I pulled out my laptop to write just now and asked my six-year-old what this month’s column should be about. I had some vague ideas around maybe the virtual one-acts festival my students participated in back in March, or an ode to my greenhouse, which currently has the first tiny brassica and pea shoots germinating despite the raw cold snap which ushered in April.
But she suggested I write about an adventure, and when I asked which adventure, she reminded me of a particularly unexpected one, from the summer of 2019. And as it’s not only a pretty good story, but a pretty good metaphor; I’ll share it with you now.
It was a balmy day, and Bill had gone over to Vinalhaven to teach a summer music camp session. Penrose and I had been tasked with a trip to the transfer station to drop off the trash and recycling. When we arrived, with our dachshund Claude in the car, the container was being switched out and we were told to come back in 20 minutes.
I decided a short hike would be a great way to fill the time while we waited…
The transfer station is up on the island’s North Shore, an extremely scenic stretch of road, and not too far from the North Shore Preserve trail which I’ve written about here before. I decided a short hike would be a great way to fill the time while we waited for the container switch, so I drove us a little further down the road and kid, dog, and parent hopped out of the car.
We took off down the grassy path, emerging at the dramatic overlook and picnic table. We bore left along the cliff walk, then followed a path through the grass. The trail loops back around fairly quickly, and at that time banked up a steep hill via a built in staircase.
We walked on. No staircase. We kept going. The path turned into… less of a path. More of a deer run. And then less of a deer run and more of a bushwhack.
I had somehow gotten lost. On North Haven. With a small dog and a small child. We were too far in to turn around, and I was nervous that we wouldn’t be able to retrace our steps back to the path. The ocean was still on our right, so I figured we were at least heading towards civilization somehow. I checked in with Pen. She was annoyed, but willing to keep going.
We pressed on through raspberry brambles and prickly baby spruce. I spotted a beach up ahead, which seemed promising. We clambered down the muddy, eroded slope down to the pebbles and sand. A ladder led up the opposite bank, which seemed to hint at some sort of end to our unexpected adventure. We climbed up and spotted a house and car in the distance. There had been a house and a car at the start of our hike, so maybe, somehow, we hadn’t been lost at all!
Of course not. This was a completely different house and car. Where on the island had we emerged? How would we get back to our car, wherever it was?
We walked up the lawn, relieved at least to no longer be in the woods. We had found a road, but what road? I picked Claude up—not expecting a walk, I hadn’t brought his leash—and we wandered, trying to get our bearings.
After a few hot, anxious minutes we spotted another car, this one filled with familiar faces. We trotted after them and flagged them down. We were saved! They obligingly gave us a ride back to the trailhead, and Pen happily recounted her travails to her classmate in the backseat.
We went through the transfer station on our way home, as I puzzled over my wrong turn and where we had emerged. We had started with good intentions and a clear vision for the afternoon and wound up in a surprisingly dicey situation which fortunately had a good outcome. Even in the most familiar of settings, getting lost and turned around was still, it turned out, possible.
Not to belabor a point, but much about our bushwhack reminds me of the last year and change. We set out with clear intentions, we made wrong turns. We were in the wilderness. We relied on the good will of others. And while we don’t yet know where we will emerge, we are beginning to see the opening of the road ahead.
How will we recount this story? What will we take with us into the future? Will we be more prepared for the next unexpected wrong turn?
Courtney Naliboff teaches music, theater, and writing on North Haven.