The trail crew had a safety meeting this morning, a weekly event filled with random tangents, puns, giggles, and safety tidbits reduced to pithy one-liners. Of course the meeting is documented on a form, and the note taker is always challenged to make sense of what is being discussed. One of the lines to be filled out is “Crew’s Job”. Today we decided we were doing an Extreme Trail Makeover.

Tired Creek Trail #1317 is the object of our attention. It needs an extreme makeover, due to a problem called “tread creep”. Gravity is one thing we can count on in this uncertain world. As some trails are used, they slip downhill. Eventually the walking surface becomes narrow and difficult. Soil is worn away from hidden obstacles such as roots and rocks. The trail wavers up and down, rather than angling at a steady grade.

One of the jobs I have as leader is figuring out where the trail should be relocated. That’s why I was on my hands and knees out in front of where the crew was digging. I had a pair of loppers and a pruning saw, and was clearing a line for them to follow. I found all sorts of things. Way up in the brush, I found stems cut long ago. We used to cut brush with machetes in the early 1990s, and the hack marks are unmistakable. The machete phase has been over for a long time, and I am grateful. Swinging one is a lot of work, and the tool was a source of traumatic injuries as well as repetitive stress. Loppers and pruning saws are safer and more productive. I found lots of little mushrooms under the brush, and fragments of rotting wood. Layers of leaves and needles.

As I turned to toss an armload of cut pachistima down the hill, I saw this nest in one of the branches. It wasn’t used this year, but is so well-constructed that it survived at least one winter intact. There are sticks and grasses, tiny filaments of lichen, maybe even a few horsehairs from the trail. What a creation, made by the beak of a bird, to shelter naked helpless babies until they grow up enough to fledge. I can build a trail, but I wouldn’t know where or how to start making a cup for eggs without using my hands or tools.

We share the woods with some very talented neighbors. Ones who can fly, and sing a whole lot better than the trail crew.

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