The day before my family departed, I organized an expedition to my favorite old pine tree in the woods behind our house.
As expeditions go, it was to be a short one—10 minutes round-trip—since we were taking grandchildren (Violette, 6, and Remy, 5), and lame Lexi, whom I couldn\’t bear to leave behind. Wolfie came along, too, and my husband and daughter. Because we\’d only be gone a few minutes, I decided the dogs needed neither collars nor leashes. Nor did I need to change out of my dress.
The pine tree, which I visit often, is southeast of the house, right next to a stand of white birches. This time, because we were trying to organize three adults, two children, and the dogs, we left the yard by a slightly different route, and somehow the birches and the pine tree were nowhere to be seen.
“No matter,” we said, “we\’ll just head downhill for the swamp, which must be huge after all this rain, and then go back home.”
We walked downhill, the dogs scampering ahead, the children marveling at mushrooms. We found a number of tiny creeks, the result of the recent downpours, but the swamp wasn\’t where we thought it should be.
“We\’d better just go back to the house,” I said. I was aware that any minute the children might get hungry—it was almost lunch time– or thirsty, or tired. And I was worried about Lexi overdoing it.
We climbed back up the hill…and instead of our house, we saw another hill. Remy, thank goodness, still thought we were looking for the swamp. But Violette knew that we were lost, whereupon she set up a Cassandra-like wail: “We\’re lost, we\’re lost, we\’ll never get out of here! I\’m tired, I can\’t go another step, please carry me, pleeeeease, I\’m dying! Help! We\’re lost! We\’ll never get back!.” She kept this up while striding valiantly over stone walls, thorny bushes, and muddy creeks. I tried to explain to her that screaming uses energy, which she should conserve, but six-year-olds are not into energy conservation.
The woods were beautiful. There was birdsong, and a cool breeze, and no bugs. We came upon a magical little pond, perfectly round, with a tiny pier, that we\’d never seen before. The dogs drank. It was cloudy, and midday, so we could not orient ourselves by the sun. We had no idea where we were.
We kept going. I thought of Little Red Riding Hood, walking through the woods to her grandmother\’s house. I thought of Hansel and Gretel and their organic GPS. I thought of Dante, lost in a wood in the middle of his life.
We came upon another magical spot—a stone walk leading down steps to a stone-lined pool the size of a hot tub, the whole surrounded by lilies and raspberry bushes, and not a soul in sight. Lexi was slowing down and limping noticeably. Would we have to carry her, and the kids, and for how long?
With Violette\’s laments ringing in our ears, we found a small Christmas tree farm, and knew that we were a long way from home, since there are no tree farms in the vicinity of our house. Next to the Christmas trees was a beautifully-tended apple orchard, and blueberry bushes, and a vegetable garden and, God-be-praised, a farmer, straight out of Norman Rockwell, who told us that we had ended up on Betts\’ Bridge Road.
That meant that to get home we\’d have to walk a good fifteen minutes along a two-lane highway, with two leashless and collarless dogs. Ed said he\’d cut across some more woods and fields and come back in the truck to get us. Too weak to argue, we waved good-bye and sat under a tree by the side of the road—like gypsies, I thought. It had been two and a half hours since we\’d left the house.
The dogs lay down and panted. Violette shrieked at a daddy longlegs. Remy put his head on my lap and broke a stick into “bullets.” I fretted about what we would do if Ed never came back.
But he did, and we all piled into the truck and went home and had lunch.