Sometimes I describe my marriage as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It’s just like the Disneyland ride they had when I was a kid. I remember stepping blithely into a little car that took me through a tunnel where around every corner were new dangers….barrels tipping over, creatures dropping from the ceiling, stoats lunging…you get the idea. I never knew what was coming next. Like yesterday. My husband Noel and I went for a quiet hike in the woods. The evening before, I innocently said, “Gee, we haven’t been hiking lately. I miss our walks…let’s go tomorrow.” And so we did. Noel wanted to check out some possible deer hunting grounds as many of the places he used to hunt are now housing developments. We drove for half an hour or so up the mountainside on a wonderful crisp and clear fall day. We found a road we remembered from the winter that had been groomed for cross-country skiing. We’d had a blast skiing that day. This road is on National Forest land and as we turned off the main road he passed through a gate and blew past a sign that said “Road Closed.”
“I don’t like this,” I said. “What if someone locks the gate?”
“Oh, we’ll just stay on the road and we’ll see or hear if a logging truck comes down. Come on…it’ll be fine.” The warning bells were sounding in my head, but too often I’ve been the doubting Nellie and the party pooper, so I got out of the truck and followed along.
Walking with Noel is always an adventure. It’s really a lot like walking with a small child. Everything is wondrous and needs to be closely examined. Today, he focused on the mushrooms. We’ve had quite a bit of rain this summer and fall, so they were everywhere. He took a mushrooming class sometime in a distant life and knows just enough to be dangerous. “Oh, there’s a different kind of bolete!” he would exclaim and off he would go, turning it over, examining the soft, spongy underbelly. We probably saw fifteen different kinds of mushrooms over just a couple of miles. Soon, the plastic bag came out of the back pack so that he could take some home for identification using one of several books he owns on the subject. “I think those are oyster mushrooms,” he said when I pointed to several growing out of a tree stump. “Let’s take some.” Then, out came the camera to photograph especially interesting ones in their natural environment. “This is so much more fun that just walking,” he said, as we stopped yet again for another photograph. He was right. But, I would have to say that if aerobic exercise is the point, you really shouldn’t go for a walk with Noel.
Finally, it started to get even colder as the sun was setting behind the mountain, and we turned back for the truck. It was great to climb in and find that it had been warmed by the sun. I had thoroughly enjoyed the walk and the mushrooms and all, but in the warm truck my thoughts readily turned to home and the waiting cod that I planned to cook for supper. Our snack of green grapes had been too long ago. We made our way back down the logging road and around the corner and…yes…
Someone had locked the gate. “Oh, s__t!” was all he said. I wanted to say much more, but what would it have mattered? “I told you so” really gives no satisfaction and “You knucklehead” reduces me to name-calling. So, after a thorough examination of the double-locked tamper-proof gate, we just stared at each other. I was thinking that we’d have to settle in for the night with our few remaining grapes and a bottle of water when he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1. I don’t know that I would have thought of that particular strategy, but it really was up to him to resolve it. Kinda like…”you got us into this mess, so you can get us out.” As he made his call, I foraged around the truck for something…anything to do, and found a phone book. “No time like the present to get caught up on my reading,” I thought, and opened it up to the Yellow Pages. I was deeply engaged in the listings under “Farm Equipment-Repair and Parts” when Noel’s cell phone rang. I heard him give our location and then overheard a weary voice say, “Alright. I’ll be up to let you out.”
Almost an hour later, after I’d made it to “Roofing Materials-Wholesale and Manufacturers” we both looked up to see a white Forest Service truck making its way down the rutted road. Noel got out to talk to the ranger, whose name turned out to be Jack. The scene that played out in front of me as I watched through the windshield made me shake my head in wonder. Now, if I had been the one responsible for this ordeal, I would have slunk out of the truck with my head bowed, apologizing as I approached the Forest Service Ranger. But, not Noel. He bounded toward him with a huge smile on his face, chatting as he went about the wonderful day, the mushrooms we’d found and the possibility of hunting this country in a few weeks. I saw Jack gesture toward the “Road Closed” sign, and Noel just looked at it as if it had recently sprung out of the ground. And before I knew it, Jack was pulling out Forest Service maps and they were talking like good buddies about the area. I thought, “Well, at least there is something to be said for Noel’s bravado. He’s making the best out of a bad situation,” and I was quite proud of my husband and his approach. That is, until Noel came back to the truck and Jack followed him. He looked through the driver’s window, introduced himself to me and proceeded to give ME the lecture about not driving on closed roads. I was astounded. Didn’t he know that most women would never do something like this on their own? That we are simply the innocent bystanders, getting caught in the slipstream? That we are the ones shouting “Yeah, but I don’t like the feel of this!” into the wind? Apparently not, because I got the full lecture of how expensive it is to come up and unlock the gate, (didn’t we see the sign?) and how he wouldn’t give us a citation this time (because the loggers shouldn’t have left the gate open at all). For the second time in a little over an hour I was totally speechless. Again, what could I have said that would make any difference?
I thought about all of this on our quiet trip back down the mountain. (Gee, it was great to see that gate swing open.) And I’ve come to a conclusion that may be a bit surprising. I wouldn’t trade this kind of life for anything. I’ll take the lectures from all of the Jacks in the world just for the privilege of tagging along on Mr. Toad’s adventures. Because, when all is said and done, I don’t prefer the safe and sane world. I may say that I do. I may shout “No!” But, when I am totally honest with myself in the deep of the night when no one is around, I think that this is all kind of fun. I would step blithely into that little car and head into the tunnel over and over again never knowing what to expect. I would choose this life over the bland and expected any day of the week. Now, when it comes to eating those poisonous mushrooms he gathered, well….maybe I’ll draw the line.