Chapter Twenty-Three: On the Path

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at and I'll email you a copy.

Tuesday 4 July 2000 - "It was busy on The Path. Meadow voles were active most of the day, scooting back and forth on their usual runway between the highbush cranberry and the woodshed, but also racing up and down the path in the open. At one point, a vole chased another almost the entire length of the path, in and out of adjacent vegetation, and finally back up the path again. A couple times, I saw a vole much redder than the others - a pine vole, maybe?"

For many years, when I was sitting indoors, I was usually sitting in my L. L. Bean Mission Chair (adjustable back but not a recliner, more's the pity). The "kitchen table" was on my left, and it was there that I piled my daily notebook; plant and animal check-lists; any books I was then reading; mail that needed answering and bills that needed paying; and my binoculars. (The table also held two battery-powered radios, one with the dial set to AM [Berlin, NH, or Montreal] and one to FM [Maine Public Radio]; two kerosene lamps; and various kitchen utensils. It also served for most of our food-preparing surface. Multi-purpose to the max, but it seemed to work.) Since I don't have a recliner, I often used the apron of the woodstove (two feet in front of me, and slightly to the right) as a foot rest. What more in comfort and utility could anyone ask for?

It was comfortable work and lounging space, but it had another attraction: the view. Whenever the big solid outer door is open (almost always during daylight hours, unless the indoor temperature is hovering somewhere around the freezing mark), my view through the screen door was of the first three-quarters of The Path. (The terminus of The Path, the old outhouse, was around a sharp corner to the left, just out of sight. I tore that structure down some years ago, and built an new facility a little closer to the house.) The Path is the result of fifty years of trudging from the house to "the Necessary," and back. Its edges are mossy, and in spring are lined with two species of blooming trilliums, and other flowering plants. The woods were shadier and more colorful before the1998 Ice Storm, but The Path still traverses a corridor of multiple shades of green in spring and summer, changing to oranges and yellows in the fall. As noted above, its well-worn surface is the runway for meadow voles (roly-poly little gray field rodents), as well as being a travel path for just about anything else that might come around. Here are just a few examples of what The Path and vicinity has to offer.

Friday 17 July 1998 - "Around 9 p.m. a black bear came down out of the woods by the upper pine stump. Deciding that we need to discourage them, I ran outside and yelled. The bear immediately ran off into the woods. However, a few minutes later, we heard noise below the house and soon saw the bear down near the outhouse. I yelled and threw sticks at it, almost hitting it a couple times. It just sat and looked at me. We went back in the house and it immediately came up the outhouse path, across the lawn, and up to the upper pine stump again. It seemed to be eating some plants, and after 2-3 minutes wandered off down the field into "the glades". When I went up to see what he was eating I found 6-8 wild lettuce stalks neatly snipped. Nothing else showed use. A favorite plant?"

Wednesday 5 May 1999 - "We read and dozed in the afternoon. At one point, Sally heard what she said sounded like an 'angry' canine bark. [I was re-winding the film in the camera at the time, and the whirr must have masked the sound for me.]. A few minutes later, she saw something with a black back down near the outhouse; immediate thought was that it was a porcupine. We waited for it to come into view again, and it turned out to be a beautiful, large, tom turkey."

Friday 21 May 1999 - "I have a 'friend' male hummingbird who is inquisitive and/or rude. Last evening when I went outside to urinate, he hovered in front of me the entire time. Tonight, he (or another male; I don't really know) did it again, almost flying into the stream, then landed briefly on the wet spot before flying off. Do we need to set up a little waterfall for him/them?"

Thursday 17 June 1999 - "My rude hummingbird came and watched me urinate, again."

Wednesday 2 August 1995 - "'Interesting' night. Dixie [the cat] woke us about 1:30 a.m. by growling at a big raccoon looking in the screen door. It left when I shined the light on it, but not very hurriedly. At 5:30 I woke Sally so she could see a porcupine in the field. It ambled around for 15 minutes or so, obviously eating the field vegetation. While we were still watching the porcupine, I turned in the other direction and saw a ruffed grouse on the path to the outhouse."

Monday 3 August 1998 - "Just at dusk, I was standing by the screen door holding Dixie, when a snowshoe hare came running in the logging road and came directly to our doorstep. Dixie was quite excited. I thought that the rabbit had gone away, but Dixie stayed at the door and meowed plaintively. On the third yowl, the rabbit came out near the doorstep from behind (or under) the house, sat for a minute, then hopped down the outhouse path."

Friday 7 July 2001 - "There were two young snowshoe hares on the outhouse path tonight. We haven't seen two young previously this year. One of them rolled in the dirt, jumped up, rolled in the dirt, ran up the path, ran down the path, rolled in the dirt, jumped up, etc. Great fun. We'd never seen one do that, before."

Monday 17 July 2000 - "The snowshoe rabbit continues to feed by our front door every few days. Dixie sits and watches attentively from just inside the screen door, and doesn't seem to bother it at all. When she knows the rabbit is around, but it hasn't appeared yet, she lets out the most plaintive whining you ever heard. Sally says that it is the same sound she makes when there is another cat outside our house in Gresham."

"Dixie also had a meadow vole keep her company for a half-hour or so, today. It fed [on grass] in the open area just beyond the doorstep at the head of the outhouse path. It must have known she was there - she certainly knew the vole was there."

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Occasionally, the "animal" on The Path turns out to be something really unexpected:

Thursday 21 September 1995 - "We were sitting in the house about 12:30 when we heard a hammering noise in the woods. I had heard it earlier, and assumed it had to do with the logging operation, but Sally felt sure this sound was coming from below us in the woods. We walked down to the outhouse to get a closer hear/look. It was repetitions, almost like hammering, but not continuous. Finally, we saw low trees moving and a dark shape, and concluded that a bear or moose was hitting trees for some reason. It seemed most likely that it was a moose banging his antlers on trees. I ran back to the house to get my camera. When I got back to Sally, she said that she had concluded that it wasn't a wild animal at all, but a man doing something. We watched a little longer until we were sure, then called out to him. When he answered and we walked over, we found it was a man on contract to Oxford Paper Co. (a subsidiary of Boise-Cascade) to brush out and paint their boundary lines. He has worked all over VT, ME,and NH. He had started down at our southeast corner post and was working his way up the line. He knew where he was, in the sense that he had a compass and knew what line he was supposed to brush and paint, but had no understanding of the layout of the hill. We compared our survey map and his, and got him oriented."

And, on one occasion, the "animal" on The Path turned out to be Me:

Saturday 15 July 1995- "Funny (after the fact!) incident last night. I got up just after midnight, and went outside to relieve myself. When I walked back inside a minute or two later, Sally began screaming at me to 'get out, get out!'. I didn't know if she was even awake, but I was really concerned she would hurl something at me, so I yelled back at her. It seemed to take forever before she heard and understood me. By the time we quit yelling at one another, we were both really shaken. She hadn't heard me go out, or had just heard the screen door close. When she looked over at the door, she thought the raccoon (who had acted a little too "friendly" of late, a consideration in rabies country) was climbing the screen. Suddenly, the door opened, and all she could think of was scaring off the raccoon/bear,or else getting us up the ladder to the loft, to relative safety. If she heard me calling at all, she must have thought I was talking from the bed next to her. A real heart-pounder and stomach-upsetter!"

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