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A Great Big Post About Babies, Dogs, Owls and Trails

Sunday, December 13, 2020

It's been quite a weekend, and it's only Saturday night (though you'd never know it by my plans, which include eating, blogging then...yum...sleeping). Temperatures here in southeast Ohio hit 65 on Friday and 58 Saturday, which constitutes a great big cattle prod to me to get out and do something productive.

Cutting a trail down to the orchid site (which is deep in the stream valley in the middle of this shot)

ignited a fire in me to revive the Loop Trail, which my old pals may remember kept me sane throughout my kids' infancies. I would put Phoebe down for a nap, grab the baby monitor handset, and absolutely gallop around this self-made loop, laboriously cleared with hand clippers, watching birds on the fly and drinking in the sights, sounds and smells of the woods, which are so very different from those of the nursery. 

When she was old enough to carry in a backpack, I'd do that, and we had some fun struggling up and down the slopes together. I fashioned a little rear-view mirror so I could see her sweet face. Usually a line of drool ran down and pooled on the shoulder strap. Oh, for those days, and how it felt when she'd fall asleep and turn into pudding in the pack. 
Later, Liam loved to ride in the backpack, until he got so fat his thighs got pinched! Ha ha! I remember how sad I was when I had to retire the baby pack.

I wanna know what happened to my spherical child. He's all stretched out now.

When I began running with Chet in 2009 or so, I forsook the forest with its upsy down struggle and took to the roads. I had a dog who was absolutely reliable, to the point where he didn't even wear a collar, because Job One for Chet Baker was sticking with Mether. I could tell him what side of the road to run on and he'd click right over. Bless his sweet little pied soul. 

Curtis Loew has other priorities. Oh, he loves to check in on me, finding me wherever I might wind up in the forest, but clicking along at my side is not his jam. I have run with him on a leash, and he's very good, but I just don't like keeping this dog, or any, on a string. 

So running has given way to hiking, and that's just fine with both of us. I can stop and examine whatever I want; clamber, slip, and slide, and Curtis can memorize every hill and holler for a couple miles around us.

I don't know exactly what makes me pop out of bed and say, "I'm going to clear trails today!" but sunshine is one of them. I don't eat or drink--I just suit up and head out into the morning with my old buttonless Carhartt jacket on, and my Foxgloves gauntlets. I love these gloves--they protect my hands and arms from thorns and Lord knows there are plenty of those. I feel absolutely naked without them when I'm gardening! As close to an evening glove as I'm ever gonna get.

Also pictured: the smaller of my two Fiskar's boltcutter style clippers. Using them to clear a mile and a half or so of trail is like doing a thousand flexes and squats. As I sit here writing, everything hurts. I only know how to go all in, so that's what I do, time after time. I go out before 8 and get home at lunchtime, and I'm done with a capital D.

While I toiled away on Friday, I heard Curtis give the deep, throaty roar that means COYOTE. He stood and challenged it (them?) for awhile, then ran back and glued himself to me. I'm so glad he's wary of coyotes and has such a keen nose. He was not going to leave me alone with those characters around.

Some crows flew over, cawing, and Curtis tracked them through the trees. 

One of the things I love about cutting trail is that Curtis can do his thing, coursing the woods all around, sniffing in brushpiles and digging holes, even treeing a fat opossum! while I do my thing. I can usually hear his bells ringing, but even if he's out of earshot, I know he's dropped a pin on my location. That dog can cover an amazing amount of ground, and unerringly find his way back to me, or home. For that, I am so grateful. 

To learn this about him, of course, I had to let him go. 
That has been one of the biggest leaps of faith I've taken, to let this dog go. 

Curtis has a lump on his lower neck, a cyst most likely formed when he was chained out in his former life. His veterinarian keeps an eye on it, but she says it's nothing to worry about--just a souvenir of when he was a dog, not a demigod. Just a dog, not my familiar, my best friend and co-adventurer. Just something to be chained up when he gets in trouble.

