because people out here won’t leave you in trouble; they’ll do what they can to help you. Even having said that, she began to look a little worried as the minutes ticked by.
Liam was not worried at all. He played with his cars and pestered Phoebe.

When the couple finally returned, they were in a beat-up but capable-looking Bronco, and they had a little apricot poodle and a black Pomeranian with them. I thought that was cute, and Baker did, too. Take the dogs out on an errand.

It didn’t take the good Samaritan five minutes to get me out of my predicament.If these pictures are lousy, it's because I was trying to get a picture of him without appearing to be taking a picture of him, and failing miserably. I slipped a twenty in his shirt pocket (though I had neither my purse nor my cell phone, I did happen to have a twenty folded in my pocket) and thanked them both profusely. They nodded and drove off as quietly as they’d come.


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