Monday, December 1, 2008

Devil's Marble Yard

Terrific Thanksgiving weekend here at the funky farm we’re still trying to come up with a name for. Sam built us an outdoor fire and we sat around trying out monikers. “Four Sycamores” would honor our huge creek-side beauties. “Cedar Springs” would give a nod to our evergreen brethren and the many springs and seeps, nearly a dozen that trickle under and sometimes out of this place. I suggested “Hairball Lane” as tribute to our many pets and things got sillier from there: “Crazed Rooster Knoll,” for mean ‘ol Steve Martin, “Rabbit Heath,” in recognition of our pal Rex. So we’re still working on this.

On Thanksgiving Day, Sam and I made a bridge from a little island in the creek to the marshy side we rarely go, where he now “claims” territory by whacking away the dried stems of the plants that are too thick to walk through in summer. We put down stones as pillars and laid a piece of old oak fencing across them. It wobbles a little when you walk across, but so do all bridges to playland.

Elliot and I made a wreath from clippings we could find, not only the green of white pine and cedar but boxwood and yew too, and then some red in the form of bittersweet and the berries from plant I forget (but should know), and finally some thistle and pine cones. We found a few feathers too, a cardinal and maybe a mockingbird—those went in as well.

We also hiked to Devil’s Marbleyard (a hike with an interesting name). It’s a family tradition to take to the mountains rather than the malls around Thanksgiving. We took some other kids with us this year to share in the fun. They hiked fast and together, leaving my wife and I in the back to enjoy the quiet. The day was warm and bright and we spotted a six-inch brook trout in the stream. When we got to base of the marble yard, chaos and noise reigned, as if Mr. Lucifer himself let loose on the scene.

Some kids immediately wanted to scale the massive boulders to the top, while some were more tentative and wanted a hand stepping from rock to massive rock. One boy decided to stay on the trail. If he was trying to get away from the shouts and noise, he choose the right path. But after a few minutes we heard no sound from him, and he did not return our shouts over the rock field. We began to get nervous. I lept up the rocks as fast as I could. Still no sign or sound. I went farther up the trail, which now split away from the rock field. Then I re-traced his steps, worried I’d find him lying beneath some steep rock face. Still no boy. I imagined calling the Forest Service for rescue. Imagined calling his mother with the bad news. So I dropped my pack and ran back up the trail, past where I had been before. There was a teary-eyed boy, afraid he had gotten lost in the woods, walking back down. We don’t know exactly how it happened: I guess I should have made sure he know that the rocks were our destination. And he by now knows not to leave the group on such hikes. I think he was wary of the rocks and thought the only way to be “one of the kids” was to hike to the top by way of the trail, but the trail left the rocks, headed off for another ridge.

Once he calmed down, he asked about bird sounds. Apparently, one bird was making a “beep beep” sound and this seemed to haunt him with his situation: alone and frightened. And then, at a happy reunion over lunch on the rocks, one of the girls did a tumble and nearly landed on her skull. And at the bottom of the hike, Elliot and her two friends walked off the blue-blazed trail onto a horse trail. Lagging behind, my wife and I heard their shouts. What’s funny here is that this hike borders a juvenile correctional facility, so they nearly wandered into protective custody. “Oh, come to join our institution, have we girls?”

What kind of bird was it? No doubt a demon one. The devil’s own. This is a great hike, but if we go again, we will be by ourselves.


Anonymous said...

What a horrible feeling to (thankfully temporarily) lose someone in your care. I lost a student on an overnight field trip once, so I feel your pain. After a frantic search involving law enforcement, we found her in a hotel stairwell talking on her cell phone.

But that's not really what I wanted to comment on . . . your family tradition of getting outside over Thanksgiving opened a memory door for me. When my parents divorced almost 20 years ago, my brother, sister, and I weren't sure how to handle our first Christmas in this new reality--business as usual at home just didn't feel right. For the next three years or so, we'd open presents first thing in the morning, then drag mom to the mountains and spend the day hiking. Driving back into town late at night, we'd eat our Christmas dinner at a special local restaurant (one of the few open--we'd always leave a huge tip). I really loved those Christmases; the mountains were exactly the balm my fractured family needed.

When I met my wife and started the complicated merging of families, our brief tradition came to an end. But I still look back fondly . . . I definitely did the day after Thanksgiving this year when I found myself (briefly) shopping. Thanks for the post. May you and your family have a joyous Christmas season at Crazed Rabbit Springs or whatever you call it.

Toni said...

I love hearing the crazy stories of your family life on the farm. I have no doubt that the name of the farm will be fun and perfect...and maybe a little crazy.

Your family tradition of hiking after Thanksgiving instead of going to the mall is just great. I think I would have enjoyed something like that when I was younger, and even now, but there was always too much snow to get somewhere for a good hike.

Have a great Holiday season!