The pink of sunrise sneaked through the clouds for a bit of color this morning. There were a few summers long ago when a lake that shone like a sheet of glass called us to do only one thing – waterski. I skied once this trip, for about one minute, and my muscles paid the price for a few days afterwards. The call of a glass lake now draws me to launch one of my brother’s little kayaks into the water for a quiet morning paddle.
I have been hearing about a new path that was cut a few years ago. It travels for a short ways into the woods in an area that has long been inaccessible because of wetlands and dense undergrowth. It is called Lucia’s Bog, named after my great aunt who was a terrific botanist, gardener, writer, and lover of nature.
She has always been a particular inspiration to me since she got a master’s degree in botany in her 60’s. Aunt Lucy brought me on some of my earliest nature walks. What a lovely gesture it was to remember her with this charming path through the deep woods to a picturesque destination.
So Lucia’s Bog was my destination today. I paddled across the lake to a new little dock and hauled my kayak ashore. The walk, I had been told, was only about 10 minutes long. After I had walked for several minutes, I had a moment that stopped me in my tracks unexpectedly. Out of the blue, I was struck inexplicably with fright. I became instantly aware of my isolation, and the fact that bears frequent this area.
What is it that you do when you meet a bear in the woods again? Clap your hands? Run? Don’t run? No one else is awake or anywhere near, or has any idea where I am. Stories of bear maulings streaked through my suddenly alert brain.
After a few moments of internal conversation, I decided I was not going to turn back. I tuned in my ears even more intently and walked on. Seconds later, I saw two white-tailed deer bound off into the woods. Had I somehow sensed the presence of another mammal? I don’t know. But after that I felt reassured.
I have been plagued by fears for much of my life, and there is a particular reason for it which came back to me on my solo outing this morning. One summer when I was 3 years old, almost 4, my family went on a trip to the Catskill Mountains. There was a bear skin on the floor, head and all, in the lodge where we were staying, which captured my imagination. The bear was nothing, however, to the living baby fawn that a couple of men had found and carried into the main hall to show the guests. I was mesmerized.
The men went to take the fawn back to the woods, and I followed. Somehow, neither they nor my parents saw me tramp after them into the forest. The men quickly got too far ahead for me to follow, but when I turned around to go back, there was a fork in the trail. I panicked. I did not know which fork to take, and was terrified of going the wrong way. I sat down on a log next to an old coffee can that I had seen the men pass on the way out. I thought maybe they would pass the same way on their way back.
My memories of this event are vivid. I don’t know how long I waited – my parents say it was only about a half hour – but it was getting dark and I think I fell asleep. I do remember that one man picked me and carried me in his arms down the larger path (the one I wasn’t sure enough of to take on my own), but that is all I can recall.
After that, I had a lot of trouble with fear in the woods. When I went on one of Aunt Lucy’s nature walks a couple of years later I had a little panic attack as the trees closed in around us, even though we were only a hundred yards from home.
I hadn’t felt that fear for a long time before today. Memories, solitude, the quiet of dawn woods, or some subconscious sense of the presence of the deer – who knows what prompted my brain to flood with a brief paralysis of anxiety. But I went on – and it was a hauntingly beautiful morning trip.
The waterfowl seem to love our shoreline. There was a positive crowd on my return.