(This is student work submitted as part of the Youth Voices collaborative project.)
by Jess van de Ven
Woodstock Middle School
Can you relate to trees in the fall? Instead of allowing their surroundings to change them and strip them down, trees do what they want, when they want. No wind or weather is going to slowly and gently knock leaves down for them. The trees hold on to the leaves for as long as they desire. Then, when they die and shrivel up, the trees use what scientists call abscission cells to cut off whichever leaves they fancy. Surprisingly, the temperature and weather don’t play a role in determining when the leaves are exiled from the limbs.
Maybe I can relate to trees in the fall. Maybe that’s the reason why I like taking walks on the Mt. Tom trails with my long-haired English mastiff, Lucy. Once it’s that time of year, I get an urge, which is so persistent it really feels like more of a need than a want, and I indulge. John Muir, a naturalist and wilderness preservation activist from the 1800’s, completely captured the feeling when he said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
I grab Lucy’s leash, put on a jacket, and walk a few yards, until I reach the bottom of a never-ending, impossibly steep hill that I have to bushwhack up to reach the official trail. When I reach the top, I meet one of the many trails that form a part of Mt. Tom’s extensive trail network. These trails were built in 1871, making them more than ten times my age. I stop for a moment to take in the sound of my cynophobic (yes, she’s afraid of dogs) mastiff panting. Over that, I can hear the trees whispering to each other, seeming to comment on how disruptive Lucy and I are and how bundled up I am. Afterwards, once we have finally moved past the unyielding pain of such a sharp incline, I stop Lucy again and we plan our route.
There are several ways to go–to the right, which leads to the Pogue, a meadow, and another clearing, or to the left, which connects to the Mt. Tom main carriage road, to the South Peak, where the Star is located, and to even more trails into town and crisscrossing the mountainside.
Once we have chosen our path, then we can actually start enjoying ourselves.
The leaves are continuously falling. Lucy’s long legs linger every once in a while as she ogles leaves that I kick up with every step, and wind tickles at my hair, pulling it everywhere except where I want it to be. Eventually we reach a trail sign that reads, “Larch Trail,” pointing in the direction we came in.
A photo of Larch Trail, taken by Jessica van de Ven.
Lucy never barks when we are out and about, and as mastiffs are nicknamed the “Gentle Giants,” the name fits. They are the largest breed in the world if judged by mass. Lucy is a variety of mastiff that are called “Fluffies.” Although the name and her fear of dogs suggest otherwise, she is actually very protective because of an instinct in mastiffs passed down through the centuries. With this in mind, I developed a habit of taking her with me whenever I venture out into the woods.
As I hike, I love to just breathe deeply and smell the crisp air, which to me smells like cold. Sometimes I think about Lucy. I think about how she’s six years old already, and consider how very warm she is whenever she bumps into my jean-clad legs. I think about school and how I have a great deal of homework to do when I get home. This makes me anxious, so I pop a mint in my mouth to quell my nerves. Afterwards, the crackling of the wrapper in my pocket soothes me even more. It reminds me that the forest is like my mind: it is a sanctuary if I want it to be, and I can do anything I want there.
When I start to head home, I turn around. Lucy has drool dripping from her mouth, adding to the effect of how she seems like she’s smiling. I try to absorb all I can about the forest before I go inside to start laboring over my work, like the pine needles on the edge of the trails, or the little insects that haven’t died or started hibernating yet. I take care to avoid the barbed wire resting on the dilapidated, deteriorated, disrepaired rock wall separating my property from the state’s. Stopping yet again when I reach the bottom of the never-ending, impossibly steep hill, I soak up the last of the soft dirt, the tall trees, and the unlevel ground. When I reach my door, all I can think is, “This is the essence of fall, being able to find myself among the multicolored trees.”
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