Context is everything. Ordinary activities put into a different context turn interesting, both to the person doing them, and to people around. Turning things interesting keeps things fresh. And keeping things fresh makes all the difference when life grinds hard and winter refuses to back off. So take a couple of ordinary activities and events like a run in the woods and a couple of lost dogs, and put them in a different context, and with a bit of a stretch, you can conjure a story.
As I write, the storm that won’t leave, which is also the storm that doesn’t seem to want to arrive, continues to blow, and the snow that was promised to start in earnest over twenty-four hours ago is still trying to work up its motivation to accumulate. Now take that ordinary event and put it in the context of surviving a winter full of such storms, barely clothed, barely fed, barely sheltered, two-hundred and thirty-three years ago. You’re in the Continental Army, and for the second time in three years, your leader, General Washington, has elected to ride out the winter, this time the most brutal in memory, in the hills and hollows near Morristown, New Jersey.
Imagine your joy when March finally arrives. I often refer to the Dark Period, that sixty days from January First till March First, as an ordeal. It’s nothing compared to what these men faced. No matter how brutal the weather at Martha’s Vineyard or Hyannis, I’ve got a hot shower. They weren’t so lucky. As the story goes, they endured twenty snowstorms in December 1779 alone.
This occurred to me when I found myself running the trails of Morristown National Historical Park on what happened to be March First, a day that couldn’t decide whether to break with sun or spit with snow, but to me, it was the end of the dark period. Spring was clearly banging at the door, despite tonight’s aforementioned storm (hey, it’ll melt soon, right?). Certainly those men of the American Revolution were still cold, but turning the calendar to March must have lifted their spirits.
Being out on the trails certainly lifted my spirits. On day seventeen of a stretch where I’d spent all of two full days at home, and on wrapping up a week of business in New Jersey, weariness was setting in. Granted, two of those days away were for races already documented here, and other on-the-road runs help maintain sanity, like an icy Maine morning slog and the evening set of mile repeats at the high school near our Jersey headquarters. But by Friday afternoon, burnt was an apt description, so knowing there was nothing but highway to fill the afternoon, there was no logical reason not to delay those miles of pavement in order to soak up some limes of historic ground before heading for home. Keep it fresh.
The park consists of a couple of almost non-contiguous chunks of land surrounded by modern mansions of wealth. What was a secluded series of hidden glens edged with heights ideal for watching for the enemy is now a secluded series of hidden glens edged with the heights of consumption and sumptuous living. It’s not an expansive place, so to get in a satisfying number of miles I set off from the southern part known as the New Jersey Brigade area. The terrain easily lived up to the hills that Google Maps had billed, rising and falling excessively, never allowing for any rhythm establishment. But this wasn’t a place to worry about rhythm, it was a place to kick back, slow down, and soak up the surprisingly open woods, bared by winter of nearly all underbrush, while marveling at the extent of Hurricane Sandy damage so far inland. That unfathomable level of timber destruction was in fact a theme of the entire week in the area.
A small river, more hills, and a road brought me into the main part of the park, known as the Jockey Hollow area, but still trail-bound, away from the attractions of the park. Not that those spots had done any attracting. I may have been thinking spring, but the feeling clearly wasn’t universal. By the time I’d finished my ninety-minute jaunt, I still had fingers left over after counting all the people I encountered, which was why I was surprised to be greeted by two friendly and enthusiastic canines on a deserted stretch of trail. Two canines who decided to become running companions, who fell into my stride like they’d known me forever. I expected to find their people around the next bend, but no people. A half mile, two people, but not their people. A mile or more later, including several tries to send them off to…where? Where could I send them? Mattered not, they stuck like glue, so onward, hoping to find their people, but…nobody.
Lost dogs aren’t rare, nor are dogs running trails. But there’s something ironic finding yourself as the stranger in town, wandering unknown turf in the role of Pied Piper to a couple of obviously well-cared for yet clearly lost pets. You can’t ignore them, especially as they’re following you further from their home. One might say I stepped in it; visiting Bostonian now has local responsibility. A problem? Yes, but at least an enjoyable one, being led by a little white a creature of boundless energy, constantly fifteen feet ahead on the trail, that I’m guessing was a schnoodle, and trailed by a chocolate lab, lively at the start, but who by the end of this odyssey would hit the wall in exhaustion and be put to shame by his small friend.
Knowing that losing them – and not knowing their fate – might be worse than leading them further, I pulled a phone number from their tags and played mental games to commit it to memory so as to at least report when later reunited with a phone. Fortunately, a couple of phone-equipped humans appeared a half mile later, and in no time we’d arranged a rendezvous at the next road crossing where a hugely relieved owner met me to retrieve Sage and Lovey, who were indeed quite lost, someone apparently having left a door open.
Headline: Stranger from afar effects not-terribly-heroic but certainly appreciated dog rescue from the deserted woods of a historic national park. Common event, but the context made it kind of interesting. I’m sure the local news would have made it into a nice human-interest story, but instead I slinked off back into the woods, checked out a bit more of the park, soaked up the history as well as some errant precipitation, and, slightly damp and cold, went home, happy to have had an eventful afternoon to keep it fresh.