Saturday, November 7, 2009

Women versus wild

Pawlings Farm, which we stumbled (literally) upon

I live right outside of Valley Forge National Park in suburban Philadelphia. For those non-Revolutionary War nerds, this was the site of a famous Continental Army encampment (you remember in grade school learning about the freezing soldiers, right? Well, the Park Service website says that's all wrong and it was created to be a parable about American perseverance or something...suddenly the tales at Valley Forge are far less romantic).

The park is beautiful and has vast stretches of meadows and forests surrounding the Schuylkill (thank goodness for spell check on that one) River. I often walk with Penny on the river trail, which snakes along the water and has patches of river access, and where she very non-gracefully plops her fifty pounds in the water for a cold bath and drink.

On Saturday Penny and I decided to go off-trail, to traverse the unknown, to follow our noses and commune with nature. Well, Penny and I have no business communing with the outdoors. Really; we should be quarantined to the house.

First of all, we got lost. It's hard to get lost in Valley Forge, as it's only 5.4 square miles. We thought we'd (well, Penny) would follow our noses. "Off-trail, I say!" as I removed her leash and she lurched forward. "Isn't today beautiful?" I said to her. Too bad she was gone: she ran forward, out of sight. Oops.

After barking her name, she re-emerged, coated in mud and water. The dog is drawn to any sort of water: be it a lake, river, pond, or a murky puddle. She is not particular, and not very lady-like, either. She plops her body in the puddles, swishing the mud to and fro, and always looks very pleased with herself. I told her to have some respect for herself, to get her act together, and stick to the clean flowing rivers, but she is not one for humanoid reason.

Once we got her back on the leash, we took off on a footpath covered with fallen leaves. We saw deer and a sleek and sexy little red fox. We stared and they stared back. We were invigorated and announced to the world that we were going to be outdoor people/dogs. I was going to be the type of granola-crunchin', Birkenstock-with-sock wearin' person who shops at REI and L.L. Bean and has things made out of Gortex and a water purifier and , oh!, a canteen. I was going to be that girl. Right now I'm the girl who swears on all things from Anthropologie and Barnes & Noble, who prefers to buy her fish flash-frozen, and who owns maybe 15 skirts and one pair of shorts. But I was going to renounce all of that. I was going to be Nature Girl. Even though I'm married, I was going to be the object of desire to all of those mountain-bike guys who traverse the trail. It was decided.

Until I tripped.

Matt's mp3 player fell from my pocket and down the little embankment where it nestled on a tree trunk. I landed on my butt, which was fortunate, as I have a nice amount of padding. The ground was damp and I saw a spider. And some brown sort of bug. I had a scrape on my finger (god forbid!) and hit a bush as I went down. It was not a graceful sort of fall: the sort of fall a lady makes. Legs were splayed, a thud was probably heard. Hell, maybe even the ground shook. I went down in slow motion and I remember Penny being pulled back on the leash and I clearly recall her looking smuggly at me. I mean, no sense of concern at all! I was wet and muddy. A leaf was stuck on my butt and I tasted dirt in my mouth. I got up and, aloud (this is important now), I reprimanded Penny for pulling me and "making" me trip on a hidden root. "I am your mom! You should respect me and not pull! Do you want a Meaty Bone?! Well, DO YOU?!" This is an important detail too: at that moment I started scratching my butt. Vigerously scratching. It was wet and itchy and caked with mud. So there I am, scratching my ass and talking to my smug-lookin' dog, when a mountain biker EMERGES from behind a tree. No, let me rephrase: a cute mountain biker. The type of mountain biker who was going to love me once I became all naturey and all of that junk.

"Hi, are you alright?" he asks. I scoff, I laugh, I giggle inappropriately and say it was nothing, now damnit, please, ride on so I can live out my embarrassment alone. After he left I swept my hand over my hair and realized I had a large twig in it. Really; it was all too perfect.

But Penny and I are resilient. No, let me rephrase that: I AM resilient. I am woman, hear me roar! That mutt is a pushy, pully little demon. I mean, I had my torso "spliced open like a fish"! (Okay, fine, I use any chance I can to reiterate what my surgeon once flippantly said. Like this: (Poor) Matt: "K! Clean up your peanut butter and jelly down here!" Me: "Matt! Relaaaax! Okay, treat me with some reeespect: I live a hard life. Did you know - here it comes - my stomach was spliced open like a fish?! Uh, do you!?! Some people aren't as lucky as you and don't have perfect health!" Matt (muttering): "Oh no, here we go again...." Oh, and by the way, I never did clean up that peanut butter and jelly. Look, if you are saddled with a chronic illness, use it to your best advantage, okay? It's done no favors for you, so exploit the hell out of it.)

So Penny and I got situated and got moving. The twig was out of my hair, my butt had a sufficient scratch, and my favorite new song was playing on Matt's Zune ("Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros). Then Penny and I got lost.

