And so it is that a walk to someplace unexpected starts with one step.
Looking at the map provided by the campground, the hike to the fire tower looked about equivalent to the modest hike we often take on weekends. When we got to the trail head we discovered it was a couple of miles longer. “I packed snacks for a 4 mile hike, not a 6 mile hike,” I said to Mark. “But that’s okay. I don’t usually get really hungry until we are all done anyway.”
It was a cool and gray day, the 60 degree temperature was perfect for not overheating. The landscape was unexpectedly diverse, full of vernal pools and old beaver ponds but few obvious streams, a mature forest that gave the feel of walking among wise elders and the forest floor was littered with glacial erratics from small boulders to those large enough to practice rock climbing. Running my hands over the stone my fingers traced curves that looked like scalloped lava flows as well as shear edges formed when the forces of the great glaciers split them open like firewood.
Many years ago (about 30!), we had gone rock climbing in this state park with some of my college friends and we weren’t quite sure where in the park those boulders were. We were hoping we might find the spot while we were there camping for a couple of days in celebration of our 30th anniversary.
The air was filled with spring time bird song serenading us the whole 3 miles to the top of the mountain. The last half mile wound around large lichen covered boulders and tall pines. The landscape and energy in this area had an otherworldly feel, like time wasn’t quite oriented to our human clocks. When we crested the top we noted that the fire tower looked a lot like the one in our town. Whomever staffed the tower had placed bird feeders around the area. Watching the hummingbirds zip to the sugar-water feeder and the small songbirds flitting to and fro from the platform feeder made up for the fact that the summit was socked in by clouds and there was zero view.
As we munched on our apples and nuts, the question remained, “Could we find the climbing boulders?” Between the map we had and the signage with mileage at the summit we could see a route that might lead us to the rock climbing boulders. “Look. If we follow the South Ridge Trail to the Shaw Trail we can check out the Split Boulder Trail. It’s a bit longer but we’ll eventually loop back to the parking lot.”
And so it was decided and we headed off down the South Ridge Trail. The terrain immediately changed and we were rewarded with seeing dozens of lady slippers scattered along the next ¼ mile or so of the trail. Just before the intersection with the Shaw trail was a small pond created by the remnants of a small granite dam – maybe for watering animals back when NH was covered by sheep farms we wondered? Then around the bend we came to the outlet where a small stream tumbled down a steep drop off and neatly stacked granite blocks along the sides hinted at a long ago water wheel. (So that’s what the pond was for – turning the water wheel!) We wondered what it had powered since the site was not very large but spoke of a hardy New Englander creating water power using the best resources this landscape had to offer.
We walked the 1.5 miles of the Shaw Trail and were tiring by the time we got to the 1.8 mile boulder trail. Then there through the trees was a towering 30 foot tall boulder. It is so hard to imagine the massive glacier that moved this impressive hunk of granite and awe-inspiring to think about how far it traveled before it was dropped here. New Hampshire’s White Mountains are about 75 miles due north and the Green Mountains of Vermont are even further. We walked about another mile and came to another massive boulder with huge chunks cleaved from its side. Clearly this is the split boulder for which the trail is named for. And though someone had tried to climb it using clothes line rope (dumb move!), it is not the rocks we had climbed 30 years ago.
By the time we reached the 1.5 mile Woronow Trail, our last leg, it had started to rain lightly. I was feeling tired and ready to be done but that is when we walked straight into a bit of heaven on earth. Someone who had wandered this land and was intimate with its secrets had laid out this trail just so. And as we walked we discovered a boulder split in two by a glacier and wearing layers of lichen, the beaver pond and chattering stream skipping down moss draped rocks, the fern grove nurtured by the black waters of a shallow seep and the majestic bull pine left to expand beyond its destiny from the last cutting 40-50 years ago. As we “discovered” each one of this land’s treasures I noticed a tension in my gut let go – unraveling knot after tangled knot that daily life had tied there over the past many months. So dear trail builder, please know that I noticed the treasures you set out to show others and I thank you for the gift of wonder.