Inspired by recent travels, I am trying to approach my weekends with curiosity and gusto rather than days to do laundry and errands. I love to take long walks in different places so on a recent beautiful day with the slightest hint of autumn, I visited a nearby national park where (shame on me) I’d never been.
Weir Farm – “Visit the home and studio of America’s most beloved Impressionist, J. Alden Weir, and walk in the footsteps of generations of world-class artists. Set amidst more than 60 acres of painterly woods, fields, and waterways, you’ll soon see why Weir described his home as the “Great Good Place.” Weir’s farm is a national legacy to American Impressionism, the creative spirit, and historic preservation.”
The kind park ranger at the visitor’s center walked out on the porch to point me in the right direction of the long hike he said was his favorite. He gave me a laminated map to be returned that I promptly tucked it into my bag with water bottle, journal and phone. I brought said-journal all through Greece and Italy last month and barely filled 3 pages. I had high hopes for this hike, imagining myself so inspired I’d perch on a rock to scrawl. I took the journal out of my bag even less than the map: 0 times.
Off I went, gravel crunching underfoot, ready to disappear into the woods. Well, almost ready. I should have worn long pants. Some of the trails were vague and a little overgrown. With every brush against grass, leaf, branch, I imagined microscopic ticks leaping onto my bare calves. I periodically scanned between my freckles and age spots for ticks, brushing my hands across them as if I might whisk them away. Little bastards!
I live in an urban suburb, if that make sense. I am lucky to have my own little patch of green. Today I picked a few pears from my pear tree. But the hum of the highway is ever present as are neighbors, sirens, lawn mowers, and those infernal blowers. I’d forgotten the bliss, the soar of my heart, the serenity yet excitement of being surrounded by woods and sky. The creak of a branch in the breeze high over my head. The quiet that when you listen hard enough, is full of sounds like a familiar but unknown language. The chickadees doing gymnastics almost close enough to touch, the distant woodpecker, the bird song I didn’t recognize through the rustle of leaves.
Initially I walked a sweet trail – wide and welcoming. Map forgotten, I just walked, periodically noting a dash of color on a tree marking a way. The ranger told me the white and purple trails were his favorite so I thought I’d follow those. I never saw purple – sure looked blue to me – and then some yellow and soon, I was just following whatever looked like a trail, climbing stony hills, gingerly stepping over mossy rocks across a stream, probably following deer paths. I was in heaven. Surrounded by forest quiet. Almost. There was the distant sound of a blower. Of course – it’s CT and a suburb still even here in a national park.
Worse than the blower was the noise in my head that briefly shouted louder than anything. For a moment my exhilaration was drowned out by a fear that hit me like a rogue wave. What if I twist my ankle on this now-narrow trail? Or fall down this rocky slope? At the entrance I had seen a sign about recent bear sightings. What if I encountered a bear? No – even worse: a bear and cubs with a protective mother! She’d destroy me! I stopped in my tracks and googled – what to do if you encounter a bear. Go back the way you came, don’t run but keep an eye that it’s not following you. If it does approach you, make a lot of noise and throw things at it. What would I throw? I picked up a stick that would easily snap over my knee and make great kindling. I guess I’d throw my metal water bottle.
What the hell? For a start, I had no interest in returning the way I’d come from. That’s a policy I like to follow both physically and metaphorically. Mentally I yanked myself up by the collar – why this sudden crazy anxiety? Get back to blissing out in nature! The self-scolding worked pretty well, with worry mostly banished. I’d like to disconnect that synapse in my brain connecting to imagined disasters. It’s so… old lady and I am trying to buck that trend for as long as I can.
I got lost twice (the second time with people I met on the trail – so that time, not my fault!) and ended up clocking close to 5 miles – which is weird because when I finally looked at the laminated map, no trail is much longer than 1.5 miles. That’s a lot of criss-crossing or something. When I handed the barely-glimpsed-at map back to the ranger and told him where I’d been he seemed amazed and told me almost no one goes that direction. I guess he must have decided I was a really serious hiker because he went to a back closet and gave me my very own trail map. Not laminated so I can fold it up even smaller into my bag. For next time!