Spousal Unit and #1 Son had planned a fishing excursion to Finger Lake. Fortuitously, the area has two other lakes within easy hiking distance, so I set my sights on visiting those two bodies of water, and meeting up with the boys at Finger Lake later in the afternoon. I was practically licking my lips with anticipation.
I could go at my own pace. I could examine unknown plants and snap scads of photos. If I wanted to pause and locate the bird singing overhead, I wouldn't be holding anyone up. And if I was really lucky, I wouldn't encounter too many other hikers!
As we parted ways at the proverbial fork in the trail, the forest was quiet other than the cackle of an unseen pileated woodpecker and the scolding chatter of pine squirrels.
Strands of spider silk across the trail, breaking gently on my face and arms, suggested that no humans or tall animals had traversed the trail this morning. Cleansing breaths brought in aromas of fir and cedar and freshly fallen leaves, as though someone had recently burned a hundred Frasier Fir candles. Nature's incense. I could feel the tension melting away as I strolled toward Lagoni Lake.
As I approached the water, seven mergansers slipped off a log, entering the water with barely a ripple. It must have been a productive spring and a successful summer for the parents and the progeny. A Belted Kingfisher swung across the lake with its undulating flight and rattling call. The chip-chip alarm calls of the Oregon Juncos were a constant backdrop. I poured myself a cup of coffee and pulled out Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water for a relaxing read.
"For I am convinced that man has suffered in his separation from the soil and from the other living creatures of the world; the evolution of his intellect has outrun his needs as an animal, and as yet he must still, for security, look long at some portion of the earth as it was before he tampered with it." from the Foreword, October 1959
I bid farewell to Lagoni and ambled along to Hole in the Wall Lake. The day was remarkably still, and yet the slightest breath of air would cause leaves to slowly swirl in a downward spiral to alight softly on the ground. It drew my eye to the roots arcing across the trail. How many feet have trod this path, inexorably peeling off the soil, and revealing the ancient arteries of the trees?
Two hand-hewn bridges cross small streams, and I examine the tracks in the mud. Deer and dog of some description. No bear, thank goodness! In my mood that day, the bridges evoke symbolism - a connection between heaven and earth (the term "crossing over" comes to mind). An opportunity to review one's current life - the word "bridge" in the broadest sense indicates that one needs to overcome an obstacle. To some people, crossing a bridge signifies an important decision or a critical junction.
I shake my head to clear my mind of these cobwebby thoughts, take a picture, and step firmly across the planks.
The forest is a patchwork quilt of greens, oranges, reds and yellows. On hikes at other times of the year, my gaze is almost always at ground level, my eyes casting to and fro in search of new plants and blooms. This day, I pause periodically and scan the bushes and trees for winged beauty. It has long fascinated me that some sections of the forest seem devoid of birds, and then a random turning thrusts you among a small flock, flitting and hopping and simultaneously carrying on a busy bird conversation. As all of you know, I am not a true birder. I can't name most birds from their songs, and I don't own the equipment to take proper photos. But I have absorbed copious amounts of information from those of you with birding blogs, and I am fairly certain that I spotted a Brown Creeper and a Cassin's Vireo.
My companion lifted off, most likely having decided I was neither a potential mate or a source of food, and I returned to reading.
"But to be quite alone where there are no other human beings is sharply exhilarating; it as though some pressure had suddenly been lifted, allowing an intense awareness of one's surroundings, a sharpening of the senses, and an intimate recognition of the teeming sub-human life around one."I reluctantly departed the tranquility of the lake; I knew that I was likely heading into a more populated area. Sigh. As if it was a sign of things to come, I spotted this boot to one side of the trail. Yes, you read that right. Boot. Just one. I ask you, how do you lose ONE boot? More curious still, a partial shell of a tennis ball was tucked inside. A man without a boot, and a dog without its ball. Does it get any sadder than that?
I hiked a total of 5 miles, with approximately 1200 feet of elevation gain. The area has several ridges running in parallel; while none of them rise higher than 3,500 feet, the valleys in between are deep. The most cavernous are full of water - voila - lakes! To access each lake, one must ascend and descend the ridges, which are steep for short distances. It's like speed-dating but in a hiking context. It's a pleasant change from our typical hike - a long, steady ascent to one lake in a cirque and a long, steady descent back to the trailhead.
My solitude was further broken by two hikers and their black Lab, but shortly after I found a spot where I could see Man with Hat and #1 Son in the distance but only rarely hear the murmur of the other men's voices. Sporadically, the walls of the lake sounded with raucous croaking - a frog? I tidied the area - why do people litter in a place like this? And I returned to my book.
"... it is the best and the worst that one remembers, seldom the mediocrities that lie between and demand no attention."
Eventually the boys finished their fishing, and came paddling by. It was time to pack up and return home.
I took a few minutes to breathe deeply, attempting to imprint upon my memory the yellow of aspen torches reflected in the water. How I wanted to freeze this moment, to preserve the profound sense of contentment and ease that permeated my being. Perhaps the best I can hope for is to remember my escape, and to call forth its restorative powers when I need them next. I choose to be grateful for the hours of solitude that I had, rather than resentful of leaving them behind.