There's a car outside skidding its tires up our icy hill, and the wind is roaring about the house like a train circling. It feels like the window panes are going to get punched in. The snow is more than 3 feet deep in our backyard and in some drifts, over 6. Taking my dog Josie for her walk along the road is like taking our lives into our hands; the snow banks make for a maze where imposing cars suddenly appear and disappear, and it's nerve-wracking. So I decided to take a different route, out back and into the woods, atop the snow and otherwise prohibiting brambles. For the 6 and a half years we've lived here, we've never ventured back there, because it was too difficult to manipulate the undergrowth. But now, with snowshoes, I can easily make a trail for my dog and I to safely follow.
The land abuts the Bass River, now cloaked in ice. In the morning we usually see a red-tailed hawk perched high in an oak tree, surveying the land around the cattails; nervous doves flutter below him. When I peered through my binoculars at him, I saw a design on his back like a peacock's emerald eyes-- he was still watching me with his back turned.
The woods here isn't much and the river isn't that pretty during warmer months. Its bed is muddy and when the tide is low, you can see remnants of tires, chairs, shopping carts. You can't help but hear the road-- Route 62, and see the urban sprawl of the Cummings Center. But there, where the hawk perches, atop an old oak tree, atop a promontory, you can look East you and see the breadth of the woods, a tributary of the river winding through the ice; an old nineteenth century factory building and church spire make for a nostalgic backdrop. At dusk yesterday, the setting sun pitched an orange halo over that part of the city, and the wind picked up the snow and made for an ethereal white haze. With the tinkle-ping sound of the sailboats boarded across the river, it was mystical.
We trudge back our worn path, which has been covered again and again by more snow; I make sure to break tree branches so I can trace where I've been. And it's worked famously. We track through the new fallen snow with every storm; any move to the right or left and we sink into cold, soft down. There are coyote, squirrel, fox, and rabbit tracks back here. I found an owl or hawk bolus and the remnants of a kill. There are locust, birch, box elder, and oak trees so old, they have gaping mouths that might at any moment start talking to you. There's thriving life in these ragged woods behind my house.
Last week I contemplated crossing the land bridge beneath the House of Usher. The House of Usher rises up from the banks of the Bass River like the tall gray oaks that camouflage it. It has giant solar panes mirroring the sky and a deck that spans into the branches of the trees. The man in the house has a vehicle for hauling trash or shoveling snow off his long clandestine driveway. Once, when I was in the latter months of my pregnancy, I was picking lilacs at the end of his driveway where a blooming bush was growing on an abandoned property on the other side of his fence. "Hello!" he kept yelling at me. "Hello!" His pitched voice betrayed his nervousness. In the back of his house, in the woods along the land bridge there are half a dozen No Trespassing signs, which I found intimidating, thus halting my trek at his boathouse. The dock there doesn't look like much from the road across the river, but up close, it's a formidable structure, built like a tank and stuck in the frozen mud and snow. Josie made her way out to the beach part behind the dock, and while the man was watching her from the window, pooped. I hobbled out to go bag it. It was sort of funny, a retribution of sorts, and I could have left it, but I didn't want him to peg me as irresponsible; I didn't want to give him any ammunition.
I try to sympathize with the guy. If I owned a house in the woods and the city wanted to run a trail abutting my property would I be upset? Would I dress up in a Carhartt jumper and spy on snowshoers hiking with their dogs, making for a cliche scene from a B-rated horror flick? My neighbor said he's very "vocal" at the town meetings on the subject of the trail. But he hasn't got a let to stand on. It isn't his property; he needs to learn how to share the woods.
I've appointed myself a scout for the trail and have contemplated bringing a sign with me to hold up for him to read while he watches me from his window. Perhaps it would say, "Dude, what are you hiding?" or "Paranoia, Big Destroyah." But that would be antagonistic.
And yet, the light is brighter now and promising; spring is just around the corner. Perhaps that would bring understanding and kinder relations.