Even though I live in an open meadow, I walk in the shaded woods of the Town Forest, an unintended consequence of the new Town Garage.
The highway crew used the old highway shed long past it had outgrown its capacity. The old shed dated back to the days of snow rollers, before plows. It had been upgraded over the years, with sliding doors and electricity, but it had no other conveniences. The road crew used the local firehouse for heat, phone, and flusher.
One of the impediments to replacing the shed was a lack of land. The shed sits between the road and the river on a cliff of less than an acre. The Highway Department needed ten acres to pile sand, bury gas tanks, park trucks, and site a full-sized garage, complete with office, internet and restroom, along with space for the crew to park their own rigs while they were out working the town’s.
A ten-acre lot was available in a convenient location – but it came with 170 acres attached, which is how the Town Forest came about. The Forest portion is protected from development, and a Conservation Commission cut three trails and maintains them. I live a short walk from these trails, and Leo and I visit them weekly, in all seasons and most weather.
I love living in the broad daylight of an open field. My house sits in the corner of a 60-acre pasture that was part of a working farm in my lifetime. Ours is one of four houses on the field, and we all enjoy access to the entire open space.
Our corner is mostly hayfield, with a band of trees along an ancient river terrace and along the eponymous Rock River. We have an open view, and I often take a meditative walk to the far end of the field, but there are times when I need to do more strenuous thinking to work up a sweat or work out a plot. That’s when I head for the trails through the woods.
The White Fern Trail climbs along a stream with chattering waterfalls. Even on the hottest days, the water and the shade of the hemlock keep the path cool, though climbing the hill is a workout. By now, the landmarks are familiar – not just the human constructions of duckboard, bridges and whimsical signage, but also the natural ones: certain rocks, trees, stream crossings and a remarkable tangle of thick vines just before the white blazes intersect with the yellow and blue trails.
When time allows a few extra minutes, I cut onto the Golden Gateway Trail and climb higher up, to Laura’s bench, where there’s a view the six months of the year there aren’t any leaves on the trees. The decent is all in-land, away from the stream, through a hardwood forest.
With both time and ambition, I follow the Blue Birch Trail, which is the steepest and longest of the three. I especially like climbing it clockwise in winter, on snowshoes; otherwise, I almost always hike counter-clockwise, though I’d be hard pressed to say why.
For years, I dreamed about owning acres of land. There was a time when Tim and I were poised to purchase a 180-acre hunk of woods and build a house. The deal fell through, saving us from some combination of bankruptcy, divorce and homelessness – if not all three. The times I wish we had our own woodlot and hunting grounds still visit me from time to time, but with less frequency and little force.
I have all I need where I live now: the sunshine of hayfield and meadow where I pasture poultry, raise vegetables and grow berries. And when I want to escape to the woods, I just follow the path to the Town Forest – another benefit of living in place.
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