Thursday, September 21, 2006

Day Four: 14Sept2006

Milder overnight - no morning frost Also no sun. Overnight rain and a heavy morning cloud cover make for a grey morning. We've slept well, pleasantly exhausted from our mountain forays of the last two days. Light rain forecast for the morning, heavy rain for the afternoon.

Button had fallen off the end of the bed with a thump the night before. We had placed the backs of two kitchen chairs against the foot of the bed last night, to prevent a re-occurrence. Poor exercise; groggy dog. Riley is unlikely to flop off the bed, since he burrows deeply under the bed covers. They sleep the sound sleep of untroubled virtue.

Because of the weather forecast we decided this wouuld be the perfect day to drive over to "antique alley". As a result of the day's forecast we could afford to squander precious time on the road en route to a different destination, another purpose. First then, because the rain was as yet in abeyance, we'd have a short hike, to gird ourselves for the wasted time and boredom of car travel.

All right then, back to the White Mountain National Forest, a relatively short drive from the cottage. Ah, the priceless New England place names we pass: Goose Hollow, Apple Hill, Chickenboro Road, Bear Creek, Berry Lane, don't we love them all. Close to which, driving through, we come across the neat house on the hill with its paddock below, circled by tall, bright sunflowers on this grimly overcast morning.

The paddock's inhabitants, five sweetly comedic grey- and brown-coated donkeys are cropping grass, one pair engaged in wrestling-like clown play. We pass that intriguing sign, new when we'd first seen it many years ago, now faded with age, its depiction of an unshorn sheep and inscription "Lambikins" barely discernible now.

Up and to the right, Mount Tripyramid, and further along - crane your head - our Tuesday pair, Welch and Dickey. Good grief, did we really climb those daunting heights? We park - again one other vehicle. Decide to leave our hooded jackets - we'll surely get too warm hiking and though darkly overcast, we doubt the near onset of rain. And, in any event, there's a good canopy on the trail to protect us from light rain.

The trail beckons and we all respond, Button and Riley sniffing, snuffling, racing ahead. Maples have turned crimson already and there are myriad hemlock, fir saplings among the larger forest trees. Absent now the colourful spring flowers that so delighted us in June, but as we progress we exclaim over the proliferation of large mushrooms, quite different in shape, colour and size from those we see on our home turf.

We divert into the trees to approach the stream, its waters high and gurgling over the rocks strewn along the stream bed. The composted leaves and needles of countless years provide a soft, cushiony kindness to our boot-clad feet, sensitive as a result of prior days' battering. Riley has become bold, he delves into the cool stream without hesitation, dantily lifting his tiny legs, staying close by the water's edge. Button, larger and with far more experience, ventures further into the stony-bottomed water, edging away from the boulders, strewn as though by a giant's careless toss into Smarts Brook.

Onward, regaining the trail, and upward, moving away from the stream then back again closer. The banks give way to stone walls rising high above the stream, comprised of beige, pink, red granite hosting in their vast cracks ferns, lichens, a luxury of mosses. We take photographs with mesmerized abandon, seduced by the majesty of huge old pines rising here and there among the ubiquitous lesser trees.

The tumbling noisy water, the immense canyon walls of colourful granite, here black and red, present a scene of overwhelming grandeur. The dogwood understory and the sumach provide more vibrant fall colour. This is a magic otherworld; we scarcely note the rise toward the pine flats above, but when we reach the cusp, a jolting reminder that this area was ripped up a mere four years earlier, logged of its wonderful mature evergreens.

The area hadn't been re-forested, but nature's regeneration has worked wonders in those four years. The ground is still visibly scarred by the ruthless mechanization of the logging and it will be many years before a true canopy develops, but those mature trees which had been spared, and the since-emerged young hemlock, spruce, pine and fir are heralding a respectable come-back. The opportunistic first-responders, poplars, oak and maples rushing in as first growth now less in evidence. Up to our left, the sharp peak of Sandwich Mountain.

Enough, we turn back. It's going to be a long and busy day, and we call Button and Riley to retrace our steps. The atmosphere has changed. The cloud cover lightened, threat of rain now seeming more remote. As we descend and rejoin the stream, its vigorous presence roars pleasantly in our ears. Soon, heading toward us, a man and his large dog, a Golden Retriever.

He calls his companion to him, leashes him, then awaits our presence to explain that his dog's enthusiasm compels him to leap in joy upon strangers. He's had no luck, he says, telling his dog that people will love him just as much if he doesn't leap at them. Leashed, the dog awaits our close presence and the petting he so richly deserves.

I've picked stupid little Riley up, and he is barking and snarling at the ebullient dog from the safety of his perch, so I explain to this genial man what a hopeless case our testosterone-burdened little dog is.

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