At seven months pregnant I feel the need to turn inward towards privacy and protection, towards the quiet of aloneness. I long to burrow into my own warm nest of safety and let the world slide away.
It’s late September and the leaves are just beginning to turn. I had this idea that I would take thirty walks in thirty days to our pond. Walking grounds the soul. The spectacle of the pond enlightens me. I feel its movement, the wild creatures comings and goings, and its constant presence. Walking the same path daily, which is something we did at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, reveals the way the world changes ever so slowly around us and with this grows an intimacy and love for the place we call home.
The pond is about .8 miles from our house. We walk out across the lawn and down the mowed path of the field. The field grass and goldenrod grow over my head along the first part of the path. To the east, the cellar hole from the old farm house, long gone now, is overgrown and home to summer snakes. Cedars grow there and a row of spring flowers stubbornly push through each year where there might have once been a walkway. A white rose vines the fence as well. I’ve stood near the cellar hole in the spring to get a sense of the lives that once lived there. I know where the old barn rose and look up the hill behind our house to the grave yard of husked souls from the 1800s.
This area is also covered with rocks that make it difficult to mow; burdock and prickly vines. In the spring, when the snow has matted down the brush and we can walk there, my husband and I survey the area and articulate big landscaping plans. But usually after spending July away, we no longer attempt to keep it mowed.
The field is long, perhaps two acres – I am not good at measuring land. We’ve let the field grow up all summer but keep a path mowed along its perimeter. We now need to find a tractor to mow in order to keep it a field, but as it is home to so many creatures we worry about when we should take on this task.
At the end of the field we reach the dirt road. Across it, an old apple orchard still produces hard, sour fruits. We turn left or west and head down the road. This evening, a Sunday, the four of us are quiet and tired out from Will’s birthday party and other weekend activities. The cat follows with us. We meander in a long line that occasionally pairs off. Will still likes to hold my hand in the woods, though not around his first grade friends. The boys begin their count of red efts, which they do whenever the conditions are right for the efts to slyly appear. Josh takes the lead; he has always liked to walk the fastest. His hiking pace when I met him required me to jog.
The road is rough and difficult to drive, though drive-able. The forest looms close, made up of maple, beach, oak, shag bark hickory, some birch and poplar, white pine, and cedar. In foliage, the forest looks dark and mysterious – a difficult pass. But once the leaves fall it opens up and there are roads and paths throughout the 180 acres of mostly forested land.
The boys count in total 19 red efts. We pass the path that leads to the other side of the pond where we skate in the winter and the path that goes up the mountain hill deep into a woods I have yet to fully explore. We catch a glimpse of the pond through the cedars. Two Canada geese float in still water. But we don’t stop here, we venture further and then up a little hill and down to the spot surrounded with pine where we come to meet the pond.
There’s a tiny platform – a first section of a dock – that my father built for us when he visited in June. I love this platform because it reminds me of home and my parents’ dock, composed of I’d guess around six of these sections. I can still smell the fresh wood, a scent so close to my childhood and my father who was and is always building something, whether it be his home or furniture or a new sauna when the old one burned.
We say little on these walks. Shrouded in the woods we each occupy our own bodies, our own silent space. The boys will bicker now and then, Will whines, someone will find a stick and whack at the brush, and then there is the counting of the efts. But otherwise we are quiet. I am tired at this stage of the pregnancy.
At the dock, Mo takes out the kayak alone. He fits comfortably into its little bowl seat and paddles off, heading toward the two geese that quickly, but loudly fly away. On the dock I sit cross-legged, while Will hits the metal poles with a stick, making a clinking sound. The sky is blue, the day has been a perfect warm, sunny fall day. Only a few leaves have turned, a few yellow beach leaves scatter the ground.
My husband’s step-grandfather George, died a few days ago in Georgia where he’d lived for two years in a nursing home near his daughter. Before that he had lived with a caretaker friend in Vermont for a few years. But, he had lived on this land for over forty years with his wife, my husband’s Nanny June, who died in 2006. When he arrived in the late-seventies he had already retired from the state police and received a pension. He was in his late-forties. He and June purchased several hundred acres of land and built the log cabin we now live in. He spent the second half of his life farming and engaged in the rural community around him, selling off bits of the land over the years.
Part of what I think about when I’m walking to the pond or in these woods, has to do with how long we will stay and whether and how we will attempt to purchase at least the house and some of the land. A part of me grieves the loss of this land, which is not mine, even before it’s gone. Human nature projects grief in this way. But it reminds me too of the tender feelings I have about my children growing older, the fear of them leaving. The fear of endings.
I have always felt connected to landscapes of home, have always loved old houses and the histories of the people who lived in them. I want to imagine them walking and moving across floors, through fields, up hills, down roads. It’s a quaint and antiquated desire, I know, but it’s also the part of me that feels wholly immersed in place. A devoted caretaker of the earth, a wanderer of forests, a lover of all water.
On our way back, Mo fusses about the cat getting lost. At one point he starts to cry when we leave him behind. I walk back and wait while he gathers her from the woods. His tender hearted worry over his animals feels mostly like a burden, but I see the beauty in him, his care and love, his devotion to creatures. We walk together discussing the new chicken coop he wants to build and the ducks he plans to get next spring until we reach the yard and he races off to greet our neighbor, tend his flock, and race marbles down the old screen door.