I look at this dog, this beautiful shooting star, and thinking of him staked out and chained almost brings me to tears. All that was locked up in him, and all the trouble he got into, because he had not yet found his place in the world. His place is with me, and my place is with him.


 The way he finds me in the woods just kills me. He'll go off on his gigantic circular rounds as I work, the happy jingle of his bells falling to silence as he leaves. I'll shake my head and think, "He'll be back." And sure enough, he finds me, wherever I happen to be. I'm sure he can smell me for a mile. I probably smell like a porkchop to him, since I cook so much. I pulled on yesterday's shirt and thought, "Porkchops! I must smell great to Curtis!"

Part of the goal in clearing this mile of trail was to hack my way to this beech-dominated part of the forest, always a favorite in any season. Barred owls have nested down here for years. I've found their pellets full of crayfish; I am still finding their droppings, and Phoebe has even caught them on a trailcam! 

Please, click on this magical shot to see a barred owl making its living in our little creek.

I can't believe it's ever this green and lovely down there, but it is, and it will be again. And still I love it in winter as well. It's all so beautiful. I can't believe it's ours.

I see marvelous things while clearing. This is a giant buck scrape that's still being used, kept clear and scored every few nights. For those who don't have occasion to see them, these scrapes are the calling cards of rutting whitetail bucks. They clear the duff, paw with hooves and score with antlers, pee in them, and thrash the vegetation all around with their antlers. There are almost always broken twigs right overhead; they push the twigs into the orbital glands below their eyes to leave scent there too. It's the buck's way of advertising his availability. 

I cleared a lot of brush and briars down through the woods so I could break out onto this old logging road. Then I cleared the logging road of multiflora and briars. 

Sometimes clearing is no big deal, and sometimes it's a real pain. 
Cutting a trail through our blackberry patch hurt!

This passage was hard-won, as it was full of Smilax (catbriar).  You can see the green haze that says "You ain't walking through here today" on either side of the new trail.  I can spend hours in a thick place like this, making it walkable. It reminds me of doing the painstaking step by step drawings for animation. It can take you hours to clear a trail that you then walk through in seconds without even thinking about it. 

But that's part of the beauty. That's what makes it so worth doing--that grin I get when I stride smoothly through what used to be a briar patch, on my way to the Lycopodium Rooms. 

Here's the portal to the Rooms. It's kind of a trackless place, so I flagged my trail with little pink ribbons. 

The thing is to have destinations--beautiful places that move my soul--and to be able to get to them easily. To see that Certain Slant of Light and think, "Oh, wouldn't that be gorgeous down in the Chute?" and then take off on a newly cleared trail and get there in good time and without falling down. 

I love to gaze on these huge beech trees near our southwest border. 

Shila takes it all in.

This passage of forest is especially nice on a winter afternoon, when there is a boy and a dog for scale and sweetness. How good of the boy to wear beech-trunk gray, and of the dog to wear leaf-litter camo!

Curtis looks grand against beeches, moss and leaf litter.

Even when he's got a snagglepuss.

I laughed for about ten minutes when I blew this shot up. Toof.

I absolutely love this clip. We heard a huge tree fall somewhere upslope, and he was all afire to figure out what was happening up there. This is going to sound weird, but the fact that Curtis is able to pant noiselessly (and does) is just one more wonderful thing about him. Chalk it up to my being a birder, and always listening--who needs to listen to loud panting? 




Please say a little more about buck scrapes. What? Why?

@Bonnie: Done! See revised post.

The companionship of a fine dog; nothing equals it!

Nothing like wandering the woods with good pups.

Its nice to learn more about the nature we love. Ive always called green briar that but you taught me it's Smilax name. Panting quietly is an amazing feat . : )

Curtis seems to have morphed into a handsome muscular beast since you have had him. I am so glad for you and him to have come together.

So many gasp inducing sentences in here! When's that memoir coming?

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