October. The last of the autumn leaves had fallen in the woods surrounding Brant Lake and soon only the stately evergreens would give color to the landscape. These were the final days before the forest would close in, a diorama of brown reaching skyward from a blanket of white.
So I set off for one last walk, on trails familiar since childhood. The horses, their coats beginning to thicken in defense against the cold, gamboled in the far meadows, searching for blades of grass. I climbed a dirt path at the side of the barn where the ruts had hardened in an early freeze. On the left, a shed, the door hooked with a horseshoe inserted into a latch, overflowed with newly cut wood from a fallen birch. Beyond the wood pile the maple syrup house was readied for March when the sap would run along a grove of maple trees that climbed a gentle slope. I stayed with the trees until I reached the cluster of brambles where wild turkeys had nested. At that point the trail veered off to the left and entered the forest, following a rivulet of water that, when frozen, caused treacherous hiking.
Absorbed in my thoughts I suddenly found myself ascending a steep hill, a landmark I did not recognize. The trail had disappeared and the ground, obscured by the fallen leaves, provided few clues. I assumed I still tread on ways once known but I soon realized that I had entered a new world. With every step the cacophonous crackling of feet on crisp leaves led me further into a strange land. What had happened to the once familiar landscape? And, as the leaves slipped out from under my feet, the world shifted. I realized I was lost.
At first I panicked. In which direction should I walk? A branch, swaying in the breeze, creaked overhead. A snow hare crossed in front of me. And night was falling. Soon, encompassed by darkness, I would be unable to see. It was time to move on. Then, in the distance, I heard the faint sound of a car. Route 8. I would find my own way cutting through the woods until I reached the road–and my house by the shore of Brant Lake. I hesitated, momentarily afraid to explore. There was no choice as night advanced.
That October day in the Adirondacks would not be the only day when a way, previously accessible, was hidden, or no longer existed, days when I would find new paths–until I reached safety before winter descended.
That October day reflected the pattern of life.