Walking Sticks And High Adventure

ONE pleasant Saturday morning when we and the world were young, Eddie and I set out for the land of High Adventure, and we had walking sticks. This was new, but we had been reading ``Outre-Mer'' by our neighbor, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and thus learned that truly important walkers need walking sticks. Since our Saturday hikes were not camping-out treks, we had only sandwiches in our sacks, and we swung along jauntily sporting our staffs and were momentarily caught up in the poet's enthusiasms for peripatetic pleasures. If Longfellow had a stick, we should have sticks.

The basket-ash, from which the Indians split, and still do, the materials for their baskets, grows with a right-angle root. When the bole is about an inch in diameter, the young tree can be taken so the root makes a ready-to-use handle, and Eddie and I had found just the right young trees for canes. We had them ready on the Friday evening, and Saturday morning off we strode.

We had a brand new experience. The sticks gave us a swagger, and we found they could be used for all sorts of things. Cuff the blossom off a wild carrot, for one thing, in passing. Swish! Turn over a stone to see if a fuscus-fuscus lurks. Lift a strand of fence wire to scooch under it.

We went along finding things to do with sticks, grateful to the poet, and then we came to Perkin's Brook. We always swung down to the brook if we went that way, to pull watercress to adorn our sandwiches, and always to get a drink. I suppose it's been at least a half century since anybody dared drink from Perkin's Brook. When we'd refreshed ourselves and added enough watercress to our sandwiches, we went along on our walk and left our sticks leaning against a tree. We were clear over to Bartol's hill be fore we remembered, and we had to go back and get them.

Our favorite route on these Saturday jaunts brought Eddie and me to the townline on the westerly slope of Beech Hill, right where the selectmen had put a splash of red paint on a rock during one of their official and joint ``perambulations'' of the town bounds. So Eddie and I would make a little ceremony out of passing from Freeport into Pownal, and we'd sit on the red rock and eat. Then we'd hack at a small alder and make a cross, which we erected and claimed the entire continent for the Duke of Bergun dy. That was the big thing to do in the days of discovery.

Capt. John Smith erected dozens of crosses in Maine, from Piscataqua to the Penobscot, and claimed everything for the British Crown. We always had string with us, and we'd tie the cross-member, drive the thing in the ground, and augment the empire. Last time I was there, long after Eddie and I finished high school and ended our Thoreau days, we'd left 17 crosses, all in good shape. For us, it was as good as planting a flag on the moon. Then we walked along and forgot our sticks again. We went back for t hem, and by the time we got over on the Ringrose Road we'd decided walking sticks are a tarnation nuisance, but we pushed on and came to the Gavin farm.

ALONG the road, in front of the house, was a 50-yard pile of cordwood, waiting to be fitted for the shed, and up on top, 10 feet off the ground, was Madeline Gavin. Madeline was a class behind us in school, so she's be maybe 13 at the time. She was a slip of a thing, weighing no more'n 60 pounds soaking wet, and of course her extreme youth deprived her of any serious attention from two senior citizens en passant. We spoke, and we leaned on our walking sticks and looked up at Madeline.

``Our bull's loose,'' she said.

This explained why Madeline was up on the woodpile.

The activity connected with retrieving the loose bull took place on the other side of the woodpile, so Eddie and I didn't get involved. But we did hear attendant remarks, made by Madeline's father, her uncle Joel, her two brothers, Ned and Sam, the hired man, and to some extent the bull. Madeline told us the bull had somehow separated himself from his stanchion, gained the outer air, and was ranting and rampaging the dooryard when Madeline innocently came upon him. From the safety of the woodpile she ha d shouted until somebody heard her. The bull was shortly captured and Madeline descended. We forgot our sticks again, and I guess they're still there.

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