We knew it when we had come to our destination. A beaver had stopped up Sawmill Creek with an impressive dam, four feet high in some places. It bowed out with a pool of dark water held behind it. The pond spread through small trees. A boardwalk crossed the pond along the dam. It was two 2x4s wide at first, but then narrowed to the familiar single plank.
As we crossed, it was impossible to see more than a foot into the water, a result of the dark woods and the dark sky. It seemed like anything could live in those eerie waters. I wondered if brook trout did. I imagined standing on the planks and casting a Pass Lake out there at sunset on an evening in early summer and a good-sized wild fish slashing at it and then a brief struggle and the fish at hand. I even imagined taking it to a campsite up the hill and cooking it over a fire. It’s not a crime to think about it, is it?
Our destination was a bench on the other side of the boardwalk that had been described in the book, a good lunch spot. We found no bench. Instead we found a good spot under a tree along the trail and sat down on the roots. We had sourdough and salami, turkey and cheese, and we made some big sandwiches which neither of us could finish. I had splurged and put a single bottle of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale in the pack and we drank some of it with the food. We both got chilled while we ate, but put on stocking caps and zipped up jackets and did not linger after eating.
The hike back was an interesting one for the mind. We psyched ourselves up for what we imagined would be a grueling trip back up what we had just come down, back to the top of the cliffs we could see towering above whenever we looked up. We took it slow, enjoying seeing again the beautiful little valley. We saw a pair of either Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers which didn’t seem the least bit shy until I pulled out the camera, at which they melted back into the birch trees. On the last steep climbs we leaned into it and kept our feet moving. It felt good to breathe hard and sweat, to feel the solid but uneven ground under my boots.
When we got to the bluff the wind was up and blew water into our faces. Across the valley we could see what looked like rain. We stepped up the pace and went along the top of the cliff and then picked our way down the steep, rocky section back to the birch forest with its rolling ridges and started walking downhill. The trail was slippery from all the leaves so we were taking small steps that were hard on the knees going downhill. When we got to some level stretches we broke into a long gait that felt wonderful on our tight legs.
Katie said she was struggling with doing the trail in reverse because it seemed to play games with her mind. She couldn’t help trying to recognize where we were and remember how far it was from the trailhead. When we got to what we knew was the last ridge we saw a ruffed grouse with its funny hood not far off the trail and I thought about some friends that were hunting this weekend and wondered how they had done.
Finally, we were back at the road and then back at the car. We came asking for nothing, not knowing what to ask for, and we got a lot. Most of it had to stay in those woods, along the lake, but we drove home with the memory.
I felt warmth coming from within. It was the warmth of a campfire on a cool night. Of good food and good wine. Of my muscles after a hike in the hills. Of her.