Thursday, September 3, 2015

LOOKING FOR A LAKE

At the dawn of the New Year, I resolved to take a hike and since fall is almost near and the 2015-year has almost ended, I figured it was time to carry out that resolution. So a few days ago, I decided to take my annual hike here in Sewanee, Tennessee. I should have known better than to ask my botanist friend, Dr. Sullivan, to accompany me. After all, she's the one with whom I had made field trips during hottest August days to dig for Eupatorium plants in the hardened soil of roadside ditches, moving on to the backwoods of Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama where people often appeared waving shotguns, a pack of dogs behind, warning us that they didn't want "people from town" bothering them. And another field trip with her involved collecting plants with a Japanese scientist during Hurricane Elena, an occasion marked by Elena chasing us to St. Augustine, Florida before making an about face and chasing us all the way back to Louisiana. As I said, I should have known better than to schedule a hike with her when she used the word exploration during the course of a conversation about hiking.

"I need to find a lake where there are some aquatic plants," she said. "I can't seem to locate it exactly but it's somewhere between Highway 41 and Jump Off Road (yes, the name of the latter sounds ominous enough to discourage hiking, but...). There's a marker on the Mt. Goat Trail that leads to this lake. It's called Lake Dimmick, and the exploration could suffice as your hike for the year."

"Do you think it's very far?" I said, my "suspicion radar" vibrating wildly. The last exploration she'd proposed and that I'd taken with her had involved walking the entire perimeter of a very large lake near Sewanee.

"Oh, I don't think it could be more than a mile," she said. "As I said, it's just an exploration, and we can time the hike. If it takes longer than a half hour, we'll turn back."

My mistake was in trusting a plant-hunting botanist to turn back on any trail that led through a forest with heavy vegetation—too many plant species along the way. Other friends with whom Dr. Sullivan hikes stay on a nice, hard-topped stretch of the Mountain Goat Trail, but with a tenderfoot like me she usually carefully selects unknown trails through rough terrain on very warm days. I don't know if it's a test of endurance for me or that everyone else has the good sense not to join her in her explorations into the unknown.

We hiked a short way on the hard-surfaced road of the Mountain Goat Trail, then turned into the woods at a marker that read "Lake Dimmick" and followed it downhill, across a stream where clumps of lovely fern grew, and crossed a highway to another wooded area. It was uphill and downhill for a long stretch, and we came to another Lake Dimmick marker with arrows pointing in both directions. In fact, all the markers for Lake Dimmick had arrows pointing in both directions.

"I think I need to look at the map on your cell phone," she said tentatively.

Uh oh, I thought, this doesn't look good. I gave her the phone, and we peered at a map that showed we might be going in the opposite direction from the lake. Off course, as usual, I thought.

"I think we need to backtrack and make a turn the other way," she said.

After we had backtracked a short piece, my common sense revived. "Well, why don't you just make that turn, and I'll wait here," I said. "However, it looks like Frost's 'road less traveled by'—you know, 'grassy and wanting for wear.'"

"This situation doesn't call for poetry," she said crossly. "You just stay here with the cell phone and call me if you need help" (This assurance came from someone who had forgotten her cell phone at home, and I looked at her in amazement). The truth was that I'd most likely be calling Sewanee police if the animal that had left a large pad of scat on the trail came looking for food while she explored.

Dr. Sullivan hadn't disappeared completely from view down the grassy trail before she turned and waved her arms at me. She looked like Columbus discovering water instead of land and when I caught up to her, she had begun to look dejected—just stood at the edge of a small pond, one black-eyed Susan dangling from her hand.


"Was that what you were really looking for?" I asked.

She ignored my question. "We might as well start back. Look, there's a helicopter circling overhead. Did you call out a search party?"

"It occurred to me. But never mind, let's go back to that creek we crossed, and I'll take a picture with you standing beside it. I'll label it Lake Dimmick, and you'll feel better about your exploration. You can tack it to one of those signs showing 'Lake Dimmick Trail' with arrows going in both directions and hope that it'll confuse those hikers who created the signs—they'll think the creek is a tributary of the lake. Anyway, I never heard of marking trails without putting the number of miles to the destination. Hikers up here are sadists. You know, don't show the number of miles the trek takes, just 'ever onward,' and the next thing you know, you're in Chattanooga."

Again, she ignored me. We trudged on.

Two hours later, we emerged from the exploration, got into the Subaru, and headed home. Well, I told myself, I'll have done my exercise everyone keeps urging me to do. Two hours of exploration=one year of hiking. I won't have to do this again until 2016. My botanist friend still wants to locate the lake, but when I reached home, I went out on the porch and began a recitation of "The Road Not Taken," which she had disdained while we were on the elusive Lake Dimmick trail. "The woods are lovely, dark and deep/and I have miles to go before I sleep," I chanted, bellowing it into the small wood near our front porch.


Maybe Frost had a botanist friend.
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