"Where are we?" I asked her. She was eating some grass a few yards away; the dog is always filling her mouth with something questionable off the ground. I had picked-up a map I got when we came upon Pawlings Farm, which was a, (ha!) back in the 1700's (gorgeous and eerie, and above is a photo I swiped from the internet). The map didn't help much as we were not on a marked path, as we were being total nature renegades. I also don't think I was holding it correctly.

I decided to "keep on course", because, well, why the hell not. If the park is 5.4 square miles we had to reach something at some point. (And for the love of god, hopefully not that mountain biker.)

After what I thought was three hours (but was really 45 minutes I approximated once I did reach home and looked at the clock), we reached Betzwood, which is a boat-launch/picnic area on the river. Penny and I thought we should celebrate with some naturey food: you know, trail mix and water. Except I didn't bring trail mix or water. Or anything, except for the mp3 player and some bags for her poop. Oops. We sat down and surveyed the scene: it was an unusually warm November day and a family was having a BBQ on the outdoor grill, a few picnic tables down. I told Penny to make like a stray dog and snatch some of their food. She just continued to eat some grass by my feet. No surprise there.

And that was our Saturday. We made it back to the house at 3:15. I left the house at 12:30, so what I thought was a 4-5 hour debacle was just over 2 1/2 hours. Well, that just figures.


  1. A GPS device would make a nice Christmas gift for the "new" wilderness walker.

    Just a throught- never leave Penny out of your direct control. If she tracks deer or rabbit, you may lose her


  2. Were you wearing one of your 15 skirts for this misadventure or the shorts? I hope it was the latter, being that your "legs were splayed" in this tumble--I'm envisioning the scene now. You need a pair of hiking pants; they're equipped with all those nifty pockets so you could pack the trailmix and poop bags, hang a Nalgene bottle, and the aforementioned GPS device. Then you'll look like a true nature girl.
    And Kathryn, you were quite outdoorsy when you were younger, remember all those hiking trips? I do, especially your whining about "once you've seen one mountain, you've seen them all" and "why can't we go to Disney World like normal people?" How about a subscription to BACKPACKER for Christmas?? Mother-of-nature-girl-wannabe

  3. Mom and Dad,

    Penny was good after the initial unleashing: she didn't chase any deer and even stayed and sat when someone crossed our path. Once I threatened her with no Meaty Bones, she listened.

    Also, a true Nature Girl requires NO gps. That is cheating, and I will have none of it.

    And, mother, I was wearing gym pants (yoga pants), thank you very much. I looked very much the part.

    And I wasn't ever outdoorsy, I was just dragged along to the outdoors...protesting all the way. (And yes, a mountain is a mountain is a mountain!!)

  4. Kathryn,

    Yoga pants are for downward-facing-dog, not for hiking-with-dog. I see a pair of North Face hiking pants in your future (and they come in tall)!

  5. Our daddy shops at REI and wears Gortex but he isn't Granola. The only thing needed to be outdoorsy is an adventurous spirit... The journey starts with the first step.

    xoxo Ched and Luc

  6. Dear Ched & Luc,

    Excellent line- the journey starts with the first step.


  7. MONGW, I welcome your return to the comments page. I just finished reading and I'm still laughing! Cyndy

  8. Oh, lordy...."The journey starts with the first step" = cheesy.

    Cyndy, don't encourage her! She'll think she's the next Erma Bombeck or something!! ;-)

  9. I DID NOT write the Ched and Luc comment, nor did I write the Pudge comment. However, the Fab Four (Cheddar, Lucy, Smoke and Socks) and I did collaborate on the Nov. 5 comment in response to "Karate Cat". That bunch threw a hissy fit WHEN YOU COMPARED CATS TO MELONS! They were not pleased, nor am I, "the journey starts with the first step"--what pap, gimme a break.


  10. I definitely needed this story tonight. Hysterical! Sorry for any encouragement this may offer, but your mom is a hoot, too.


  11. Mom,
    What does "pap" mean? Is that word from the 1940's? HAHAHA! Oh, I crack myself up.

    You are creating a MONGW cult following! ;-)

  12. Your blogs rock! I laughed so hard at this. Dude I went to Wal Mart the other night (so not good when you are on prednisone, all that hunger and all those low low prices) and I felt like I had a massive work out and I was proud of myself! I think that Crohns patients aren't an athletic people.

  13. How can we be athletic?! Our own body is fighting against itself! We're doomed!

  14. Kathryn
    According to Webster's, "pap" means an oversimplified or trivial idea or writing. And no, it is not from the 1940's, the etymology is middle english, so try the 1200's! HARDY-HAR-HAR!


  15. MONG (aka #1 commenter):
    Okay; fine - you got me!

    It's the sweetest and makes me just dance (alone, of course) and smile.

  16. Oh; and they're playing in Philly tonight, but I waiting too long and it's sold out! Who knows...maybe Silla is there! Sadness. :-(