Friday, February 08, 2008

The Perfect Spot

Sunday, February 3, 2008

It’s not as easy to find a good spot to sit in the woods as one might think. A good place would be sunny in cool weather and shady when it’s hot. Sometimes I like wide open spaces with sweeping views of sky and fields. At other times, I prefer to keep my view – and thoughts – close, so I look for a spot where the forest is thick. I usually look for a large rock to sit on. It should be large enough to have a place to set down my binoculars and coffee cup and I usually look for one that is elevated above the surrounding forest so I can hope to see passing wildlife. Oh, and no ATVs.

Sunday morning it was sunny and warm for early February, so I took the touring bike and rode up Moose Hill Parkway and down Moose Hill Street toward Walpole Street. My plan was to walk into the woods and find the back side of the hill I was looking for a few weeks ago. (See “Finding the Way”, January 16, 2008) Just before the big hayfield near Walpole Street, I walked the bike into the woods far enough that it couldn’t be seen from the street. I took a quick look at the topographic map and saw that if I walked around a large kettle hole I had seen once before I might be able to find an old trail the map said should be there. Looking for an old trail was tricky because the oak leaves were all matted down by the recently-melted snow and the over-abundant deer have made trails everywhere. I’ve been told the sanctuary people intentionally abandoned some trails to discourage unauthorized uses that they couldn’t control, and I was thinking this might be one of those trails. This part of the sanctuary is far from the visitor center and close to a neighborhood, so youngsters might be inclined to party here.

I didn’t take any compass bearings, so my casual wanderings took me near that neighborhood and I saw plenty of beer cans and old mattresses that seemed to indicate the sanctuary people were right. The map confirmed that I had missed both trail and hill, so I adjusted course and headed deeper into the woods.

As I came over a rise I heard a motorized vehicle. It’s seemed out of place because I thought I had moved away from the neighborhood. I soon recognized the sound as the putt-putting of an all-terrain vehicle. There’s an old woods road in the area and that might be an appropriate place to drive a four-wheeler, but this guy had left the road and was driving off-road through the woods. I guess if you’ve invested thousands in a toy like this you go to the woods you have and not the woods you wish you had even if those woods happen to be an Audubon sanctuary. I’m inclined to mind my own business so I said hello and went on my way. This seemed to be a one-off Super Sunday internal combustion joy ride, but if I thought this was a regular event that threatened to tear up the woods, I would have notified the Audubon people.

At this point, I was getting my bearings and spotted the hill I was looking for and headed north. Overhead, a red-tailed hawk was circling and shrieking in the clear blue sky above the tall pines as if sharing my annoyance at the motorized invader. I found a place to hop over one of the headwater branches of Beaver Brook and started to climb. I found a faint trail running along the north-south axis of the hill, but Hobbs Hill is to the northeast of this unnamed hill so I didn’t think it was the trail I was looking for.

I walked back and forth along the hilltop a couple of times looking for trails and a place to sit with my coffee. Unlike Hobbs Hill, I couldn’t find any large rocks to sit on here, leading me to think this was a glacial deposit whereas the larger Hobbs has a heart of bedrock. Every time I tried to explore the south side of the hill I heard and saw the ATV driver and I certainly didn’t want that sort of company when I was hoping to sit quietly and just think. I finally settled on the northeast side of the hill where I leaned against a tree. The warming sun was just over my shoulder and I had a nice view of another Beaver Brook tributary. The gentle babbling helped me to forget the drone of the four-wheeler. The brook tumbled over rocks and formed small pools under the roots of trees growing along the bank. I remembered the thrill of finding small trout in places like this but I’m quite sure this creek is too dry in summer to sustain fish.

Movement caught my eye, and I saw robins flying like silent ghosts low through the forest. I’d seen them along this brook before, but robins deep in the woods always seem out of place to me. I wonder if it’s the running water or the rich soil of the small alluvial flats that attracts them. The robins were quiet, but I heard the deeee-dee of a chickadee and the tooting of a titmouse, making me hope that winter was loosening its grip on Moose Hill.

Time was growing short and my seat was not as comfortable as I like, so I dropped down to the brook and followed it up to the road where I walked back to my bike. I was a little surprised at how far my wanderings had taken me.

Exploring new places is fun, but it’s also good to have a few favorite spots to go to. If I feel the need to disappear into the woods but only have an hour or so, I like to retreat to a familiar perch. I can get there quickly and spend more time quietly observing and thinking and less time wandering. I liken it to a musician having a repertoire of old standards, the angler having favorite fishing holes, or the hunter having traditional coverts. I can pick my destination depending on my mood. I like to go to a place I’ve been before and see how things have changed over the seasons. I sometimes find that being in a particular place reminds me of daydreams I had there before as if the thoughts wait for me there, waiting for me to return. I didn't find a perfect spot on this trip to Moose Hill, but I hope to go back soon to check up on some old dreams.

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At 8:13 AM, Blogger nina said...

I find the same discouragement with the ATVs as you. It's always an expectation when I'm out walking on one of those first nice days, that I'll hear one from across the ridge.

I guess as long as I expect it, I should not be angered by it, but I find it harder than you to not hear it. And as I walk the roads near our property, every motorcycle is blasting past.

I'm glad others enjoy the outdoors, but why must it be so noisily?
I know everyone has "rights", but where do my rights for peace and quiet run up against another's rights to be noisy?

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Lynne said...

What a beautiful spot. It looks so much like my Hasty Brook (except for the huge tree!).

"I sometimes find that being in a particular place reminds me of daydreams I had there before as if the thoughts wait for me there, waiting for me to return."

That's so nicely said and perfectly true for me too.

At 2:30 PM, Blogger T.R. said...

A beautiful post. In Oklahoma, stopping to sit and rest and reflect in the outdoors brings a whole different meaning to "nature red in tooth and claw" with the flesh-destroying bite of the chigger. An adjustment to life here after 13 years in the New Mexico foothills.

Here, one learns quickly to take up kayaking so as to have a safe spot to reflect in the warmer weather.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Nina: Obviously, I don't get it. I much prefer outdoor recreation that doesn't waste fossil fuel and provides exercise. I suppose a solution to the conflict of ATVs and natural places is to provide a legal place for folks to ride.

Lynne: Thanks for picking up on that. I sometimes hesitate to actually write about those kinds of thoughts, knowing it might sound odd to most. It's good to know there are people who have similar feelings.

T.R.: I had a few run-ins with 'redbugs on my bottom' while working in forest soils research in the South. I had Lyme disease from deer ticks last summer, so once winter is over, you can be sure I'll be more worried about where I sit.

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Maryanne Stahl said...

oh my. just looked at your profile.

I too grew up on Long Island, was born in the year of the snake and am Sagittarius.

and I badly want to live in the woods, though the ocean pulled me here, to Savannah.


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