July 14, 2011 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Nature walk new material for next book

By The Spokesman-Review
 

I’m no Rich Landers. This thought occurred to me last week, as I scanned the woods around me and looked in vain for something that resembled a trail.

I’m quite sure this newspaper’s outdoors editor doesn’t often get lost in the woods. Particularly, when those woods are located within a gated community in Spokane Valley.

Indeed, it takes a special person to set off for a walk on a paved path and end up lost, but Mama always said I was special.

This summer, some dear friends offered me the use of their Shelley Lake home as a writer’s retreat. As my gracious hostess showed me around the home, she led me to the deck and pointed out a pathway around the lake. “It’s paved ’til you get to the trees, but there’s a trail through there and a bridge on the other side,” she said.

The home in its private setting has been a perfect place for me to work on my book. After hours of writing, my mind gets cloudy and there’s nothing like a walk outdoors to refresh both brain and body.

Unfortunately, weather and deadlines prevented me from hitting the trail until last week. But on Friday, I reached a stopping point in my manuscript, and the blue skies and shimmering lake beckoned.

I always follow Rule No. 1 of Nature Hikes: Make sure your clothes and accessories are color-coordinated. So, wearing chocolate-brown capris with a matching V-necked tank top, I pulled my hair back into a tortoiseshell clip and laced up my walking shoes.

I realized my hosts weren’t kidding when they said they hadn’t walked the path in a while. The steps leading from their property to the lake were overgrown with ivy. A machete would have come in handy as I battled low-hanging tree branches.

Once I made it to the path, I patted my pockets to make sure I had the essentials: an MP3 player loaded with walking tunes, a cell phone and a camera.

You may question if a camera is truly an essential item when going on an estimated hour-long walk, but trust me, it is. I had to take a picture of the back of the house, to ensure I’d return to the correct residence.

Nature Hike Rule No. 2: Make sure you can find your way home. Remember, bread crumbs did Hansel and Gretel no good at all.

Photo snapped, I took off at brisk pace, basking in the long-awaited sunshine. When the paved path petered out, I followed the pine-needle-blanketed trail up into the woods. The climb reminded me of Tubbs Hill in Coeur d’Alene. I paused to take more photos as I crested the hill.

The lake looked gorgeous under the afternoon sun and from my vantage point, I could still see the surrounding homes. However, the trail no longer seemed so clear. I pondered my options: continue climbing, or descend to the water’s edge. It was then I first asked myself: WWRLD (What Would Rich Landers Do?)

This question didn’t help me, because I’m pretty sure Rich doesn’t venture into uncharted territory without a compass. But that tool would do me no good, as I’m directionally-challenged. My kind of compass would need to feature directions like walk toward the greenish shrub, then turn right and walk toward the brownish bush.

My lack of foliage knowledge is becoming apparent, isn’t it? Pine trees I know because of the needles and pine cones that littered the trail. But there were other trees – ones with green leaves. And there were plants and weeds. No, I don’t know if they were noxious, but they didn’t bother me.

As I pondered my foliage ignorance my cell phone rang. Relieved, I saw it was my husband. He’s a former Army National Guard helicopter pilot, whose navigational skills are impeccable. I started to tell Derek that I’d over estimated my ability to follow woodland trails, but he interrupted.

Turns out he was off the grid somewhere in the Dishman-Mica area. He was taking our son to a friend’s house and had called me for directions. It quickly became a case of the lost misleading the lost.

“Go back where you came from,” Derek directed, and then our connection died. His advice might have been Rule No. 3, but I think Rule No. 3 could also be: When in doubt, press on.

I’m all about moving forward, so I chose the upward path. That path led me to a paved road which I’m pretty sure was someone’s driveway. But I couldn’t see a house and I couldn’t see the lake. I did see a varmint skitter across the road in front of me. It was gray and squishy looking. It could have been a raccoon or a possum, or even a badger. Whatever, it was, the sight of it prompted me to return to the woods.

At last I reached the bridge that would lead me back to the paved path. Except it didn’t. The only “path” I could see was a collection of semi-submerged rocks that led from the bridge to the houses on the other side of the lake. Everyone knows Rule No. 4 of Nature Hikes is: Never get your feet wet.

Sadly, I turned back and tried to retrace my steps. This is when the bread crumbs might have come in handy. Instead of going up, I went down – to the lake – and there was no trail, just water.

Back up the hill I climbed, toward the unknown driveway where strange animals lurked. From there I found the “trail” into the woods and down to the paved path. And thanks to my photo, I was able to recognize my temporary home.

Once indoors, I immediately invoked Rule No. 5: Always conclude your nature walk with a luxurious soak in a bubble-filled tub while eating chocolate and sipping a chilled beverage.

And I’m pretty sure that’s just what Rich would do.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists.


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