Around Town with Michael
I arrived at Norumbega with our two English Shepherds, Mocha and Sadie and my muscle-wood hiking staff to find Talking Brook swollen from the recent rain. When we entered the Stream Loop Trail at the rise overlooking Little Falls the stream’s voice was loud. Water rushed over the falls creating white water that leapt over the rocky bed. I paused to take some pictures and to record a video of the scene before us. Mocha and Sadie know my habits. They sat and waited for me to put my cell phone away and to continue on our hike. We passed through a grove of Quaking Aspens, their whispering leaves now silently covering the path we trod. On the stream side of the trail still vibrant green ferns covered the ground in stark contrast to the general brown hues of the forest around them. We dropped down to the bridge over ground cross-crossed with roots like frozen snakes waiting to trip up an unwary hiker. We stopped at the bridge. I looked upstream where the 19th century stone bridge could still be seen, one side breached by some long ago flood. I glanced up the slope to the chapel where my Mom and Dad’s urns sat on the alter of the little sacred house. On other walks I have often stopped for a visit at the chapel, sitting on one of its benches to be in the presence of my parent’s mortal remains. Today I kept going seeking the kinetic energy of a vigorous hike.
Mocha and Sadie had already covered much more ground than I as they followed the scent stories the forest had to offer. Moving on up the trail I delighted at the pool of light that the forest filtered sun created on the ground. The stream bed here was flat and mostly rock free. The stream’s voice was much quieter as the water passed over the clay bottom of the brook. I looked up-slope at the ridge above me. I promised myself that on one of these hikes I would leave the trail to explore that ridge. That was not to be today. Looking over to the other side of the stream, I gazed into the dark, quiet of one of Norumbega’s hemlock groves. Hemlocks cast the densest shade of any tree in the east. Nothing grows under hemlocks except mosses because of the lack of light. Hemlock groves are quiet peaceful places that I equate with open air houses of worship.
On the ridge side of the stream the woods are a mix of hardwoods with birch, beech maple and aspen in various combinations depending on the site. This forest is much brighter than the hemlock grove with a vigorous under-story. For decades this forest yielded firewood for the previous owner. This frequent thinning kept the woods open and filled with light. This part of the trail took us to a stretch of the brook that was wide and smooth bottomed. Here I have seen fish darting through sun rays in the water in the spring. Mocha jumped down into the brook, water flowing through her long black hair. Sadie, not keen on being in the water, came to the edge of the stream to get a drink, trying hard to keep her paws dry.
Here too is ground that became super saturated one especially wet spring many years ago. I was riding through this stretch on Tonka, my log legged leopard appaloosa gelding, when he began to sink into the wet earth. I quickly jumped off his back. I stripped off his saddle. I gave him words of encouragement to work his way out of his predicament. He did not give up. He eventually pulled his long legs out of the gripping suction of the wet earth. I dubbed this part of the trail “Tonka’s Peril” in honor of his courage.
Once again the terrain rose until we found ourselves on top of the rock face I dubbed “Swallow Cliff” after the birds that have made their nests in its crags. I made my way to the lip that hangs some thirty feet above the stream below. I delighted in the impatient water’s play as it tumbled over the boulder strewn bed of the brook. We descended again until we were returned to the bank of the stream and its rushing water. We came to a deep pool where in the summer I throw sticks for Mocha to fetch, giving her a good dunking in the water. Adjacent to the pool is “Henry’s Cavern”. It was discovered by Julie’s cousin Henry on a walk in the 70’s. It is a split in the rock thirty feet long, five feet wide and six feet deep. At one time this was on huge rock formation that was slowly pulled apart by the retreating glacier 10,000 years ago.
As I gazed into the split and remembered the day of its discovery long ago, my eyes shifted to further up the trail to a large beaver dam and the sprawling pool behind it. Three years ago beavers decided to take up residence here. They built a dam seventy feet long and four feet high. This caused the stream to back up and flood a large area of the woods. Mature dying trees rise out of the beaver pond, clues as to what this area used to look like. Evidence of their work was visible not only in the dam they built but also in the ash, birch and maple trees they felled and left behind. This has become one of my favorite spots that I hike to. Mocha can really swim here. I love to see how North America’s largest rodents have transformed the forest into an aquatic environment. I marvel at their ability to fell ten inch ash trees with just their teeth. Further along I saw evidence of recent activity. I saw two trees whose chewed wood was still bright not having darkened with time and exposure to the sun.
We three continued upstream passing some mature white pines large enough to have qualified as “King’s Pines” in the 18th century. With diameters around thirty inches and heights of nearly a hundred feet of straight trunk, I could not imaging felling these giants with just an ax (cross cut saws were not in use until the 19th century). Even more unimaginable would be hauling these future masts for the Royal Navy with a team of oxen. Still further along we came to another rock outcrop that rose about forty feet from the trail. On top of this cliff is a flat area, deeply bedded in pine and hemlock needles. When our kids were in grade school, we would pack up our gear as if we were headed to the White Mountains. With two dogs in tow, we would hike to this spot and camp for two nights. It is a magical place filled with fond memories.
Mocha and Sadie were still flying around the woods following scent trail but always close enough to be called back for treats and pats on the head. Their energy and joy at being able to run free was infectious. It always makes me happy to see them so happy. This was our turn around spot. As much as I would have liked to have disappeared into the woods for hours longer, home and other responsibilities called to me. We turned around and headed back the way we came. The numerous gifts of the forest had worked their magic on me. I was a happy man, filled with gratitude and a deep love for these woods.