Why a walk in the woods beats a whoosh downhill

Skiing leaves me cold. I tried it, years ago, and never had to do that again. I often quote Chief Needabah of the Penobscots on this subject. He also tried skiing and dismissed it. He said, "Whoosh! Walk back two miles!"

My reason for not skiing is the same one I use for not flying: There's nothing between airports. People who ski unquestionably have fun, but you don't see bunnies on a ski slope. If any were there, you go too fast to get acquainted. I've never been to Florida, but I treasure my happy winters in Maine, where I might ski if I'd a mind to. Did you know that while Florida is known as the Sunshine State our winterized Down East Maine gets more sunlight? True, we have days when the thermometer goes two clapboards below zero, but the sun shines.

And I remember best those days of my lost youth when I had rosy cheeks, but not from skiing, and a sled of firewood. Most of all, I'd had a magnificent day in the woods with my own good company, a frypan on an open fire, and bunny rabbits to watch as they came by to look at me.

Not long ago, the financial news told us Maine's Poland Spring had been sold to some foreign buyer who would continue to market the water worldwide and launch a domestic advertising program to increase sales. Soon we began seeing TV commercials in which a rabbit frolicked on Maine snow under a Maine spruce tree and then faded to a fake Yankee twang pushing bottled Poland Spring water. These commercials were perhaps thought up in New York City, cast in Ohio, filmed in Hollywood, paid for in Swiss francs, and distributed from Atlanta.

In short, the rabbit was brown.

A Maine rabbit is a variable hare and turns white in winter. He is known to Mainers as the snowshoe rabbit, although a hare, because his long hind legs let him run at terrific speeds over loose snow. You will never see a brown bunny on Maine snow except on TV.

We had a gifted Maine artist named Klir Beck who for years designed the exhibits the state used at various travel and outdoor shows to entice visitors to Maine. In his studio at Mount Vernon, Maine, Klir would make a mill dam with pool and stream. When it was set up for the sportsman's show in Madison Square Garden, New Yorkers would flock to Maine to go camping.

One year he came up with his masterpiece. It was a bit of Maine woodland in a glass case, showing a brown rabbit under a balsam fir. Everything was summertime. You can see this exhibit today in the Maine State Museum at Augusta. As you look at the bunny, so cunningly lifelike, you can press a button, and instantly the scene before you changes from summer to winter. Now the hardwood leaves in the background have dropped. The ground is covered with snow. And the perky little brown bunny is white. Press the button again, and it is summer in Maine. Teachers take their pupils to the museum, and just about everybody in Maine has pushed that button. A brown rabbit on Maine snow?

In winter, unless you spend the time on ski slopes or in Florida, you can go to the woods and see a snowshoe rabbit go by, but you must look fast. It's great fun if a hound is chasing him. Don't worry about the rabbit: No dog has caught a snowshoe. If you do as I did, you'll hear the hound baying far off, and you've time to select a spot for waiting.

As the baying gets closer, you can guess about where the rabbit will appear. And sure enough, here he is, making believe he's the 5:15 coming into Stamford. He comes down every 30 feet to bound again, trying for 40, and the difference between him and a train is his ability to stop on a dime. He now stops, sits up to listen. When the dog gets a mite closer, he slaps his great hind legs on the snow and is gone. Now the dog appears and seems to be having as much fun as anybody. He sniffs about where the rabbit took his breather, and, as everything seems in order, he plugs along in good voice.

About the time the ski slopes go bare, the snowbirds return from Florida, the maples have sweetened the vicinity, the rabbits are patchy brown and white, snow fleas swarm, and a bull pa'tridge will drum his difference. The ski slope, and Florida, have nothing to match this.

Whatever you are doing in the woods, all of a sudden you hear in the distance a muffled boom, boom, boom. If you don't know what it is, you may fancy it to be a farmer on a hill somewhere trying to start a very old make-and-break engine on his water pump. Just as it starts, it coughs and fails. The farmer is patient, persistent, but he can't get it to run. But when you know it's a cock grouse serenading his dame on her nest, you will of course sneak closer to watch this absurd connubial fandango, no matter how many times you've watched it before.

The gentleman pa'tridge, happy at his lot, will rouse himself betimes as he sits like a sentry while his wife incubates, and he will begin a series of wing flaps against his body, starting slowly but increasing the tempo until he finishes in a flurry that just about does him in. He has lifted himself to tiptoe and now he collapses from exhaustion and joy and goes back into his doze until next time or about 10 minutes. So I have never been to Florida. Well, now that doesn't matter, and while I had rabbits to watch I was too busy. Maybe I should look into this skiing stuff again.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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