Travels Without a Donkey

Canoe for sale! It was hard making up our minds to part with the old faithful. She had served us well. But now we were leaving behind us Maine and its network of lakes and rivers. Soon we would be crossing into New Hampshire, the next section of the Appalachian Trail. Soon we would be in familiar country that was much loved by both of us–the White Mountains.

So we peddled Bones. We put our possessions in her and nosed her along the shore of Umbagog. Whenever we passed a summer cottage, or a fisherman, or a solitary camper, or a sporting camp, we asked if they wanted a canoe–a good canoe, with a very flexible bottom.

For a long time nobody wanted to pay more than ten dollars for Bones, although we insisted that her bottom was one in a million. Her value, we thought, should have increased since we had bought her. This did not seem to be the case.

One elderly farmer wanted us to exchange her for a cow, but we couldn’t quite see the use of that. Now, if it had been a donkey… But a cow on the peaks of the White Mountains was a weird thought.

At last, somebody offered twelve dollars. Without further ado, we stepped out of the canoe and put on our packs, collected our money, and passed through to the road, foot-free. That was that!

It was raining slightly–a misty silent rain. The woods liked it. Leaves and needles were pearled with tiny drops, and moss was very green. We walked along slowly, humming.

“What’s the date?” Nick asked me suddenly.

“Good Lord, how should I know?”

We reasoned quietly with this problem, and came to the conclusion that it was the first half of September.

“Which means,” Nick said, “that the summer’s getting on.”

“We can’t walk south fast enough to keep up with the summer, can we?”

“No, but we can stay out a good deal longer. Till November, say.”

“And then…?”

“Well, then we’ve got to go back to work, haven’t we?”

“You do think of the morbidest possibilities, Nicky. All the way from Katahdin you’ve shown absolute genius for it. Eaten by bears, stuck in the mud, starved to death–and now–back to work.”

“Well, what else can we do?”

“Anything! Keep going to Georgia on snowshoes. Or, perhaps better, buy a sack of beans and some corn meal, and shack it out for the winter.”

“Would you, Bar? Strenuous!”

“Course I would. The crunch of hobnails. The soft whispers of mist.

“And next summer,” I continued, “we’ll proceed on our interrupted way toward Georgia–Appalachian Trail.”

“You know,” Nick said, “we haven’t got money enough to buy salt enough to put on a small sparrow’s tail.”

“You forget we’ve just collected twelve good dollars. At least, I hope they’re good.”

He thought it over. “You’re right,” he announced. “We’d better stay out if we possibly can–not let the machines and mothballs get us–the way they’ve got the Jacksons.”

“We’ve melted too much into the landscape,” I said. “We’ll never again be able to unmelt.”

“Well, you like it, don’t you? Aren’t you glad you decided to come with me?”

“I couldn’t do anything else,” I admitted. “You know, I’m even glad you cut my hair off.”

“It’s waving in the wind very pleasantly,” he said.

“I almost think you married me just for the fun of cutting it off.”

“Well, that was part of it, of course,” he conceded. “But then, I didn’t want to walk all the way to Georgia alone. And incidentally–I liked you a little, child.”

“Oh!”

We came around a green bend, and I stooped to pick up a small object in the road.

“What’ve you got there?”

I held it up–a battered nickel.

“That settles it!” I said. “You see how luck is with us.”

“We’ll get to Georgia yet,” said Nick. “Even without a donkey.”

–30–

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