First Hike of Spring

Slopping up a mud-trail through stands of mountain laurel I feel like the world’s oldest and filthiest mountain man. If I could sport a corncob pipe without setting the dry woodlands afire I would. If I owned suspenders I’d brace myself against the cosmos with style. The blue day quickens, step by step. I pause to examine a tree troubled with woodpecker holes. The size of the wounds suggests a pileated woodpecker, a big hammer-headed and highly motivated fowl. As I thrust a finger into the largest hole to measure its depth, a young woman with ski poles and a serious backpack chugs past with a cheery hello. Twenty steps along, she looks back to see if I’m looking at her. Although I’m looking the opposite way, I sense her return glance and her little fear. A lone man in the woods, his white hair bristling. What is he doing poking into woodpecker holes? What am I doing? I continue uphill, the distance between me and that woman increasing with every step. Runoff from snow melting high up the mountain trickles past, slurring underfoot with sultry little murmurs no one would mistake for love.

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in many journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.