Monday, March 29, 2010

A Talk With the Hoods

We took a family walk on Saturday. It was sunny and cool, the air was crisp and clean. Spring has not yet landed in the forest so we could get that delicious chill when you walk into the deep shade, then warm up again when the trail opens up to alllow the sun to penetrate. There were several walking sticks to choose from when we arrived.

Connecticut has a remarkable amount of deeply forested land: almost 60 percent, far more than it did 150 years ago. That’s something to ponder – there's a very dense population pocketed between large tracts of protected mature growth, a proportion that doesn’t exist in many other places. The result is that we have loads of good walking trails. The site we chose welcomes horses (even horse camping!) and is apparently very popular for dog-walking. We got to “meet” a couple of nice animals and as we were leaving we bumped into a couple who said that we were the first party they’d ever seen walking the place without a dog!

As I said, Connecticut used to be much clearer – almost three quarters of its land was cleared for agricultural purposes at one time. One of the resulting landscape features is the stone wall, which can be found throughout the state and in particular in what is now forest.

If there is such an animal as a star cultural geologist, Robert Thorson fits the bill (he may have coined the term for all I know). He’s undertaken an initiative to have New England’s stone walls protected as historical sites, an intriguing proposition in my mind. When I mentioned this to my husband he laughed aloud, wondering what the farmer who built the walls would think of that! To the farmer, there were too many damned rocks in the field, and piling them up made for good herd control and got the stones out of the way at the same time. But these walls are still standing a century-plus later - a testament to that farmer's building skills, a reminder of a way of life, a form of beauty that exists in nothing else I know.  I’ve seen people become apoplectic upon catching someone taking rocks from their land and I’ve seen some gorgeous old walls decimated by developers and homeowners. On the other hand, I know few local landowners who haven’t lifted a beauty or two, and on Saturday I saw a couple of gorgeous stones on the ground and pointed them out myself.  Fortunately for my back, my eye goes automatically to the far-too-big-to-move-but-isn’t-that-a-great-stone variety. So it’s an interesting argument – the aesthetic side of me says, don’t ruin such great construction, this is a thing of beauty! And the more pragmatic side of me says, if people lift the stones to make decorative walls, as long as it’s drystone construction you can’t complain, the stone will be appreciated in a front yard and isn’t being used in the middle of the woods anyhow.” Which way do you lean?

Back to the woods: we took a little loop trail to the edge of a large marsh. There were tree-corpses throughout, and reedy grasses that haven’t come back to life yet. The kids did a Lord of the Rings riff, croaking “Don’t.Follow.The.Lights” and teasing one another about who’s scared of that scene and who isn’t. In my house, LOTR comes only behind The Princess Bride for quotability. Naturally, the most frequent quote in the house is, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Look, isn’t it creepy?!?

A (well-marked) fork in the trail.  Again, note the use of all those rocks.

A lovely stream near the end of our walk. It was too early to try to get a glimpse of any Lady's Slippers (a local wild orchid, endangered now) but perfect for the skunk cabbage.  It's coming out but hasn't yet matured enough to fill the air with its ... er, distinctive aroma. 

I’m so glad we unplugged the kids and went.

p.s. – when I was a kid, the phrase “walk in the woods” made the dog go bananas; so we’d tease her before her walk by asking if she wanted to “go for a talk with the hoods.” We thought it was hilarious at the time.

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