IN THESE DARK days and I don’t mean weather wise, it is difficult to maintain a sunny disposition. In a short time, true cabin fever begins to set in for people unable to do the things they like to do like going to a movie, eating at a restaurant or going shopping without worrying that they may come carrying a virus that may kill them.

For my part, I say coronavirus, be damned. I will not let this thing completely overrule my way of life.

I will continue on a daily basis, taking long hikes with my 3-year-old yellow lab who, while he has no clue what a virus is, knows that he belongs in the woods checking out all the wondrous things that he finds there.

Our hikes used to include my aging golden retriever, but with her hindquarters beginning to give out on her, I limit her to no more than a half-mile of walking on flat, easy-walking, seldom-used side roads. She wants to do more, but age is a cruel master. Now, it is just me and Gordie on the long hikes.

Gordie, the yellow lab, and I took a pair of such hikes last weekend. I don’t know which of us feels more joy at being in the woods all alone, but I do know that we feel a lot better when we are out there.

A sunny afternoon hike Saturday, we started out walking a snowmobile trail about a mile from home which no longer is filled with noisy, hard-charging snowmobiles. Instead, we had the trail all to ourselves.

We walked where no others walk. We touched no people, but touched the trees as we passed by. We breathed air that no one else breathed. We shared the woods with the ruffed grouse, turkeys and deer we see, all of which maintained a safe distance from us.

The woods are where we belong and my four-legged friend would tell you the same.

On our hikes we see many tracks of ermine, ruffed grouse, deer, fox and yes, of wolves. The latter leave paw prints which are unmistakable. Seeing really fresh ones sends a bit of a shiver down my back not for myself, but for Gordie who, fortunately, ranges as he is supposed to, no more than 40 or so yards ahead of me.

At one point, we found two huge sets of wolf tracks paralleling those of a single deer. The hope is that the deer is still alive and healthy.

Nothing is to be heard in the woods save the wind whistling through the treetops; chickadees “chick a dee deeing;” the rasp of a gray squirrel scrambling up an oak tree; and the sudden sharp “putt putts” of four turkeys, one a nice gobbler, that erupt from behind a cover of balsam saplings 20 yards ahead of us.

Of course, seeing that gobbler gives birth to thoughts of what will be just a month from now, when I will be eligible to take my turkey tag and a shotgun into these same woods.

There is much to be said about hiking in the woods this time of year. The snowmobile trails and woods roads which have been packed to a hard crust belong to us and us alone. Where automobiles may drive, bicyclists may ride and walkers may walk during the snowless months, now these places are for just the two of us to enjoy and savor.

Another 3-mile hike Sunday took us along a snowmobile-packed back road and once again, our trek was enlivened by a flock of about 10 turkeys which quickly scattered upon our approach.

Two deer stood silently maybe 15 yards off our path before they finally broke and ran, snorting haughtily as they left. I even spotted a beautiful balsam fir that may adorn our house as the family Christmas tree come December, And, oh yes, no matter the time of year I am always looking for the perfect Christmas tree.

Along the way we crossed a creek on a huge log that served as a handy bridge. I peered intently into the creek hoping to see a trout or two “finning” in place, but had no such luck. Gordie stuck a couple toes in the water, but apparently with good sense that I didn’t realize he possessed, he decided against plunging in.

We walked as far as we felt like it, stopping in one place for a moment to remember the splendid April morning a few years ago when I shot a 22-pound gobbler there. We stopped at another place where a gobbler I talked back and forth with for 20 minutes another year finally outsmarted me and left me with an unfilled tag.

Today, tomorrow and the next day may well see us finding another place to hike, another trail to follow that will find us drifting away, if only for an hour or two, from all that is going wrong in the world.

The forest is our healing place, our getaway retreat, our place we have to ourselves. We’ll be there a lot in the days and weeks to come.