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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Unknown Territory

As I sit here inside my home, impatiently waiting out deer season, I long for the freedom of spring.  Here in West Virginia we have a long hunting season.  Right now we are in doe season, meaning that the bucks who were hiding last week are now relatively safe. Next we have muzzle loading season, pretty popular in the mid Ohio valley hills. 

Last spring was full of woods-walking.  I spent every daylight hour either driving or walking in rural woodsy, out-of-the-way places and - here is the best part- I was paid to do it! Working for the US Census, I discovered roads I never knew existed.  Be law I had to walk down roads that, as private driveways, were normally closed to me, despite my deep curiosity.  My faulty map was little help in telling me how far I was destined to travel and how much of it would be on foot. This road shown here, above was great fun.  I first drove about 3/4 mile through deeply rutted tracks across a stream three times, only to then need to park my four-wheel-drive car and proceed on foot.
After walking for about an hour, I could see the home where I needed to map.  It was across a large creek that was much too deep for me to walk across in what I was wearing.  It appeared that peole had driven through it but they must have been in high-wheeled vehicles for the sides were deeply eroded. At this point I was spotted by the family dog who had no issues with either water and mud.  The large collie came running at me, sliding down one muddy creek bank and up the other after splashing across the stream, all the while barking ferociously at me, the intruder. I tend to not be afraid of most dogs, but that does not mean that I am not cautious.  I understand the idea of defending one's own territory.  I understand the dogs job is to keep intruders away from its family and I understand that some dogs, like some people, are just mean.  Usually I trust in my judgement of a dog's character by listening to it's bark and watching its actions.  This dog seemed to be bent on just making alot of noise and pretending to be agressive though, frankly, there was not alot I could have done if that wasn't the case.  I know how to appear meak and non-threatening, but I do not know how to disappear altogether.  Luckily my assumption about this muddy long-haired, big-footed canine was correct.  I noticed the mud and the feet as the friendly male dog greeted me by jumping up and placing two muddy paws on my chest, distinctly marking my white knit shirt.  Oh well, it would wash.  Better than being eaten.  I then turned, faced the other direction and began walking back toward my car. My new friend, now temporarily named "Dog" decided to tag along for awhile. 

I've always enjoyed the company of dogs more than I enjoy most people, so it was fine with me.  As we walked, Dog often ran up the road bank into the surrounding woods or down to the creek running mostly parallel to the muddy track above it.  This is what dogs do and I was not surprised or alarmed when Dog kept disappearing and reappearing.  Nor was I worried about leading him astray, as collies, like most pointy-nosed dogs, have a well-bred homing instinct.  They do not follow smells as well as a hound, but that only serves to keep them less focused on one particular smell and more aware of the rest of the world and smells around them.  At one point, Dog decided he had traveled far enough, nuzzeled my hand and loped back down the road behind me.
I eventually returned to my car to find another way to the home I saw across the creek.  My job was to place a map spot on my hand held GPS so that future census takers could find the home again to count the occupants. 
I did find another way to the house  after driving about twenty minutes around the hill, then following  the creek from another direction.  Once I reached the house (easily driving right up by the front door) I was surprised as a  friend of my son's came out with her baby to greet me. She was aghast at the paw prints still on my shirt though she wondered how her pet had muddied me so quickly.  We both laughed when I described my long walk from the other direction.
This was just one of many trips on foot into unknown territory.  Some of the best views, though, were from my car.  I particularly enjoyed this one area where the houses were only accessable by fording a stream or by parking then walking across a swinging bridge.  On this particular day I was driving my husband's jeep and decided that the water was too high for me to drive across.  That left the swinging bridge suspended high above the water and rocks.  Being a huge sissy when it comes to heights, my crossing was done very slowly. The thing about swinging bridges is that the faster you walk, the more it gyrates up and down while swinging side to side.  My mind knew the bridge was very likely to be safe, but soul yearned for stability.
 I think something happens to women once we bear children that changes our vertigo. Perhaps it is the body.  Without being in good physical shape, the body core is not as strong.  That scary trainer on the Biggest Loser television show says that it is a strong core that is responsible for our sense of balance.  My core must be putty.
Of course I made it across mapped three houses then asked the owners permission to take this photograph.  I wanted to document the event so that Jeff would believe that I actually crossed the bridge. When talking to the homeowners, they let me know that they had enjoyed watching me make the crossing.

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