Deirdre Reilly: A walk in the woods

Deirdre Reilly

Recently, I started reading a very funny, interesting book called “A Walk in the Woods,” by Bill Bryson. It apparently chronicles Bryson’s journey on the Appalachian Trail with his friend Katz, an overweight diabetic prone to seizures if he does not eat something about every 10 minutes. Just the person you want to hike for months with!

I use the word “apparently” when discussing the content of this book, because I can’t finish it. Being a mom of three sons, ages 22, 19 and 9, and with all of them in the house for the summer – two temporarily, my littlest guy permanently – I don’t have the concentration to complete a thought, let alone finish a great book. I do, however, have time to take a walk in the woods myself, which this funny book inspired me to do. So, encouraging my hound dog Copper to get out of his bed (Copper is obsessed with his crate ever since I sprayed it with Febreze; I can barely pry him out of it) I clipped on his leash, and out the door we went, both coated with bug spray to protect us from mosquitoes. (It’s always funny to hear family members ask, “Do you have your Off on?”)

Copper and I decided to go to a state park near us – Harold Parker State Park in North Reading, Mass. There is a beautiful lake there, and Copper and I figured we would attempt to walk around it. How big can it be, I figured – a lake is a contained body of water, right? (Apparently I was forgetting lakes like Lake Ontario, etc.) We started off down a beautiful wooded path, and soon Copper was off his leash, running freely in an ecstasy of smells. I looked around, breathing deeply. Bill Bryson had something! This was living! One with nature! 

Soon the path narrowed and got a little farther away from the lake, and deeper into the woods. I started thinking about bears. And hawks, and monsters – all kinds of things that could live in the woods. Then I thought to myself, as I watched Copper eating a plant that was probably poisonous: Realistically, was Copper going to be any help at all in an animal attack? Probably not – he caught sight of his own reflection in a mirror recently and high-tailed it downstairs to his crate. What was my defense if a hungry bear was to appear – awkwardly throwing my cell phone at him, hoping the sun glinting off it’s hot pink surface would blind him? Impress him into meekness with my extra minutes? Or was I going to try to throw my noisy charm bracelet at him like a spear, hoping to Lara Croft it out of the situation? If you yell “woo-woo, get going!” at a bear, is he just going to amble away? 

I decided to try to stick close to the water, and I’m not sure what the rationale of that was – I think I just felt closer to the canoe-ers on the lake; they would hear my screaming and Copper’s yowling and come to help. Of course, on the other hand, wouldn’t wild bears be more likely to come down to the lake for a drink, than to stay up in the boring old woods? I had been thinking about this, because honestly, I was already a little bored with the woods, and it had only been a half hour. How many trees can you look at? I was picturing a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee and a bathroom. “The woods are your bathroom,” a hiker would say, but I didn’t want Copper witnessing that. He’s very sensitive to my actions, since we’re always together.

We came across some other hikers, and I was a little intimidated. They had the hiking backpacks and hiking boots and the hiking serenity – I was wearing sneakers, and they light up in the back when I walk. Also, Copper was not as composed as he could have been – he was pogo-ing up and down trying to lick their faces while we exchanged pleasantries in between his jumps. “Good trails today,” I said, hoping to sound knowledgeable, which was met with puzzled head-nods (Aren’t the trails never-changing? I could sort of hear them thinking.)

About an hour after we started, we were back at our Volvo, both clearly relieved as I congratulated us both on our mission accomplished. Copper was thrilled to be back at the car (he loves air conditioning; he puts his head right at the vents -- he really is a disgrace to his breed).  “We did it – we walked the lake,” I said to him as we headed for Dunkin’ Donuts. And I was thinking – next time we’re tempted to go for a walk in the woods, I could bring Bryson’s book along and finish it, sitting by the lake. And if a bear attacked, in some sort of cosmic justice, I could throw the book at him, and make my escape, sneakers blinking as I ran, Copper hopefully at my heels. On second thought – maybe I’ll just finish the book in my den!

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