At least half of the trails through the Navarino Wildlife Area are not on a map.
Which is a bit unnerving.
Yesterday, I wanted to see if I could walk around the Hansen Flowage. A trail on its west side led to a fork in a field of very tall, straw-colored grass. One trail kept heading south; the other veered west toward Highway K and the Wolf River. No luck getting around the Flowage. So I took the trail heading toward the River. That trail did indeed cross Highway K, but ended somewhere in middle of “The Wolf River Bottomlands.” I was a little disappointed. Trails usually go somewhere. That one didn’t. It ended as an enormous jumble of tree trunks and brush. A map would have told me this strange fact about this trail. I’m not complaining. Not having trails mapped limits the number of people you meet. Who takes trails not on a map?
On the way back I met Angus, a large black Labrador bounding at me who, his owner later confided in me, does not bark. I didn’t ask why. His owner told me about Angus as if he wanted to share Angus’ story. I was shamefully anti-social. I felt guilty about it for at least a hundred yards.
It was nice that Angus didn’t bark, because if he had barked and growled at me as he ran leaping around me, he probably would have scared the tar out of me. I tried to remain calm and greeted Angus, “Hi Buddy!” Though Angus didn’t listen at all to his owner’s instructions, the whole “Hi Buddy” thing was apparently enough to keep him from eating me.
Between Highway K and the fork in the field is a strange woods. On the west side of the woods near Highway K, there’s also a fork. One trail goes up a ridge that borders the woods; the other trail is the one on which I had come through the woods. Five minutes into the woods, there’s another fork in the trail which is a little trickier, so I had marked it and double-checked by watching for my boot prints. On that part of the trail, you can still see the ridge to your left, but eventually the woods drop off to your right so you’re on another ridge looking down across a profoundly flat expanse of forest. The woods appear to have been managed, though long ago: there are lots of medium-sized trees with a few real giants among them. Tall, red pines with their lovely gray bark blushing; thick, black-barked, white pines, their full crowns waving, roaring at times, a hundred feet up, some of whom are so old, I couldn’t reach all the way around their trunks. I tried. And oaks, both white and red, some of whose gnarly black arms seem to be flung out frantically.
It was time to rest. I chose a mossy old trunk overlooking the flat forest floor below. It was then I noticed the quiet. Not a nuthatch. Or a chickadee. Or a blue jay. Or even a crow. No birdsong at all. The last birds I saw were a couple of Sandhill Cranes rawking away above me near the end of the trail. The only animal I had seen was Angus. There were several mounds of white sand indicating the homes of woodchucks or badgers, but their doorways were cluttered with leaves, and there were no footprints in the incongruous heaps of pure white beach sand scattered throughout that strange forest. Still hibernating? Their homes were right along the trail, which I also thought was strange. Maybe they get Fed Ex deliveries. I was thinking they would have dug their homes off the trail. Then I thought. There’s no one on the trail! The only sign of humans was Angus’ owner and one other set of boot prints in the snow and mud. A bit more unsettling. No map. Trails ending nowhere. Taken by no one.
As I sat on the mossy trunk, munching half of my dinner (a large carrot), I noticed the half-eaten shaft of a white pine pine cone surrounded by a few “scales” ripped off the pine cone. Further along the trunk: a shaft of a pine cone with all its scales torn off. Then I noticed that the ground was littered with thousands of white pine pine cone scales and cones, some with half their scales gnawed off, the rest whole, some a foot long! It became obvious that I was eating my carrot in a restaurant for squirrels. Though it must be off-season. Or after-hours. Or maybe they’d been enjoying a lovely meal there like me and had been, without notice, raptured up.
Strange that signs of their recent feast were encouraging in that ostensibly deserted wood.
On the drive home: a yard-full of dozens of bobbing robins (the first I’d seen this year), a large V-formation of white birds of some kind (geese or swans?), and thousands of Sandhill Cranes feasting in the fields of farms. And this morning after the rain: the first day this year that I smelled the worms.