Tuesday, January 8, 2013

An Ideal Trail

Last year I wrote a short article called An Ideal Trail for a local land trust newsletter. As part of my research for that story, I discovered this quote by Anne Lusk, a Vermont greenways advocate:  “People are different on a path. On a town sidewalk strangers may make eye contact, but that’s all. On a path like this [Stowe, VT] they smile, say hello, and pet one another’s dogs.” 

That sums up my sentiments exactly. Why is it sometimes so awkward to pass a stranger on a sidewalk -- do you make eye contact, look away, say hi -- and yet so easy to stop and chat with strangers on a trail in the woods, especially if we both have dogs. Maybe dogs are the key! And often I meet people that I haven't seen in a long time on a trail.

Today Kodi and I walked the Doe Farm conservation area in Durham, a favorite haunt that we had not visited in a long, long time. The woods road and paths on the property are groomed for x-country skiing  by a local group and by now are well-packed by skate-skiers. Kodi loved running straight out on the wide flat surface. Part way in we met up with my friend Chris and his daughter's dog, Shadow, a 15-month golden retriever.

While Kodi and Shadow played energetically as new best friends, Chris and I caught up on happenings. He lives in the same town but we usually only run into each other on this very trail, about once a year. He was recovering from recent emergency back surgery, remarkably well, perhaps because he's kept himself in great shape for his job as an undercover law enforcement officer. He catches people smuggling contraband and fishing illegally, and such. He retires soon and he has great stories. 

Chris and I parted ways and the dogs, all smiles, reluctantly separated and followed. The Doe Farm trail winds its way down to the Lamprey River and then along an old oxbow of the river. It is along the latter stretch that we often see people ice-fishing; today there were two young men tending their tip-ups. They had chairs and a sled and buckets for bait and fish, set out on the middle of the oxbow. Kodi and I were on the trail 100 yards away up on a river terrace, but Kodi is naturally curious and trotted out to investigate their set-up.

The guys were happy to see Kodi, although Kodi wasn't sure what they were up too. He sniffed around their ice camp, perhaps smelling their fish or the bait. Once Kodi is on the scent of food he's hard to retract. One of the guys pulled out a piece of pepperoni (not sure if that was his lunch or his bait), brought it all the way over to me, enticing Kodi back to me. I went a little way farther down the trail before giving Kodi the pepperoni. As soon as he gulped it down he turned and ran back for more. He knew where that came from. Fortunately I was able to call him back this time, before he got too far. 

Another quote from my article was from Mariah Keagy, a former Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) trails crew supervisor, who said: “a well-designed trail is not noticed, but sits elegantly on the contours of the land, allowing us to enjoy everything else.” On the the Doe Farm trail we met a friend and friendly strangers, happy dogs played in the snow, and Kodi got some pepperoni. For him it was an ideal trail. Me too.

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