Down the beaten path

Thu, 06/18/2020 - 5:15pm

It is almost summer and, much as some believe they can wish away the uncertainty that has engulfed us for so long, the reality is we have yet to see the back side of the hurricane. It is all speculation, from educated guesses to wildly uninformed declarations. “But you don’t have COVID out here” we hear people say, as if it is because we are protected by some magical force field.

So, I go out into a real field, where real grass is waving. It is only a respite, I know, but it is something.

One year in the nineties everything suddenly grew, the paths that had been open my whole life were finally devoured by invasives and the little ponds, quite hidden today, that lie to the north of the stone tower on Mansion Road, were frequent walking destinations.

Sam Sands they were, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen the name on any map. The upper one was fed in part from one of those long forgotten streams that ran under the Mansion Road. It, in turn, fed a second, more seasonal pond to the north, by what seemed to be a dug stream. Cows kept a grassy path clear along its bank, where some years there was a deep hole my mother said was a muskrat house. It was a grave disappointment; other places they build lodges, like those belonging in books to beavers, creatures with broad tails and distinct names, not so easily mistaken for big, slow, albeit shiny rats.

It wasn’t much of a pond, it was dry by high summer, leaving a bed that quickly went from mucky to cracked under the sun. In August, it was easy to see how the wire fence across it, extending from a wall marking a boundary, had been installed.

Still, there was a single plank across the ditch, a sort of bridge, used, I was told, by an aunt who had worked at her aunt’s boarding house up on Corn Neck. Later, I thought the way wasn’t that much shorter than by Mansion Road, but then I only wondered how she could have walked there for all the brush.

Now I look at old pictures and see the way was nearly clear then, that big white house house on the main road so visible and I realize, as I have so often said, the brush and I grew up together, it just had enough of a head start to make it higher than me, therefore huge.

Today, the scrub that lay beyond that stream has morphed into trees, old apples grown tall, newer maples self-seeded, and the shad, bigger than it is elsewhere, all of them already running together as their newness fades with the approach of the solstice, when the bright sun will be at its highest, the daylight the most of the whole year. They rise up in a green mass, like a forested movie backdrop, from the long north lot.

There is white all around, in the daisies in the old meadows so recently reclaimed, and in falls of crazy, beautiful, insidious, invasive multiflora rose. This is June at its height, “when if ever come perfect days.”

Animals travel the same route, even in the grass of my yard there is a track that often shows, a depression where the grass has been trodden by a series of creatures over time, soft footed dogs and even cats, especially where they rounded the southwest corner of the house, headed for exploration. Time ago, the cows with their big sharp feet probably kept that swath beside the stream open, and surely defined the single-file path of bare earth that crossed the north lot.

The horses are both strictly regimented and completely not. They have created a hard earth path, wider and paler then the cows ever dreamt of doing, but only within a certain distance of that far gate to the westernmost field. The cows came to the bar-way to be brought into the barn where they were milked and fed. The horses have a wider choice of destinations: that bar-way, now gate, when they feign inattention; the watering trough; the feeding station; or just the eastern part of the north lot, where they unexpectedly can drop from sight in one low corner. Or they simply scatter once they reach a certain point, asserting their independence or distracted by new grass.

There seemed to be more of a beaten path, closer to the barnyard gate, even last year where there are now only occasional patches of earth, a sort of stepping stone jumble until they reach that one solid strip which vanishes as suddenly as it appears, as much order as the field — and horses — care to manage.