Many things we enjoy and which enrich our lives have been taken away in the last months of stay-at-home orders. Like others, I lament not being able to dine out at new restaurants with best friends and colleagues, not seeing newly released films at the cinema, and viewing featured exhibits or perusing the permanent collection at the MFA and other museums. I am also missing dinners shared with family and friends around our table or theirs, the trip my husband and I were finally going to take to Sicily in June, the hugs from my son when he visits and we have to speak to each other from a distance of yard to porch. And recently, I’ve learned that there is a strong possibility that our August Maine vacation will also be cancelled, since my husband and I would be crossing State lines into the Pine Tree State, and therefore required to quarantine for 14 days in our rented house—definitely not why we head to down east Maine for two weeks every summer.
Because of necessary limitations on social gatherings, I missed the funeral and the comfort of my father’s family, when his sister, my Aunt Marguerite died in a nursing home, after contracting Covid-19, which complicated her already existing health issues.
I miss, too, the writing studio where I diligently work in downtown Boston—much more diligently than I work at home with distractions. I even miss taking the unreliable and crowded MBTA Red Line train over the Charles River from Cambridge to Boston and back several days a week, when I go to work at that silent communal space, where I can schmooze with other writers at lunchtime in the kitchen, or on a stone bench down the street at Long Wharf on sunny, warm days. I miss the social aspect and the inspiration of going to readings of poetry and prose and celebrating my friends when their new books are released—Zoom readings aren’t the same, although I’m glad some people offer them.
My freelance coaching of writing students has been limited during the days of confinement, but my husband is teaching his university students online two afternoons each week until the semester’s end. When he is not online, he has planning to do and tests and exams to correct, and I try to sit in my home office at my desk researching publishing possibilities for my finished novel, working (rather half-heartedly, to be honest) on editing my new poetry manuscript, or catching up on reading from the pile of books my friends have published in the last couple of years. I go for a run on most warm or warmish days.
But there is one thing I am not missing, something I used to do much more frequently in the past. I have—happily—been going for hikes on trails in the towns neighboring Cambridge—in Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Waltham, Belmont, and venturing to Cape Ann on the North Shore. I love to hike, and it seems that in recent years, my hikes have become fewer and rarely take place in winter or spring. I’ve blamed the New England weather, my husband’s recovery from a knee replacement, and my busy life, for keeping me from hiking, especially in spring. We generally get more social in spring after our dark winters, and so, there are parties, events, and fairs, and shopping for warm weather clothes, and planting gardens, rushing the beach season, or going to baseball games—so much else to take up our time. So hiking has been of late, put off until summer, hiking Maine’s Bold Coast and trails in New Brunswick, Canada, or foraging with my husband for mushrooms in the woods around Concord or in Gloucester.
A few memories and realizations have come to mind as I have hiked white pine or oak forests nearby. The first is how fortunate I am to live in a State where there is so much undeveloped and beautiful woodland. On nearly every hike, we explore a different trail, and in just a couple of months, I’ve been introduced to some I had never known existed.
I missed out on a childhood of forays into the woods, exploring and imagining, and I made sure my son did not. Outdoor activities were limited for this city girl, growing up one house away from busy Main Street, with a dad who worked six days a week, often double shifts, and a mom who wasn’t active or at all athletic, and was often overwhelmed by trouble, and the raising of four children.
Growing up, I don’t remember ever going for a walk in the woods, except once, just to the edge of a wooded area far down the road behind my mother’s family’s cottage in
Maine, when I was staying with my aunt and she decided we’d go out to pick blueberries. I used to think we saw a bear, but it may be, that my aunt was reluctant to venture into the woods too far, and simply warned me, we’d better not, that there were bears there. There were tall old pine trees all around my aunt’s cottage, but it was in no way secluded, several houses all close together. But I would walk up the pine needle-covered hill in back, to where the nicest of them was, Mrs. Murphy’s cottage, more like a house, it was so large and positioned at the top of the little hill. Next to it was a one room tree house—really just a platform built around the tree trunk at ground level, but my sisters and I would play in there when we didn’t go to the beach. Next to the tree house was a real log cabin, and I had a friend there one summer, a Canadian girl, who taught me to jump rope to a song “Cowboy Joe from Mexico,” only she pronounced it Cybol Joe.
Once when I stayed at the cottage as an adult, I wandered up that little hill behind the house to where Mrs. Murphy’s place was, knowing that she must be dead and gone and someone else now owned the place. There was a “No Trespassing” sign posted, but I was on a mission to see the tree house and get a peek inside the big house, and I loved the feeling of walking on a thick bed of dried, soft pine needles; so I continued on, until an angry voiced yelled to me to get out or the police would be called. That place from my childhood seems now to be the closest I really got to being with trees. By the time of that incident, I had gotten over the idea that the woods and forest belonged to someone, so it took me by surprise to be threatened for walking there.
This spring, needing to get out of the house, and walking in Adam’s Wood, a trail in Lincoln, Massachusetts, I remembered that on my first hikes in the woods, when I was in my twenties, I worried that I was trespassing. I recalled how it happened that I became a woman who hikes. I worked with a friend who had grown up in a town outside of the city, where we both lived at the time. Behind her family’s house, there was a large wood. When we visited, she took me hiking on the trail there, and I remember after, hiking in all seasons, even when there was still snow on the ground. The first couple of times I ventured into the woods with her though, I was anxious, afraid we were trespassing on someone’s land. It was a foreign activity to me, having never known anyone while I was growing up, who went hiking in the woods.
Around the same time, I had a friend who was going camping in New Hampshire at a lake, and she invited me to go with her. She was going anyway, but the tent was big enough and I’d never been camping and she thought it would be a good experience. I admired her for doing something like that on her own. I was becoming a feminist, challenging myself, not to be afraid to try new things, wanting to stop limiting my experiences, knowing I needed to grow. I remember little but it was there I first helped pitch a tent, make breakfast and dinner on a cook stove, and go for long hikes on terrain, far outside of the city.
So hikes this spring, just to get out, brought all of this back, making me remember how I got to Adam’s Wood, Lexington National Historic Park trails, or how it came to be that I followed the Amble Thoreau took, when he walked to Emerson’s House for a visit, or found a new way into the trail at Mt. Misery in Lincoln. And best of all, I got to see spring unfolding in a way I don’t think I ever have, watching the buds appear and then the spring greening when the leaves weren’t quite open, heard the peepers at Fairy Pond and other wetlands, and found rushing brooks I didn’t know existed in the Annisquam section of Gloucester.