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Beyond the treeline

By Jefferson Weaver

Since last fall’s hurricane, I have fallen into the habit of taking a walk or two a day. Sometimes it’s for recreation and exercise, sometimes to check the fence line. Occasionally it’s to make sure the ne’er-do-wells haven’t returned. Often I am checking the ditches and canals for beavers and absentee that the neighboring landowners seem to adore.

Knowing full well another spate of rain was on the way and not having enough
meaningful time to get involved in any of the more pressing projects that tend to take over my Saturdays, I opted for an bit of a bonus wander between wanders, if you will.

Walter the Wonder Dog, his sister Toni, Mabel the donkey, and Hudson the cat
decided that I needed company, so I had a bit of a diverse entourage for my
constitutional. One might question whether the use of that term is appropriate
nowadays, since my sorry excuse for a bad knee requires not just the use of a
walking stick, but a shuffling, dragging gait more fitting for a zombie movie. I would submit that my shuffle-stagger is more inline with what some modern progressives want to see done to the Constitution, but the rise of the 1984ish city-state ruling class is a column for another day.

Our lane ends, to some extent, in an accidental cul de sac. The road beside the old railbed does reappear here and there in the deep, overgrown pines, but I rarely venture across the invisible boundary, especially when accompanied by creatures who might decide to go hunting, visiting or look tasty to opportunistic omnivores. I usually make the circle, then amble back past the house, wandering halfway up the lane, checking both sides of the road for signs of cat- and poultry-hunting coyotes, coyote-hunting donkeys, and anarchistic beavers and nutria rats. If my rebellious joints cooperate, or if I am feeling overly ambitious, I’ll sort-of jump one of the ditches and plunder through either the narrow swamp to the north, or the pasture- in-progress to the south. The journey makes for just enough exercise to get the blood pumping, and makes up for some of the time in a gray box staring at a grayer box.

On this particular journey, that blasted knee overrode the morning’s ration of
naproxen and any thoughts of going off-road. Indeed, I had to stop for a breather and lean against my “country” walking stick. My entourage stopped as well. While the dogs waited patiently to see what I’d do next, Mabel ferretted out a sole surviving stalk of green grass. Hudson became bored, and headed back to the house with a flounce.

My resting spot was where two trails joined in a Y, then crossed the lane and re-
entered the woods. We see deer bounce across there in the evenings, and I’ve found fresh bear scat, coyote and bobcat tracks, and the pawprints of a businesslike possum there many a time. Walter and Toni locked their noses to the ground and began catching up on the day’s news as I stood there for a moment, wishing I had time or flexibility to wander either of the half-flooded, half-mud trails. I have explored them before, of course, but there’s always something new just beyond the treeline, a few yards from where I stop to retrace my steps, due to pressing filial duties or a malfunctioning limb. This particular day I spotted a well- used but refreshed bird nest I hadn’t seen before. I thought I could smell castor, but with hundreds of beavers in every direction, that’s as unusual as finding someone with a hand out for a political favor in Washington City (but far more pleasant). I wondered for a philosophical moment how many folks never have the courage to go beyond the treeline, and just never manage to find what might be right around the corner.

I read once of one of the great African explorers who gave up on his quest just a mile from his goal, because he was too tired and sick and disheartened to go through one more jungle. Of course he paved the way for others who did make his “great discovery,” but there’s little satisfaction in second place. There are more practical examples, of course; giving up on finding the right street just a block or so from your destination. Throwing your hands up when just a little more effort would do the trick. Walking away from someone who really, truly just needed one last chance.

There are often rewards just beyond the treeline; the remains of a forgotten cabin, an octogenarian trashpile replete with bottles and rusted treasures; a tree and vine that have come to an agreement and slowly created a singular piece of twisted artwork deserving of a place beside any Venus de Milo or David.

There are intangible rewards to pushing beyond the treeline, too. Lifelong
friendships and relationships restored; questions answered, curiosities satisfied,
causes discovered and lessons learned. All can await those willing to hold on or try just a little bit longer. It might take more patience or heartache or dedication but they are often there, just a little ways down the trail and back over yonder way a bit. With the scream in my aching knee dulled to a low, persistent grumble, I whistled up the dogs and the donkey, kept an eye out for the cat, and began my lurching, lumbering lope back to the house. Sadly I had things to do that were more important than flights of fancy in the forest. Besides, I was hungry, the clouds were starting to build in, and I didn’t have any rain gear. For the moment the real world again demanded more than its fair share of attention.

I promised myself that I would further wander those trails sometime soon, although I’d likely leave the entourage at home. I also reminded myself that we can all do a better job of going beyond the treeline, where we can never tell what might be waiting for those who ain’t afraid to take one more step out of the main — even if that step does require a stout walking stick and better boots.

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