Saturday, September 30, 2006


I was dozing fitfully this morning, waiting for the dawn. I was eager to get to Moose Hill. If I got an early start, I could have time for two hours in the woods this morning and, as I learned last week, even a short visit can provide enough time for some satisfying meditation. Finally, just around sunrise, our local Carolina wren told me it was time to get up.

This last morning of September was likely the coolest since last spring. I could see my breath as I stepped out onto the deck. I wore four layers including a vest and light jacket to keep me warm on what I hoped would be a peaceful period of sitting quietly in the woods. I was wishing for gloves as I coasted on my bicycle down the hill from home over the train tracks to the base of Moose Hill, but once I started my climb up the parkway, concerns about the cold dissipated.

I headed for a destination just off the Vernal Pool Loop known as “The Boulders.” I discovered this place back in July (See “Hope,” July 22, 2006.). It offers a great spot just off the trail to climb above the surrounding landscape and see a good distance through the trees while sitting on huge bedrock outcrops. As I left the trail to start my climb I could see what looked like camping gear on top of the rocks. As unlikely as it seemed, I considered the possibility that some one had spent the night there. Certainly, a stealth camper could pick worse spots. I would love to visit the campsites on this spot from centuries or even millennia ago. I was preparing to turn around a look for another breakfast spot, but curiosity kept me moving upward. I soon discovered that what I had seen was the result of a more likely scenario: A bunch of kids had been partying there and left behind several lawn chairs, broken pine boughs, beer bottles and other trash.

Feeling that this spot had been somewhat violated by these thoughtless intruders, I again thought about moving on, but I had my heart set on sitting there so I moved along the ridge a bit where their detritus was more or less out of sight. The sky was crystal clear, and there was only the slightest hint of a breeze. Even the insects were silent. This quietude allowed the sound of the expressway to the north to reach me like cataracts on a large river in the distance. Thoughts of fossil fuel consumption intruded on my search for peaceful contemplation.

I had some coffee, ate my sandwich and took some notes. I got out my compass and began to study the boulders. I’ve been reading The Path by Chet Raymo, a local college professor/ renaissance man who writes beautifully about the natural and human history of neighboring Easton, Massachusetts. He was describing the scoring by glaciers that can be seen in local rocks. I was going to use my compass to look for north-south streaks in the stone when I heard loud voices approaching.

A couple with two large dogs was coming up the trail, talking loudly. In the six months I’ve been taking these little expeditions I’ve seen very few people, so I was surprised at my bad luck to have this noisy quartet heading my way. Just as I thought they would pass by without even seeing me peering down at them from my lofty perch, I realized that the woman, being towed by the two big rottweilers, was climbing right up to me. When she saw me, she turned around and went back down to her husband. At about that point I understood that they had come to collect the trash left by the partiers. They had discovered it a few weeks before and had come back to haul it to the jeep trail so it could be collected by the sanctuary staff. I volunteered to help and tossed the junk off the rocky ledge to the man waiting below.

It was hard to get upset by these generous and thoughtful intruders, but my time was running short and I wasn’t finding the peace and quiet I was seeking, so I packed my bag and moved down the trail. I soon walked into an opening marked on the map as the “Old Field.” It wasn’t supposed to be this way, because it is pretty clear that this field was supposed to be a red pine (Pinus resinosa) plantation. Massachusetts is pretty much outside the native range of this hard-needled pine, but it was widely planted across eastern North America after the depression in an effort to get some kind of productivity out of abandoned farm fields. This planting was largely a failure with limby open-grown specimens scattered about the middle of the field, but there are some places along the edge of the field where enough trees survived to form stands of tall, straight pines. I paused for a few moments of nostalgia as I recalled my forestry days in upstate New York where red pine plantations were very common.

With my time just about up, I left the pines to find the trail through the native white pines and oaks back to my bike. I walked with the purposeful gait of someone with a physical destination, not a mental one.

I went to the woods this morning to cultivate some thoughts, but my plantation did not thrive. Like nature, the mind can be fickle. Like a weak seedling overcome by weeds, my mood was fragile and easily disturbed by intrusions. As a young pupil in school, I was repeatedly told to stop daydreaming. It was so easy to gaze out the classroom window and get lost in a detailed reverie. Now, I go to the forest to daydream intentionally and with impunity; hoping, perhaps, that my thoughts will lead me to some new kind of inner peace and understanding. I didn’t have much luck today, but no morning in the woods is completely wasted and I trust I’ll have other chances to return and continue my search.


At 9:42 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

I hope you find the solitude you seek. Even here in the unpopulated northwest, people throng to the beaches. Certainly not in the numbers in places of high-density population, but it's the one place you can be assured of finding other humans. On the other hand, most of our walks in the woods are quiet, and without others.

At 8:23 PM, Anonymous threecollie said...

I REALLY like your blog. Wandered here from a comment of yours and stayed to read. I don't have time for much more, but I bookmarked you so I can come back. I understand exactly how fragile that peaceful state of mind can be.

At 6:47 PM, Blogger I_Wonder said...

I wish you better fortune on your next quest.

At 6:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those damn kids...

At 10:48 PM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

I agree that time spent in the woods isn't wasted, even if it's not *perfect*.

At 9:34 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Robin Andrea, Threecollie, Paul and Laura: Thanks for reading. I always enjoy my walks on some level, even when thy don't go as well as I hoped. If nothing else, glitches can be something to write about! I am also a big fan of serendipity. The unexpected can be more fun than the planned.

And to Anonymous: I'm sure MY kids would never do anything like that!


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