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Go Take a Hike

Don't you wish you could tell certain people to "Go take a hike!" Well, you can do just that today and not get into trouble since it's National Hiking Day. On this day in 1965 President LB Johnson established what was then, called National Take a Hike Day. Its focus was to encourage everyone to get out and get some fresh air, get the heart pumping, see some views, relax, and communion with nature. In today's lingo, do some forest bathing.

As much as I would have loved to pack up the ole truck, pup, and gear to head out to a new trail somewhere, The price of gas and single minded trips have me somewhat grounded. I chose a place closer to home than most scenic trails. It was still a good drive away, just not as far as the mountains or sea. I can't tell you where because my brother's would be furious with me.

Not only is it National Hiking Day, it's also the middle of deer hunting season here in Maine as well as many other places across the country. Not sure that was good planning on the president to tell everyone to get out into the woods where gun-carrying sportsmen are waiting for the "big-one" to come by, but oh, well, whom am I to judge.

Ziggy and I made it to our destination. We donned our blaze orange and off we went for a super quick hike. I didn't have a whole lot of time. My intention was just to get into camp and check things out. I hadn't been there for quite some time and I just didn't want to hike out back of the house again. I wanted to go someplace "new".

Ziggy took off like that 1977 Meatloaf song, Bat out of H*!! Holy cow, what was he doing? My first thought was, There, I've lost him, he isn't coming back. You could say I was like doubting Thomas, without much hope, I whistled and yelled, "Ziggy, come!" Low and behold he slowed, hesitated, then looked at me from about 150 yards away. I increased my excitement to convince him I was more interesting than whatever it was he took off after. To my surprise he came speeding back to me. Hmm, our training must be working.

Into the woods we went. It had been several years since I had walked the trails, a lot had changed. The camp color is now green instead of blue, there is a new roof on it, and the immediate surroundings had been clear cut. Most of those things were familiar, but as I headed down the path I believed was the one that would take me to what we called the 4-corners, I became a little disoriented, yet still felt nostalgic as I passed familiar landmarks.

The first was the old stump my late Uncle Cakie and Mom (not at the same time) used to hunt from. It wasn't far from camp and in their failing health, was easy to get to. As time rotted their favorite seat, I wasn't quite sure if that was actually the correct one, but it was close enough for my recollection and was adequate to produce a tear from my duct.

I just love this time of year. So many memories were made from September through November starting with soccer and going through hunting season. And if it was a good year on the pitch, the two seasons would overlap. Both my parents have moved on to the next life, but these such memories keep them close.

Past the stump we went further down the trail that was still easy to follow, despite fallen dead and dying trees in spots from years of neglect. While hunting camp was a huge part of my family's fall tradition, it saddens me that the bonds that once bound us all so closely have loosened for some of us and even broken in places.

Camp is small but it was always warm and inviting, There was space for whomever wanted to come and there was never a shortage of food on the table, drinks in the cupboard, and the endless supply of candy. But as those ties keep unravelling, camp has become a hollow shell void of future memories. On a normal day during deer season, there would have been smoke from the chimney, rifles on the rack, and some sort of meal being prepared for those who returned from the morning hunt, and day guests. But not today, the mice and gobbies, weren't even around because they too knew there wouldn't be any scraps to scarf up.

As these happy and sad thoughts filled my heart, I hiked on with Ziggy in the lead somehow knowing where to go. This breed of dog is amazing. Several minutes went by and we hadn't come to what was the 4-corners, or had we? The woods were different. It had been harvested for the wood, so what used to be a thick forest was now sliced by old skidder trails and decaying stumps. I have to admit, it was truly ugly, but at the same time better than being in the city somewhere.

I gave up hope of recognizing the 4-corners that was the junction of what we called the Winter Road. I obviously missed it. We walked on and it wasn't long before I recognized the old cedar swamp where my favorite stand was. I even recognized a growth on an old tree. It was my older brothers and dad who first taught me about spotting landmarks when walking in the woods to prevent getting lost.

I was slightly disappointed when I saw the growth though, only because I knew my stand was before this. I used to look at that bump from my scope practicing raising my gun up and taking a bead on a target. I back tracked some looking for the stand, but I could not find it. Ziggy and I continued on until we reached our turn around time. On the way back, THERE SHE WAS!!!

The Cadillac of stands, broken and torn from time and a lack of TLC, I was now a mixed bag of nuts. I was elated that I found it. A few new balsam furs had grown up blocking it from the approach trail and the stand was only visible from the other direction. While excited upon seeing it, my heart ached as I missed my dad oh so much. He and I spent countless hours in that stand. First, building it. I think my nephew James, also helped in it's construction, I think, my memory is foggy on some details. Second, dad and I would climb into this. First he would go up, then reach over the railing as I passed my rifle up to him. I can hear him now, "Don't hit the scope!" In fact, that was his most used phrase while hunting, besides, "Be quiet!" One time when I was young, very young, we were in hot pursuit of a huge buck. We were fresh on the deer's heels, I fell in a small stream and Dad didn't even hesitate. He just hushed back to me, "Did you hit the scope?" He kept going and told me to catch up. That is one detail I will never forget.

But the hours we spent together in that standing doing nothing but sitting quietly, ears on high alert while our eyes scoured the thick brush for movement or the flick of a tail or rack were priceless. On more than one occasion our eyes and ears failed us as the solitude lulled us each to sleep. A great day hunting always includes a nap in a stand somewhere.

While seeing Mom's and Uncle Cakie's stump barely caused moisture from an eye, seeing this stand in it's dilapidated state had more of an effect on my emotions. It was probably a build up. I was glad to be out in the woods, I was with my good ole pup Ziggy, I was remembering all the good times had at camp with family, but my heart was aching because our family isn't close like that any more. We are all getting older and can't do a lot of what we used to. Our kids are grown and have their own lives, but more than not, the reason is because there is tension and division and the hard-headedness of our blood-lines genes makes it difficult for some to mend bridges.

I didn't think that National Take Hike day would result in a trip down family lane, but I am so glad it did. I love my family so much despite all our trials and tribulations and I am not sure that the pain and hurt several of us feel towards "this one, or that one" will ever heal, but I pray it will, because their is nothing better on earth than a hike in the woods ending at camp with smoke coming from the chimney, hot soup on the stove, and a pocket full of candy.

If you haven't hugged your family today, go do so, for me. It is actually better than telling them to go take a hike.

Happy Hiking,

Emily and Ziggy


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