Letter from Birdland: An enjoyable walk in the woods

Letter from Birdland: An enjoyable walk in the woods

The day was sunny, and the dogs wanted a walk. I opened the hatchback. Jump up, Ursula. Jump up, Cullen. Michael got the leashes. We drove to Lodge Park with the tall groves of Pines and the woodland paths.

Sometimes I get so caught up in the fields and the horizon that I forget we have a river winding through a forest preserve just a few miles away.

Ursula, the black Lab, and Cullen, the brown retriever, didn't mind the short drive, though by the time we got there, Cullen had his front legs over the back seat, drooling on the upholstery.

Once there, they tugged at the leashes to jump out and smell everything. Somehow having the dogs pull us along the road, checking every little scent, makes me more attentive to what is right in front of me. Here, under the white pines, is a golden mulch of needles and cones. I want to scoop it into a bushel basket just to smell the fresh pine scent.

Michael comments on the nicely balanced spacing of the row of giant trees. Over there are 150-year-old oaks, scattered across the park, providing shade and presiding over the human activity below, of picnics, Frisbee throwing, camping.

The road takes us to the other side of the pond, where we follow the woodland path. Down to the river we go, and the dogs push their noses into mud holes in the bank. They both wriggle in ecstasy.

Across the river, the afternoon sun hits the bare branches of trees, and I just stare for a moment at the starkness of the vertical trunks rising from the far bank.

All is brown — the water, the tangle of branches reaching into the sky. Only a little blue shows behind the twigs. Something about the horizontal light illuminating the scene makes it seem charmed.

But the dogs are already pulling ahead down the path that runs alongside the river. Michael balks, "There will be burrs."

I let Cullen pull me down the trail, calling back over my shoulder, "Only little ones." I know the cockleburs grow in the meadows. Those get tangled so severely in Cullen's coat that I sometimes have to cut them out. But a vigorous brushing will release the small woodland burrs. Ursula's silky pelt is much easier to deal with.

Tiny seeds might hitchhike for a bit, but eventually slide off her back before I even bring the brush.

We make slow progress because the dogs stop every few feet to bury noses deep in the leaf mulch of the forest floor. They leave their own calling cards to say, "Ursula, Queen of the Tennis Ball and other golden orbs was here." "Cullen, Prince of the Roving Heart wandered by." Any friend or foe who wants to track them would find it easy.

So intimate is their alliance, that they try to deposit their scent in the exact same spot. Ursula has turned to check her own message, just as Cullen has taken aim with his. "Don't pee on her," says Michael, and pulls Ursula away just in time.

We come up to a fallen tree. Half of the trunk still stands, hollow and blackened inside. The victim of a lightning bolt? We find ourselves off the path and on a deer trail. It zigzags up from the river bottom back to the road, which we follow all the way around to the path that switches back through the woods.

It has an arching wooden sign labeling it "The Pine Tree Trail," but we like to call it "The Enchanted Grove." It starts off in woodland, but around a bend you are suddenly walking in a regular stand of 60-foot white pines.

The trunks align in a sunlit aisle, and it feels magical, or sacred, like an outdoor temple. Oh, I know it is really just an overgrown Christmas tree plot. Did the Lodges plant them to harvest 80 or 90 years ago? But the forest preserve mission would be about preserving, not harvesting trees, so the trees were never felled. We walk the path, following the aisle and see whimsical chain saw sculptures — morel mushrooms as tall as a 5-year-old child — cut from the trunks of fallen pines.

We emerge from the forest feeling refreshed and recharged. The dogs jump up again into the car for the short ride home. They will sleep the rest of the afternoon, perhaps dreaming of sunlit paths through an enchanted forest.

Stroll through beauty; nap in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in exploring the wild world and her own neighborhood. You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Environment, Pets