Friday, October 14, 2011

Trail walking

I’m not sure why it took me so long to follow through on this resolution, but at last I am.

Six months ago, we moved to a house perched on the edge of a state park. Even though I’ve long known about this state park, and lived just a few miles from it for most of my life, I’ve never spent much time in it, and the few visits I did make usually didn’t go beyond the ice cream stand at the park headquarters. One truth about living in Carlisle is you seldom need to drive anywhere to find a good place for a walk, and so I almost never bothered to make the trip.

Now, though, it’s not a drive; it’s literally a walk into the woods bordering our back yard to pick up the trails network. And as soon as I realized how close we were, I was intrigued, hoping this would finally spur me on to become acquainted with Great Brook Farm State Park, far beyond the headquarters and ice cream stand section of it and deep into the dense woods beyond.

But for several months, it didn’t. Our new house is at the far end of the park, so our initial forays were only to figure out which trails led to ice cream. We did that several times over the summer, but we didn’t stray much from that path, once we’d figured it out. And when ice cream didn’t tempt us, the mosquitoes were too strong a deterrent for us to want to explore much farther afield.

Now, though, I’ve renewed my resolve. This park covers more than 1,000 acres of fields, forest, wetlands and farmland, and I want to become familiar with all of it. But I have a notoriously dismal sense of direction, so I want to learn my way gradually and thoroughly.

My first step was to take the familiar route to the park headquarters last weekend to pick up a trail map. And after that, I was well on my way. I tried following one trail on my own last weekend, another trail with my friend Donna on Columbus Day, a third option with the dog during a midweek break from writing. I found that the trail map was actually quite easy to follow, and the more I tried different routes, the more I started to gain confidence I’d never had before in my orienteering abilities. The topography began to look a little bit familiar in different places, and the compass points almost always lined up with my sense of where they should be.

Last year, I made a different resolution: to become better acquainted with the works of Thoreau. I made a little progress toward that end, but not as much as I’d hoped; and then over the summer I received as a gift a copy of The Quotable Thoreau, which is sort of like the Cliff Notes version of Thoreau’s work, perfect for literary dilettantes like me. Now, I feel like the two endeavors – reading more Thoreau and getting to know the trails of Great Brook Farm State Park – are complementary. Thoreau writes about walking in the woods, and that’s just what I’ll be doing. So I hope the two projects will fuel each other.

So far on my walks through the woods, I’ve seen ponds large and small; green, yellow, red and orange leaves; other people walking; birds; a log cabin; a Colonial-era stone foundation; and yes, lots and lots of mosquitoes. But the mosquitoes will soon be waning as colder weather arrives, and I plan to still be walking. So let’s hope this is one of my few resolutions that sticks, because there are a lot of acres of woods out my back door. And a lot of Thoreauvian passages to read. But I have time, I think. I just need to stay resolved.

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