Walking…Henry David Style

Henry David Thoreau once wrote a very short book (booklet?) called Walking  It begins innocently enough as he attempts to educate the reader on his own personal style of walking that ignored the boundaries of fences and property. It was a walk that had no special purpose other than to walk and possibly listen to Nature along the way. On impulse I also took one of those walks today.

The sun was shining brightly, although low in the sky, and the temperature read 30 degrees. We still had about 8 inches of snow on the ground and as usual not much was happening in our rural neighborhood. I started out walking along the road in front of my house and soon was on the larger access road (Skunk Hill Rd.). I quickly got on the left side …you have to watch for what little traffic there is out here since there are no sidewalks and no breakdown lane. My first stop was opposite a New England stone wall. This particular wall makes a nice square of about 50 feet on each side. The enclosed area is all forest and there is one entrance on the street side. The entrance is guarded by two granite posts that have projecting iron hinge bolts but no gate. I can only wonder when this was made and for what purpose. My best guess is that it was an animal pen. This is one site I will have to research on local maps.

At first there were very few animals, wild or domestic, evident on this frigid, cloudless day. Then I noticed a variety of bird songs, including the ever-present starling and a few others I was not able to identify. There was one bird that was an easy one to pick out, the chicken. A farmhouse that looked to be over 200 years old had a small chicken coop sitting about 50 yards from the main building. I didn’t see any chickens but the voices carried well from within their whitewashed roost.  I got the impression they were warm and comfy in there. While looking for additional animals I suddenly discovered that one was looking at me. From a distance of some 150 feet I could not tell if it was a pony or some type of cattle. As I continued in its direction it became clear that I was being observed by a large, shaggy, roan-colored bull. His eyes were curtained by long hair that made him look like a giant sheep dog. As I approached he swiveled his head just enough to track my movement, much like the gun turret of a military tank. He only gave up the stare after I had passed him by quite some distance. I later found out, courtesey of Wikipedia, that my keen observer is a member of the Highland breed from Scotland. According to the web site they absolutely love the cold weather and are highly intelligent. I’ll vouch for both characteristics.

Just before turning back into my own street I began to hear a curious knocking sound above my head. I looked up and closely observed the power lines. There had to be a couple of loose ones swinging in the wind. There were not. All the adjacent lines were bundled together by a well-spaced braid that prevented any lateral movement. I next turned my gaze on the tall trees next to the road. Surely a couple of them were swaying and clanging against each other. That’s when I spied the small woodpecker that was responsible for the racket. He was about 30 feet up on the side of what looked like a maple. He had a bright red crest, a yellow abdomen, and black racing stripes down each side.

The best guess by this avian novice is that I was being entertained by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius. I don’t know how much sap he was freeing from the maple during such cold weather, but he was making a great effort.

Finally back on my street I could make out the faint odor of cow manure…yes I was downwind of my Highlander friend. I’m told they are quite docile animals. I sure hope they are, just in case he decides to take his own walk someday.

Thanks Henry David. You really know how to take a walk.

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