Keeping Up with the Bobcats

New Hampshire Forest Fairies: collage by Lois Kelly

“You know what Catherine Deneuve once said, “It’s your face or your ass,” I tell my old college friends as we sit down for a decadent dinner in the mountain-top house.

Veuve Cliquot and Sidecars with oysters and robiola cheese.

White Burgundy with tuna, asparagus and roasted potatoes.

Apple tarts and vanilla bean ice cream.

We eat. We laugh. We are so happy with this feast and being with one another.

Even though they tried to kill me earlier in the day.

Four of us park in the six-car lot at the back of Mt. Sunapee at 10:30 a.m. The rest of the group had gone skiing early in the morning but the four of us wanted a more leisurely day. We’re going to walk the trail up to the lake and back, leaving time for an afternoon nap.

“It’s a nice walk. It’ll be especially beautiful today after the snow yesterday,” says my friend who lives nearby.

I love walking. I walk every day. My vacations are all about walking long distances.

Running, biking, skiing, mountain climbing, swimming far distances are not my thing.

When I was seven-years-old I was in the bottom 25th percentile of the mandatory President’s Physical Fitness Council assessment. Same at eight, nine, 10. When it came to school sports, I was always the last to be picked for a team.

“Spaz.”

“Midget.”

“Penguin.”

“Runt.”

We didn’t have a car growing up, so I’d walk from our town to Cambridge for ice cream and back. Down and up the hills to elementary, junior high and high schools. Across two towns to get to work one summer.

“Boy, do you walk fast,” people said then and say now.

We open the car doors, lace up our boots, pull the gators over them to keep the snow out, and start our walk to the lake. The fresh snow is deep but fluffy. My three friends walk ahead, taller and more determined than me. Plus, they’ve been on this walk before and know the way.

I notice the holes in the tree bark look like ancient faces and stop to take pictures. The shadows between the old hemlocks throw a gentle blue-grey shadow on the snow. It’s a fairyland this morning.

“You coming?” my friends yell.

I am walking and dawdling and stopping to run my gloved hands along the baby pine needles of the hemlock saplings.

The trail, which is just the footprints of my friends, turns steep. I climb under one felled tree and climb over another, gently walk on the icy rocks crossing a brook trying not to fall in, take a deep breath and go on. I see my friends far up the hill, which is really a mountain.

“Keep going,” I yell. “Don’t wait for me.”

When they come to a turn, they call me on the phone. We’re too far apart for yelling. They explain what I should look for. There is no trail. There are no people. “Don’t get lost.”

This is no hill or walk. It is a death march up a vertical, rocky New Hampshire mountain covered in ice and snow.

They are bobcats. I am a house cat.

They call again to tell me they’re at the lake and have decided to climb the ledge. “The views are fantastic!”

My knees are starting to complain. I am annoyed. I am the kid who kicks and misses the kickball. The kid who makes up excuses not to have to play field hockey with the amazon girls. The young woman who can’t follow the Jazzercise or Zumba directions.

A slow spaz.

After three hours I get to the lake. They’re way up on the ledge and raise their beers in salute.

Sixty-five-year-old assholes.

“Do you want us to wait for you?”

“Nope, the lake is as far as I’m going.”

They prance like gazelles down to the lake, full of energy and bearing granola bar snacks.

“Ready to head down?”

Like I have a choice.

Walking down is worse. My toes push against my boots and throb. My knees burn. There’s less sun and the forest looks more old-dog weary than happy-fairyland.

I start singing to take my mind away from the pain. I sing to my arthritic toes. I sing to faces in the tree trunks. I sing to my seven-year-old who just failed the President’s Physical Fitness test.

I am Mother Superior in The Sound of Music:

Climb every mountain. Search high and low. Follow every highway. Every path you know.

Then I’m Barbra being Fanny Brice:

I’d rather be blue thinking of you.
I’d rather be blue over you.
Than be hap hap happy with somebody else.

“Where are you,” they call — on their phone. I describe the bend in the river.

“OK. We’re in the car. It will be nice and toasty for you.”

Assholes.

Cheery Dick Van Dyke kicks in to help me down when I don’t think I can make it.

Chim chiminey
Chim chiminey
Chim chim cher-ee!
A sweep is as lucky
As lucky can be

Fifty minutes later I get to the car. The guys are napping. My eyelashes are frozen. I can’t talk because my face is so cold.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it? We do this walk all the time.”

I open the back door, grab a bottle of water and a Hershey Bar. There’s no conversation on the way back to the house. It’s like they are embarrassed for me. Unable to keep up. Out of shape. Not working out enough.

Or they are afraid of me when I am pissed. Like now.

My 110-pound walking body is just fine, thank you very much.

I yearn to be with Catherine Deneuve sitting at a café than to be part of a human Iditarod team on a wintry New Hampshire weekend.

You are physical. I am diaphanous.

You can mush. I will nosh.

The dinner table talk moves to vacations. How about we all take a biking trip together through the French Alps?

Pass me more ice cream, s’il vous plait.

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Lois Kelly

Lois Kelly

764 Followers

Writer/artist, co-founder of “Rebels at Work.” Most happy in the wilder-ness of people, ideas and nature.