A Long and Winding Road by Janine M. Donoho

Between late April and early November, my two young hounds and I take the high roads. Old forestry roads, that is. A short VW ride away we can access one relatively tiny island of the Okanogan National Forest. By ‘tiny’, that would be from a furry mega fauna’s perspective. You see, bear, mountain lions, wolves, elk and moose need sizable territory to meet their range needs throughout the distinct and oft-extreme seasonal changes we experience here in the highlands. However, the hounds and I do just fine.

With the VW parked just off the main dirt road, we have plenty of choices for narrower and less traveled paths. This has become a necessary break from winter’s YakTrax and layers of outerwear. Black squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits keep the hounds’ interest peaked, while sharpening the wild critters survival instinct. Foraging turkeys roam the forest in polygamous family flocks. The largest flock spotted so far runs at an even dozen with three adults, a gobbler and two hens and 10 lanky poults.The stunning males sported iridescent red, purple, green, copper, bronze and gold feathers. Some mornings, their rich language fills the forest, driving my coursing hounds crazy with longing. Fast as Connor and Kartouche’ are on terra firma, they want to fly, too. Luckily, wild turkeys remain shy, cunning and agile flyers–unlike the domesticated variety.

On a good day, the hounds range about me. They break into sprints only for cagey rodents, who then torment them from treetop or burrow. The sun loosens muscles and fresh air stimulates the creative pathways. Entire stories or scenes come to me in this state. Essays are written and short stories composed. Sometimes a knotty plot problem or deeper character issues from the hike.

Yes, obstacles present themselves. Beyond the above-mentioned critters and my attempts to minimize our impact on their daily lives, cows also graze the forest from June to October. As you might already know, domesticated animals lack the wiliness of wild ones. For instance, once my quickly leashed hounds sight a cow/calf pair, the bovines don’t leap off the main trail into the forest. No, instead they plod ahead until a turn hides us from view. Then they act flabbergasted as we come around the corner–again and again and...

This becomes my upper body workout as Connor and Kartouche’ intermittently try to pull me along at their speed. Did I mention that my whippet and greyhound live to chase anything that runs? Of course, they’re also much faster than anything else in the woods. Especially me. So with top speeds of 40-45 mph, they need to be leashed whenever sign of possible chase-worthy prey comes along. Much as my internal editor must be disconnected during initial drafts, accordingly it helps when I can ‘see’ ahead along the trails we walk.

As with writing, sensory input in the wilds comes in handy. So I listen for the occasional hoof against wood or rock along with unique verbalizations, whether gobble, chuff, bugle or growl. Dare I say that I’m now familiar with the scritch-scritch of bear claws in Ponderosa pine? Trust me, it’s an excellent sound to recognize.

The nose comes in handy for the unique musky smell of deer and elk or the surprisingly sweet scent of berry-munching bear, which exude what they eat. When they’re on a fish diet, the smell’s not quite as luscious. Visually, paw and hoof prints work, too. On moon-dusted or rock-strewn trails, though, it’s difficult to find a good paw or hoof pattern. My favorite was the perfectly preserved icy remainder of a lynx or bobcat paw impression discovered during April thaw.

Then there’s the scat, which can be wonderfully specific about its maker. In the cows’ case, huge mounds of steaming pies present the obvious, which Kartouche’ likes to rub along his pulse points like the finest of perfumes. As for taste, which I’m sure could tell me even more about what inhabits the wilds, I leave that to the hounds. Yum. At that point, it’s always best to go sniff a Ponderosa along the sunny side, where the bark exudes a delectable vanilla scent.

So yes, I can rhapsodize over the smorgasbord of sensory input found along the trails we walk, but in truth, each experience adds to my private library of delights to be shared with my readers. For what I yearn to do each time I write is to bring each reader into my world along the road less traveled. What better way than to do so than enrich their lives with the sumptuous details they may not enjoy in an inner city or houseboat or condominium. Besides, living life closer to the natural world definitely has its perks.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan Marlow . . .
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 20:45:50

    So, did you take all those pictures? And WHICH tiny Nat'l forest island did you wander in? The one up on Mt. Hull? If so, stop by sometimes and take me along. :-)Well, next summer perhaps. I read your first chapter of Chasing Down the Wind (hope I got that title right). Very riveting. Intriguing. Gripping.

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  2. Zephyra
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 08:33:35

    Yes, these are my pictures. We hike this area from April through November, when the snows make the trailhead too challenging to reach by VW.

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