When wood chucks chuckle

For quite some time now, my husband Vince and I have been working to restore a path my dad cut through the woods nearly 30 years ago. We owe our pace — a pocket full of nails, a board or two, a few random cuts of low hanging branches — to our lack of both time and ability.

In our daily lives, we work with words, not wood. So, our skillset isn’t the same as the man who labored all summer to build the nine bridges that have, so far, lasted three decades longer than he did.

In our quest to restore the path, we have battled both weather and wildlife. We leave perfectly groomed paths and return to find them buried under snow or washed away by the spring melt. Still, we tramp on.

Meanwhile, to mark the path for visitors and, sometimes, ourselves, Vince has been tying bright orange cloth strips to trees, a project that has opened him to some banter from our friends and, occasionally, from me.

“You can’t get lost when you’re walking along a river,” I have said with wifely arrogance. “The river will always lead you home.”

And then I had to cop to a solo walk on a lovely winter day when, deep in thought, I followed a deer trail off our rough-hewn path, looked up and said, “Huh!” and then circled back until a familiar orange flag told me I was back on track. I wasn’t lost, though. Never that. Just mometarily distracted.

Lately, I have noticed another group chiming in to poke a little fun at the marking of a path that runs along a river, the little fellows that live there. A few weeks ago, I spotted one of the trees Vince had marked lying in the river, hacked down by the obvious teeth of our resident and, yes, busy beavers.

A little ways down, I noticed more teeth marks on another tree marked by an orange flag.

“I think your orange markers offended the beavers,” I said to Vince, a concept I found both fascinating and hilarious.

I had visions of those wood chucks chuckling behind their big, bucked teeth and merrily hacking away at Vince’s carefully marked trees, hoping to divert us hapless humans away from their playground. How much wood can a wood chuck chuck when a wood chuck chuckles? I guess we’ll see.

It’s a harmless dance we do, those of us who share the woods. We mark and remark our territory, cede and reclaim our ground and teach our children that the river will always lead them home.

My dad built nine of these bridges with help from friends and a relatively new son in-law, during the summer of 1991. You can see how precise the original boards are, and how less than precisely the replacement boards line up. Mostly, we think it’s remarkable that these bridges have last all these years.
I don’t have any pictures of my dad doing his favorite thing, hacking paths through the woods near his cabin. But, I do have this picture of him doing his second favorite thing, watching all of us enjoying the cabin. This was taken in 1991, the year he built the path along the river.
In retrospect, it may not have been necessary to mark the trail with an orange rag when a bridge already marks it.
Also, some of us wiseguys and woodland creatures question the need for markers on a trail that follows a river.
It’s been a cool project, though, and I may or may not have referred to the markers from time to time as I wander through.
A storm washed this bridge downstream and, later, a tree fell on it. So, Vince and our friend Tom took a chainsaw to the tree and we replaced two of the boards and lifted it back in place. Good as new.
I am making good natured fun here of another marker near another bridge. I just think if you see a bridge in a woods, you can safely assume the path goes over it. In the winter you can see deer and coyote tracks over the bridges too, so I think they’d agree.
I love days when my shadow can stretch out with the trees’ shadows and we can all enjoy a sunny October morning.
The beavers felled this tree that had previously marked the path (thanks to the orange rag tied to it). They are also working on another one. How much wood can a wood chuck chuck when a wood chuck chuckles? I guess we’ll see.
The real message for generations of all forest dwellers (including my own children) is that the river always leads you home.

2 thoughts on “When wood chucks chuckle

  1. Loved this column! I reminisced over the woods behind my childhood home. It had a babbling brook which I used to splash through on low ends because there wasn’t a bridge.

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