I REALLY DON’T know what I would do if I were forced to live in a city.

I suppose I would find a way to survive. I did in Eau Claire during my college years when that city had less than 40,000 residents. Even in those days though, I escaped from the madness of traffic and people that defined even a “small city,” for the woods and waters of home every weekend that I could.

These days, it doesn’t take a city to make me long for places with lots of woods, waters, mountains or wide open prairies. In the summer, especially, I avoid our larger metropolitan areas like Minocqua, Eagle River and Rhinelander like the plague, and if I have to wait for two cars to pass by me at the intersection of Highway N and Razorback Road on my way to work, I curse the heavy traffic keeping me from going peacefully on my way.

I like people, don’t get me wrong, at least some of them I like. I just don’t like too many in one place at one time.

When crowds of people and the traffic jams they cause bug me too much, I do have an escape clause. I do have places where I can go and hide from the masses, whether that be a thousand people or only a couple.

In the winter, it’s a little harder to walk into my favorite hiding spots, but there are ways and places. With two dogs who think they have the God-given right to go on a long run every day I find myself going to those places I can get to without using a snow machine or four-wheel vehicle.

Last week, it proved to be a chore, not because of inaccessibility, but because of the “balmy” below-zero weather we were having. Nonetheless, I managed and the dogs did, too.

We walked one afternoon, about a half mile, from a plowed back road to a small lake that is one of my favorites no matter the season. The walk was made easier because some individual had decided to plow the access road, but I would have walked it no matter what.

We started out through a plantation of 25-year-old jack pines planted after a clear cut was finished back then. We, the dogs and I, saw ermine, deer and fox tracks crossing the road in front of us, and as we approached the lake we flushed a pair of partridges from the sheltering comfort of a balsam fir they were sitting in.

We climbed a long hill and when we reached the top, we could look down upon a north Wisconsin spruce bog pond. Covered with ice and snow, there were no ducks to watch for long minutes as is often the case in spring and sometimes fall, but I still had to stop and look for several minutes to see some of those ducks of the past in my mind.

I especially saw the black duck that should have been mine opening day of duck season in 1962. My dad was gone on a hunting trip that year when opening day came, so Grandpa Maines took me out to puddle jump a bunch of small lakes and ponds.

We saw no ducks until we sneaked into this particular little pond. There was a lone black duck sitting on the far side, so while Grandpa crouched behind scrub spruce trees on one side, I sneaked around to the other. Bent low, sometimes moving on hands and knees, I was about 50 yards from the duck when Grandpa, trying to be helpful, said in a voice that wasn’t quiet enough “Get ready, it’s almost in range.”

Indeed it was, but the duck apparently understood the English language too, and in a split second, it was up and winging away. Too far for a shot, I watched it swing around the pond in front of Grandpa who missed it with two shots before it swung back past me, at which time I missed it three times. That duck and that moment with Grandpa Maines is still one of my favorite memories of all times.

Walking along the high ridge, the dogs and I slanted down the long slope on the other side, walked around a steel gate which ATV and snowmobile riders had recently gone around illegally and continued our walk to the lake at a spot where a huge boulder big enough to seat three or four people at a time sits up against the shore where there are giant pines to serve as backrests.

I sat on the rock for a spell while the dogs ran madly through the woods and out on the ice. Gordie, who is 9 months old, decided ducks aren’t the only interesting thing you can retrieve. Coming back to me from a foray into the woods, he proudly carried the head of what I judged to be a smallmouth bass that had probably gone between 4 and 5 pounds.

Remnants of an eagle kill, maybe an otter’s dinner, who knows? Fortunately, it was frozen solid, preventing either or both dogs from rolling in soft, slimy, smelly fish remains as they would have had they found the fish head in warmer times.

The next day, we hiked a little less than half a mile into another of my favorite little lakes of less than 100 acres. With a stiff breeze blowing in my face and the actual temperature reading 9 below zero at 8:30 in the morning, I almost called off the hike short of our destination, but as I said, this was one of my favorite lakes which was in dire need of a visit.

I’ll have to admit I didn’t take time for a long period of reminiscing from the point of land where I stood in the shelter of a huge balsam, but when one visits a place where he has caught many fish and from along the shores one has shot bucks, partridges and ducks, it doesn’t take long to pull up some treasured pictures in the mind of days gone by.

Cold, yes. Deserted by other people? With great good fortune, yes. Another great place to warm the heart and soul? Absolutely, yes.

We shall return. I would guess more than once this winter. These places and others like them are my places to which I can escape. Everyone should have such.