On what we like to call “the backside of the Palisades” are the Tenafly Nature Center and the adjoining Lost Brook Preserve. They provide a little respite from suburbia while surrounded by it. The two gents in our story enjoy the trails. We join the story in progress:
Benjamin Dexter glared across the car at his companion, Rigel Scevola. Rigel, of unusual name and sinister appearance, was driving, as usual.
The two grumpy old men were constant companions, but being as different as night and day, never agreed easily on anything. Ben didn't see how today's hike through the woods could be anything other than the usual series of arguments at every intersection.
Rigel drove up the hill and parked the car. He was the first out of the car, and Ben followed him over to the large sign where the rules were posted. After reading them, they strode silently down the trail, away from the building. The two spoke little; after all these years, their actions were enough, even in argument.
As they walked, Rigel noticed another trail, but he didn't mention it and they passed it by. The next trailhead, however, found the two stopped dead, staring up at a large tree. They thought their own thoughts for a while, then Rigel consulted the trail map while Ben took the opportunity to remove a particularly annoying pebble from his shoe. These things being completed, they walked on.
There were benches ahead. First Rigel saw Ed's, and then Ben spotted one chained to a tree. Nothing to stop and argue about.
But soon they came to a spot that more than suited their tendency toward dispute. This time it was Ben who busied himself with the map, but Rigel just stood there, carefully examining the carved stone pillar by the edge of the pond. Soon the steps were ignored as the grumpy men continued on their way.
Soon after passing Henry’s bench, they stopped to think over where to go next. Ben pulled out a Swiss Army knife, chose a suitable tool from among its gadgets, and industriously whittled at a stick. Rigel’s preferred mode of contemplation was as passive as Ben’s was active, so he simply sat on a nearby rock and thought. When thinking was done and the silent argument over, the forest jaunt continued.
A rocky outcropping ahead further proved their differences, as Rigel dutifully followed the blazes up and over the rocks, while Ben chose to skirt it on level ground. They soon reunited, as they meant to finish this hike together.
Unexpectedly, they came upon a road sign in the forest. Not a cryptic blaze showing the trail, but a real road sign, although plastic, with directions to a real road. This required more thought than usual, so they took this opportunity to stop for lunch. Dexter sat on a rock, waiting to see what Rigel had brought for them. He heard the rustle of paper as Rigel fussed with something from his pack, and soon the two were contentedly gorging themselves on fresh subs from the deli. Full stomachs made the two old adversaries a bit (just a bit) more sociable and talkative as they took up their journey again.
“Look, Boy Scouts have been here,” said Rigel, spotting something unnatural looking by the side of the trail. “Messy Boy Scouts,” he continued, picking up a candy wrapper and stuffing it into his pack. Ben shrugged, and pulled out the handy Swiss Army knife again, this time to find something with which to trim a hangnail.
And so the two continued their strange, not quite sociable, hike. They knew the secret that allowed them to find their way. When confronted with the beginning of yet another trail (orange this time) Dexter read its name aloud from the sign, while Rigel tried to find it on the map. Assured of direction, they continued on.
“Let me have your knife a minute,” Rigel suddenly said to Ben. Then, taking it, he found the screwdriver blade and proceeded to reattach a sign to a tree. “Where do they get these things, anyway?” he wondered, noticing that it was another plastic street sign.
“Dunno,” said Ben, too engrossed in studying the map to be concerned. They shrugged at each other and hiked on.
After a while, the sound of traffic grew louder. Then the traffic became visible. Ben’s mind made some hasty correlations. Traffic means people, people mean civilization, civilization means…. Delicatessens! He reached into his pack for the end of the sub he had saved from lunch, but was disappointed to find it had become hard as a stone. Rigel had even greater disappointment, as, reaching into his own pack he found only the Boy Scouts’ candy wrapper to even suggest food. Snackless, they continued walking.
“What in blazes is on that tree?!” Dexter suddenly blurted out. Then, remembering, and sure of where they were, the two old companions began to laugh. They continued grinning at each other as they rounded the sharp bend in the trail around the tall, hollow stump. They knew that it held the secret to quick and easy “conflict resolution” that had held them together so long despite their differences.
With this behind them, the rest of the hike held only one more moment of conflict, quickly resolved. They came to a wide gravel road.
“Only a stone’s throw from the highway,” noted Dexter.
“Map says this way,” replied Rigel.
“Well, OK. I guess you should know where you left your own car.” Dexter reluctantly agreed.
“You’re right. I do,” said Rigel, as they headed home.