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Meandering with My Mutts: Almost spring


It’s a splendid almost-spring day, the air cool yet also holding hints of gentle warmth. For today’s meander it’s just Jesse and me to provide us some special time together and to enable me to dote on Jesse without the distraction of puppy Noah. With the promise of an afternoon trail run, Noah is at home conserving his energy, contentedly sprawled on the sofa in my husband’s office.
Jesse and I are at Frenchtown Preserve, hiking the lower trail that follows the Nishisakawick Creek. The creek is a 9.6-mile tributary of the Delaware River, its headwaters originating in Alexandria Township and flowing south into Frenchtown, N.J. The name Nishisakawick is thought to originate from the Lenape word for “double outlet” or “mouth.”
Below us the water gurgles over and around tabletop slabs of rusty-red shale. Ahead, the path leads through a jumble of Japanese barberry and multiflora rose. At this time of the year they are maintaining a polite distance, but soon they’ll be sending out prickly tentacles, ensnaring hapless victims. White throated sparrows flutter about the thorny bushes, gleaning what is left of the shiny crimson berries. These cheerful, petite birds are frequent visitors to local bird feeders during the winter season, heading to the Great Lakes, northern New England, and Canada to breed for the summer and then returning once again in the fall. If one is able to get close enough, white throated sparrows are fairly easy to identify, as they sport a tiny yellow spot between eye and bill.
For the most part, it’s still a wintry landscape; nevertheless, the natural world yields delights – a fallen cedar tree, its decomposing wood a flaming russet adorned with dazzling lime-green moss, fungi running up a tree resembling miniature dinner plates of the sort that might be used by gnomes or fairies, an awe inspiring stand of towering, emerald green hemlocks.

Ahead, a mountain biker emits an effusive “Yahoo!” and careens around a downward bend heading right for us, startling Jesse who emits several expressive woofs of surprise. We quickly move off the trail, and the young man brakes abruptly, grinning broadly with exhilaration and extending an apology, but there’s no need. The biker’s joyful exuberance is uplifting and all is good. Caught unaware due to failing eyesight and hearing, Jesse quickly recoups.
By my best estimate, Jesse has passed the 15-year mark, and as we ramble along the awareness creeps into my thoughts that next year at this time I may not have him by my side. Jesse possesses a full range of old-age ailments: failing senses, arthritic legs, weakened cognitive awareness. Nevertheless, these daily rambles, while leisurely and of short duration of late, continue to bring him pleasure. Should we miss an outing, Jesse’s day is incomplete.
We head to the car with a visit to my elderly horse, Jack, next on the agenda. Jack has his own set of age-related health issues, but despite diminished abilities and aches and pains, he and Jesse seem to take all in stride, accepting life as it is. Animals don’t mourn the past nor do they worry about the future, but instead make the most of the here and now. Perhaps my elderly animals in their infinite wisdom are teaching me how to age with grace and fortitude.
Cindy Woodall resides in Upper Black Eddy.

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