I’ve always liked the homemade variety of hiking sticks—one picked from the trailside, branch stubs still rough along its length, just for the one day’s use, or the long-term poles tapering to the working end, the handle smooth and polished from use. Even better are those that have been carved with designs.
But I love my collapsible poles, leather strap at the top, points at the bottom, lightweight. These poles have saved me from many a turned ankle or plunge into a creek. They get added points for building upper body strength. The trunk of my car carries boots and poles. Always. ..unless I’m using them.
At my parking-lot patrol last week I noticed a pair of telescopic poles, fully extended, leaning against a tree near where I was parked. I hadn’t really seen them until I was about to leave and go back to turn in my clipboard and official volunteer vest. Why would they be there? Anyone hiking the trails would have taken their poles with them. If I were hiking and wanted to leave my poles for a few minutes I’d probably hide them, not just lean them against a tree. They looked dusty and worn—loved.
I decided that someone had probably come back from a hike, leaned the poles against the tree, put their daypack in the car, unleashed their dog (if they had one) and put it in the car, figured they were all set and left. What to do? I took out a page from my small tablet that I keep in the car and wrote “Your poles are at the Arboretum office” and signed it “A Volunteer”. I wanted to put the note where the poles had been, against the tree, but needed to figure a way to keep it from blowing away. Bedstraw was growing against the tree so I draped a piece of that over the note to hold it in place.
Bedstraw is a sticky annual with hooked hairs that grow out of the square stems and the leaves. I’m forever weeding it out of our yard but now it was proving useful. Sometimes it’s called goosegrass because geese like to eat it. The plant is in the same family as coffee. and has been used as a coffee substitute. In Europe the foliage, dried and matted, used to be used to stuff mattresses. It has also been used as a coffee substitute. I guess I was using it for tape.
Yesterday I received an email from the Arboretum saying that a man had come for his hiking poles and was very happy to get them back. I was surprised that the note was still there because we’ve had quite a bit of rain since then. I will continue to yank bedstraw out of our yard but will never look at it again in quite the same way.
Conclusion: Today I went to patrol parking lots for my 2-hour stint and, when I accessed the locked box where volunteer vests and clipboard are stored found this note from the gentleman whose hiking sticks I’d found and turned in at the office: “Susanne, I can’t thank you enough for finding and turning in my hiking poles. I’ve had them for many years and they are a part of me and the many miles we’ve walked together. Thank you.”
As I said, they looked dusty and worn–loved. I could feel it. If I could talk to the owner I’d tell him it was my pleasure. It’s hard to lose a hiking companion, even the inanimate kind.