Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Rewards of Rain

Everyday I take my dog down to the trails around Stony Pond for an hour or so, where I run or ski, depending on the weather. Much of the time we’re left to the geese, ducks and beavers, but now that the weather has turned sunny and warm, people regularly camp there, enjoying the peace and beauty of nature by building large fires, blaring radios and drinking lots of beer—often leaving the bottles and cans littered behind them the next morning, the remains of the fires still smoldering.

A family goes fishing, and crowds around the battery-powered TV they’ve brought, watching sitcoms. We pass a young woman on horseback, talking on her cell phone. Getting away from just some of it all, apparently.

During deer season, hunters park their campers here, choosing to hunt by walking the well-worn foot paths around the pond, waiting for the deer to give themselves up, rather than traveling into the woods where the deer live, coming out at night by the hundreds to graze in the fields. It’s just easier, I guess, near the comfort of the camper.

Leaving the comfort of the noise, the truck cabins, the telecommunications and the sunny weather has its rewards. One rainy spring morning, for instance, my dog found a fawn hiding just around a tree trunk (we apparently surprised the doe)—just about 18” long. When I investigated, the fawn bellowed (damn, those things have lungs!) and wobbled to its feet—it could just barely stand—and bellowed again. It was the cutest little creature—head far too large for its body, legs far too skinny—the usual “I’m small now but I’ll soon grow big” syndrome we recognize in puppies of large breeds. I quickly led my dog away, leaving the youngster to the unseen doe, but those few precious moments remain a happy memory.

Before I moved to the country, I regularly escaped on weekends to the Adirondacks, especially to hike in the High Peaks region—Giant, Marcy, Wright Peak, and other mountains in the Lake Placid/Keene Valley area. One Saturday, desperately needing to get away and clear my head, I decided to ignore the rainy weather and climb Algonquin Peak, the second highest point in New York State and doable within a day (the drive there and the climb). Of course, climbing in a drizzle means walking in a dense, gray fog, and today was no exception. I saw none of the spectacular views—I could barely see twenty feet ahead, just following the trail (and my dog) as trees continually emerged from the mist. This became a real problem when I reached the tree line, nervously trusting my dog’s nose to find the trail, now just rock, trees gone, using the occasional cairns as confirmation rather than guides as intended. I started to worry about finding the trail down again, when the fog started to clear a bit. As I climbed higher, I saw why, and scrambled to the summit—we had climbed above the clouds, and were now standing in bright sunshine on an island of rock surrounded by a fluffy white carpet stretching across the sky in every direction. It remains to this day perhaps the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.

Not that I’m recommending climbing the High Peaks alone in the rain—on another occasion, an excursion up Mt. Colden, I got turned around in the fog and wandered about for a few scary hours before finding the proper trail again. I forced myself to stop and change into fresh, dry polypropylene underwear and wool clothing. Freshly dressed, warm and dry, I started shivering nonstop—I had been in the initial phase of hypothermia, the first sign of which is poor judgment. (Ironically, I had stopped to change only to ensure that doing so would be a habit in case I ever did get hypothermia. “Ah,” I noted to myself, “THAT’S why I have that ‘make it a habit’ rule.”) I hurried down the mountain to a lean-to, built a fire, laid out my thermal pad and sleeping bag, and prepared a warm dinner. Crisis averted, but lesson learned—almost the very hard way.

Back home, away from the spectacular views and the dangers of the mountains, rain can certainly be a nuisance, turning the clay soil into a soggy, muddy mess for days at a time, making dry feet impossible unless I keep a pair of socks and shoes in the car. In the spring, I don't even try for clean clothes, as a single splash will muddy my pants. But at the same time, relaxing in a lawn chair, watching the birds dart through the tree branches, taking in the fresh scent, listening to the sound of rain on my shed’s aluminum roof, catching up on some reading–this is not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Not counting when my wet, muddy dog rushes into my lap.


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