Yesterday, on the first day of spring, I took both of my dogs for a walk.
I’d left Rosa Parks home the day before, with her medicine stirred into a little wet food, a suggestion that she take care of things, and an apology. Her bum knee has been acting up, and her allergies have gone wild with the warmer temperatures. She was better off at home.
Darla and I walked down the – very muddy and sometimes downright wet – Fox Lake Road until we came to the trail that leads through my Grandpa’s wood lot. We followed the trail through the woods until we came to Randy’s house. Randy keeps chickens; I wasn’t sure if they were penned, and I didn’t know how Darla would react. We turned back there, and retraced our route for home.
My little dog let me know that she was not pleased. When I went out later in the day to pick up windfall and rake a few leaves, Rosa Parks wandered far out of the yard, over banks of snow and blackberry brambles, into the tall grass of the field. From that distant vantage point, she looked back with a stern expression. “I am perfectly capable of going for a walk,” she seemed to be telling me. Up, then, she marched to the top of the big snow drift, where she paused again, to give me a guilt-inducing look. An energetic run around the yard, finished by beating both Darla and me to the door, completed her demonstration.
Yesterday, Rosa Parks came with us. We avoided the Fox Lake Road that had soaked my feet the day before. We walked through the back field – ducking under the branches of pine and choke cherry trees, and skirting drifts of wet snow – until we came to the woods. The path was dry there, and we followed it back to the hunt camp that Bobby Graves built in a clearing far back in the woods.
Darla hadn’t been this way before, so she was happy to explore the sights and smells on either side of the trail. Rosa plodded along, always behind, but never out of my sight. I set my pace to her speed. There were a few trees down. One, we had to leave the trail and wind through the brush and trees to get around. Two, we were able to climb over, and the last one I had to duck under. I mistakenly thought that would be the hardest part of the walk.
We came, finally, to the clearing. The hunt camp is used by another group of guys these days. Stones placed in a circle, with chairs gathered around it, mark the location of the campfire. Between the little cabin and the outhouse, in a little cluster of empty beer bottles, buckets and an old cooler, sits my old wood stove. I don’t know how it ended up here, but it has stood in this clearing, slowing rusting, exposed to the elements, for at least two years.
The stove was purchased new by my husband’s Uncle Don. He and his wife had moved into an old schoolhouse, and were converting it into a home. The wood stove was cast iron, tall and roundish in shape, supported with sturdy legs. In their home, the stove pipe was of shiny stainless steel.
Don and his wife separated; they each moved to different homes. When my husband and I were building our little house on Beaver Island, we bought the wood stove. I was always very proud of the way that it looked, with its big round knobs for draft, and double doors with bright wood handles that could stand open to appreciate the fire. There was a wood-knobbed screen that snapped in, to shield against flying sparks.
The stove never did heat very well, though. It should have. It was designed for it; it had a good rating, and could hold a big knot of wood. When all conditions were right, we could certainly get the house warm. We never could get it to stay warm, though. Through every possible combination of draft and damper settings, through wood that ranged from windfall and slab wood to the hardest maple logs, through experiments with different locations and different chimneys, that fire needed to be fed.
Most winters, I worked very hard to stay barely comfortable. I woke up in the morning to a house that was generally 42 degrees (though there were days that water was frozen in the dish!). I’d work the coals into flame with kindling and dry wood, then retreat to the bathroom with its electric heater. There, sitting on the side of the tub, I’d drink coffee and write in my journal while the house warmed up. When I came home from work, the house was, again, 42 degrees. Again, I’d stoke the fire, then take a long walk while the house got to a temperature that I could relax in.
After twenty years of struggling with that stove (one winter, my water pipes froze fourteen times…and burst three times!), and all the additional work that heating with wood entails, I switched over to propane for my heat. Unable to justify – in my small house – having both a propane heater and a wood stove, one had to go. I gave the wood stove to my friend Bill, who lived on the West Side Drive. Later, he and his family moved off the island. The house changed hands. I don’t know how my old wood stove ended up in the yard of the hunt camp, but that’s where it sits today.
That sums up the story of the old wood stove. The story of the walk with my dogs is not done.
First, both Darla and Rosa Parks marched right out onto the frozen pond just as if it were a big open field, with no idea of the danger, should the ice give way. I coaxed them back to shore and headed back for home. Rosa Parks did not come with us. She had found the hoof and foreleg of a deer, with enough (probably rotten!) meat and fur attached to make it interesting. She let me know without a doubt that she was willing to fight, if need be, to keep it.
After several attempts at scolding or shaming her into submission – all to no avail – I tried walking away, calling to Rosa Parks, in hopes that she would follow me and Darla, if we got far enough away. It didn’t work. Then Darla, too, found a deer leg! What kind of a ghoulish place was this?! I put on my gloves, wishing they were rubber, or leather – something sturdier and more “gross-proof” than the simple knit that they are. I got a long stick and used it to pull the animal parts away from the jaws of my dogs, then flung each deer leg as far into the woods as I could.
I grabbed up Rosa Parks before she had time to object and, yelling for Darla to follow, headed back down the trail. With one heavy – and stubborn – little dog in my arms, I ducked under one tree, climbed over the next two and detoured through the brush to skirt the last one before I was confident that I could put the little dog down without her going back to retrieve her treasure. I was all the way home before I had caught my breath! By the time we got to our own back yard, both dogs had forgotten all about our disagreement, and were wagging tails and grinning in their “what a good time that was” manner. Hmmmph.