Sunday, September 23, 2012

First "walk in the woods" of the season

It may come as a surprise to readers, especially British ones, that we don't take very many walks around here in the summer.

It just isn't very pleasant.

Maine summers are hot and humid.

And if the 80-plus degree F temperatures and 60-70 F degree dew points don't put you off, the bugs certainly will.

Our bug season starts with blackflies in May. Then in later May or early June, we get mosquitoes. Son after that the first no-see-ums, a kind of midge, show up. Then, while the mosquitoes and no-see-ums are still going strong, the deer-flies and horse-flies ("clegs" in Yorkshire) appear. Finally, we get the stable flies, which come in the late summer and last until First Frost. These I think I hate the most because they draw blood, but also because they come in the house, otherwise a refuge. They crowd the windows, which have to be open, and find a way in through the screens, or any door left open for even a second. Then, while you're quietly reading or watching TV, there's a moment of sharp pain and a drop of blood, and you know you've been bitten by a stable fly. I'm totally anal about screens and shutting doors, but they get in anyway.

All are aggressive, but particularly the stable flies and clegs.

If you're foolish enough to go for a walk, there's just no way to not get bitten. Badly.

You have to be covered up in clothing and wear some kind of nasty chemical to avoid the bugs. But then you'd be very hot indeed, and sweat buckets. With that kind of humidity, the heat is much more intense that anything you'd experience in Britain. Unless we get some drier Canadian air and a strong breeze, it's just not that much fun to walk in the summer around here.

So the Womerlippis pretty much give up walking in May, and don't start again until First Frost. This is hard on me, because I've walked for exercise and peace of mind my whole life, and there's nothing I like better than a good yomp in the woods or on the hill. There are, however, plenty of farm chores, and pulling weeds or firewood or throwing hay bales makes for perfectly good summer exercise, so I don't think we suffer too much on the health front.

But come First Frost, and I'm up and running -- or walking -- again, happily.

I can't remember which day of the week it was, probably Monday or Tuesday, when I went out at 4am or so to walk the dogs and saw the hard white stuff on Aimee's Camry. I was immediately pleased. I'd like to pull our potatoes and get them safely stashed in the cellar, and make a start on the other fall chores, especially "putting the garden to bed," but more than anything the dogs and I needed a good walk.

I'd been able to take a nice hike on Harris Mountain the week before with a search and rescue colleague, planning a training exercise, but the dogs weren't allowed.

Then our good neighbor Ham got out with his trail-mower. Every fall he runs this useful contraption, which drags behind his four-wheeler motorcycle, up and down the woods pathways to make it quiet for his hunting season, clearing out the brush on a couple miles of woods trails behind our house. I'm always grateful to Ham for this, although I know he does it for his own purposes.

Actually, it's the only useful purpose I can think of for a four-wheeler. You wouldn't catch me dead on one of those things. I can't imagine any way to more easily spoil a hike in the woods than to employ a four wheeler. Or snowmobile, for that matter.

But without this treatment, our walking trails would soon become choked by blackberry brush, golden rod, and tansy, and would eventually disappear into the forest. So I'm always happy to see the job done.

I found out that this chore had been done while checking our sheep fence on Friday, and knew I could now get a decent walk in.

Come Saturday, though, I had a honey-do list several yards long. Stuff piles up, when you work every day and two nights a week, my current schedule. I hate to say it, but I was pretty durn tired by the time I gave up on the list, around three-thirty pm. I didn't much feel like a walk.

But I set off and acted as if I did, and the dogs certainly felt like a walk. They took off for the start of the woods trail as if we'd been down there every day since May, and I followed on, distinctly plodding.

But the plod melded into a stride, and the stride soon had me puffing, and became a hike, and then a short yomp. We only went for our usual mile down to the brook and back, but it was the first walk of the official walking season. Hurrah!

And, although there was the slight matter of some unexplained (and unseen by humans) encounter with a porcupine that left them with a few quills each, not very deep (did they roll in a dead one?), the dogs thoroughly enjoyed their walk, and slept soundly all night.

As did I.

Mission accomplished.

I think I'll go again today.

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