Following our noses around

“I need to follow my nose around for a few days first,” invariably said Agatha Senior upon arrival at Kennedy or Newark or Logan Airport sometime in the eighties or nineties. Naps, cryptic puzzles, reading, and a little knitting or embroidery took up day one and two.

During day three, there’d be a request for “something I can do for you.” Perhaps there was some ironing? A drawer full of crumply but clean vintage tablecloths would be produced and, with repairs and ironing, readied for a couple of years worth of parties. Some weeks ago, I finally made time to iron tablecloths for the holidays and wept over the woven repairs, expertly devised and rustily executed almost twenty years ago. Like Agatha Senior, mending is gone now, like many needle trades an art preserved in small museums and as the topic of blog posts. It’s also the kind of thing every girl in Holland of World War II and aftermath would have learned, even if she put it aside as soon as she could. Agatha unwound from being a head honcho manager by going back to the hand-work of simpler times.

The modern Dutch, who love a descriptive version of new age psychobabble, speak of losing your hurry. “Work was getting to me,” a friend will say, “I really needed to de-hurry myself for a few days so I booked a small midweek (at a resort) and got myself back into shape for working hard.” The modern Dutch, who work far fewer hours than Americans do, are generally amazed at our lack of productivity per hour, so they may have a point.

Just the other day, the hound and I followed our noses around when a bunch of rain finally let up. Perhaps it is more accurate to say we followed his nose around, and he was not so much unwinding but winding himself up, following the necessary and compelling scent of beaver. But I was working hard at ditching my hurry. Woman on snow shoes slogging through as much as 4 inches of slush on the ice, crashing down into air pockets in brush, hound nose to the ground, we made our way up the creek, dam by dam, to the big beaver house at the headwaters of the bog I call Canada in Plainfield. Between sniffing out beavers, studying reflections, and squatting to drink in sound and scent of rushing little waterfalls while trying not to topple headlong into the drink snowshoes and all, there was plenty to do.

Nature was working hard at giving us stuff to see and think about. Hard frost had been followed by rain and thaw, and it was obvious the beaver(s?) had used that opportunity to mount an inspection trip or two. Above and below every dam holes had been opened, a slither of tail, green goo, and webbed feet imprints told the story of slipping across the dam. We followed the impression of beaver tail from one creek to another across a small headland. A bit further up we found a new lodge. There were piles of piles of scats and splats of smelly algae from beaver fur-cleaning activities. The hound was highly motivated and wished to eat what he found, which I tried to prevent although who knows what happens when I am not right there when he goes visiting.

Although we’d not had an adventure like this for some time, this was not entirely unfamiliar territory. The big beaver house doesn’t look big. In fact, if you don’t know it is there you can’t see it at all. The hound found it some years ago and I found it too on the occasion of his crashing into the drink and having some trouble gaining purchase to get back on the ice. I came as close as I dared, preparing to crash through the ice into two feet of oozy muck and pull him out, but of course he made it out on his own on the other side. Spooked, I didn’t want to cross where he did and instead circled around to the headland, where the hound got pretty busy and the snow had melted away from the breaths of our cozy friends down there. Snarky hideaway built into the bank.

We were happy to rediscover this time that the house was occupied. The hound sniffed to his heart’s content and I ticked off the works of the beaver like beads on a rosary: large curvy dam, enormous trees abandoned in various stages of success at cutting them down, trees that were chewed into short pieces for bark in a particularly heavy winter some years ago. A magical place it is.

Then the hound said let’s go and struck out into largely unknown territory marked “impenetrable brush and very wet” on the map in my head. Why not. Following dog prints and then on my own, skirting dense underbrush and puddles so deep they reached to the canopy, I walked. And then it happened that I lost myself in time and space and there was only the experience of snowshoeing through the wettest woods, inhaling deeply the watery scent released by rising temperatures, slowly moving forward without a thought in my brain about where to go next and I lost my hurry. And then we bumped up against our own western wall and were home.


A large album this time. Click on one thumbnail to get it. Some reporting, some for pretty. You may have to wait a moment for the photos to download entirely.

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