April 17, 2021. Hubbardton, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Druids – Yeyin
“We need to hike,” she told me.
It was never an argument. As I may have mentioned by now, Vermont is nothing but woods. She alleges that she is a green witch. Woods are green. For my part, I liked the experience of being out in nature before all the eggheads started publishing fringe studies suggesting that a walk in the woods and eating fruit is better for your mental health than blowing rails of Pixie Sticks and watching 10 hours of Netflix alone in your bed.
There was also Beefton to consider. He forgets he’s a lethargic couch ornament when you take him into the woods, and goes caroming through the underbrush, gasping like a sleep apneiac in a doomed effort to catch wildlife. The furry little golem is too slow to catch other dogs, let alone squirrels or rabbits, but we must imagine Sisyphus fulfilling his evolutionary pack-hunting imperative. “Sweet dreams of the chase, and a mouthful of blood,” as Thomas Harris put it.
The Witch and I had both grown increasingly feral over the quarantine, I from my anachronistic training regimen and unyielding dedication to my unga bunga bullshit, and she from her penchant for collecting and cataloguing rocks, a pursuit she regarded as equal parts secular and spiritual. The prowling and hauling had left her long limbs knotted with muscle, and I found her nonchalant ability to move faster than me along hiking trails both impressive and irritating.
So why, then, had we spent so much of our brief time in arboreal oblivion locked in the haunted farmhouse, gnawing steak and charcuterie?
“It’s still raining,” I said.
“Well, we can’t just not hike in Vermont,” she said. “But a lot of the trails are washed out because it’s ‘the muddy season’?”
“The muddy season.”
“When you say washed out,” I asked, “do you mean we’re wading upstream? I’ve got the big waterproof boots. I’m good to go. Never had to use them when it’s 40 degrees, but I gotta get out of this room. The chair is whispering again.”
“Nothing. Never worry about it. Washed out?”
“A lot of it is hills and canyons,” she explained, gesticulating in a fashion both attention-deficit and highly Italian, “so the trails just… wash away. Wash off the mountain.”
“So it’s like a cliff. Hiking cliffs, like mountain goats.”
“Maybe? Good thing we got Cap stelliums to go around, huh?”
“Athena sends her soggiest battles to her antsiest soldiers. Beefy! We ride!”
Beefton launched from his concrete mattress and stretched into a flawless downward dog pose to evince his readiness.
“It is a good day to die,” Beefy said, though not in so many words.
The rain didn’t stop, but it shuffled its feet and hesitated long enough for us to find the Taconic Mountain Ramble, known and beloved far and wide for its Japanese Zen garden trail.
“Look at all that infrastructure,” I said. “There’s no way this leads to a state park. We’re going to get out of the car, and a cannibal hermit is going to put us on meathooks in his basement.”
“We’ll have to steer clear of basements, then.”
“He’s gonna take our skin, Witch,” I said. “You roll around in cocoa butter all the time, and I subsist on water and fish oil. Finest hides in Vermont right now. You saw the Vermontians at the restaurants. Woeful skin. Like the before pictures on a ProActiv commercial.”
“It’s because they’re always drinking maple syrup, I’ll bet.”
This was true, and disgusting. Maple syrup is to Vermont as ouzo is to Athens, in that no matter where you go, what you order, or what time of day it is, they will give you a little cup of it. I asked for hot sauce for my french fries, they asked “hot sauce or wing sauce?”, and I said hot sauce again. They brought me a little ramiken of wing sauce, and my highly refined palette immediately determined that some rabid anarchist jackal poured maple syrup in it.
“Gross,” she added.
We parked the car and I covered my bases.
“Beefy, there will likely be an abduction attempt. I need you to eat our kidnappers before they eat us. Your bloodline reaches back to the molossus, the great Roman dogs of war. You were bred for this.”
Beefton leaned across the center console and licked my face.
“No, dammit,” I said. “I need your war face. Who wants blood? Huh? Whom wanna drink blood?”
His ears lifted higher onto his head.
“I do,” he said.
“You wanna get a little blood? Huh? Who’s a blood drinking boy?”
“I am! I drink blood!”
I opened the back door and he uncoiled like a spring, bolting out into the forest teeth-first, jowls waving in the cold mist.
“Go get ’em!” I said. “Save yourself! Kill them all!”
We followed the trail down past an incongruous trailer. The Witch suggested the park rangers probably used it when the trails were open during the non-muddy season, but that first sign suggested that the great state of Vermont wasn’t funnelling too much of that good maple tax lucre into the parks system. Just beyond the trailer was The Spot.
Which, conveniently, faces away from the trailer, keeping you leaned back in the Adirondack, off balance and too distracted by nature’s splendor to notice the chloroform rag until it’s too late.
We wended our way into the Zen garden, which was gorgeous even in shitty weather, and must be incredible when it’s nice out.
There were two huge boulders with chairs at the top, but only one was accessible. The ladders were washed out from the other one. We could have feasibly freeclimbed it in the summer, but with the frozen moss and our wet, clunky hiking boots, we opted to take turns on the first.
We loitered on the rocks, amassing karma until we got hungry enough to go find something else undoubtedly made with maple syrup.