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Dragons in the Trees

I recently took a hike with some friends from overseas and Canada, and my wife and son. It was a beautiful Adirondack autumn day, changeable, full of the smells of the season, with a certain degree of the type of meteorological violence that leaves one breathless, exhausted and very, very satisfied.

We've been living in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains for almost 5 years now. With the pressures of getting settled, starting a new business and finding our way in a new community, we've found ourselves talking about the surrounding area rather than taking advantage of it. It was the first time, outside of skiing, that we braved the local mountains as a family.

Thank goodness for visitors.

The hike we chose was steep, mostly over exposed bedrock. There was a magically greenish light in forest that was surprisingly thick given the thinness of the soil. Not a whole lot for tree roots to grab onto...

As we walked, we naturally separated into smaller groups. I wasn't surprised at all to find myself walking with my son. There was, after all, adventure to be had, and the inner boy in both of us was awake, alive and well. Soon enough our conversation turned to the nooks and crannies, the darkened spaces beneath the rocks and within trees we saw along the trail. What would live in such places?

We didn't really have the answer, at least not at first. The higher we climbed and the more we looked though, it was clear that whatever lived here had its own magic.

The trees protected us from the wind, even though we could hear it. It was blowing hard enough to free leaves from their branches. Some leaves turned and twisted and flopped their way to the forest floor while others glided in long arcs or spiraled slowly to the ground. They seemed to fly with great skill, consciously choosing their direction, planning their next turn or where they might land.

The leaves took on the appearance of small dragons. The forest, already a place of mystery and magic, was transformed into something very different. We were no longer huffing and puffing our way to a fire tower. We were traversing a land unlike any we had ever visited before.

Fallen trees became bridges across the trail that the small dragons would take in the dark when no one was looking. Cracks and spaces between rocks became the lairs they would winter over in. Patches of soft moss were their playgrounds and landing strips, and we were strangers in their world.

There was a realness to it that's difficult to describe if you've never been there. As much as we were looking, we were also being looked at.

In time we reached the summit, an open expanse of exposed rock with cold wind and occasional rain raking across it sideways. We hurriedly climbed the steps of the tower and took several photographs. We didn't stay long. The view and the weather made for equal parts of thrill and discomfort and, after a quick snack, we headed back down the trail.

Along the way we passed other parties, small groups of every sort: adults, teens, kids. All seemed to be having a great time...

A week or two ago a friend in California visited a new school she's thinking of sending her son to. As a group of curious parents sat and listened to one of the teachers talk about the school, they were told that whether they believed it or not, dragons are real. Whether they live in our consciousness, between the pages of books, or in the forests of the Adirondacks, "real" seems like a good word.

I don't know what other people saw in the forest that day. I didn't stop to ask them. What I do know is that my son and I were in the company of dragons, and they are, indeed, very real. Go have a look for yourself…

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