A view of the Indian Head River from the Hanover side.
We had been walking in the forest for more than an hour. We were still on a trail, but it did not seem to be headed in the right direction . . . or in any particular direction. A few times we’d had to retrace our steps: either the trail would end in a No Trespassing sign, or in someone’s back yard, or it would disappear entirely. We were lost in the woods.
Not that we were entirely lost! We had followed a very clear path up one side of the Indian Head River in Hanover. We had crossed the river at State Street in Hanson, and followed a trail back into the woods in Pembroke, with the intention of finding our way into the Wildlands Trusts’s Tucker Preserve, which wasn’t all that far downstream. But we never found it. So we sort-of knew where we were, but not really.
This was a familiar predicament. I’d walked the inviting, scenic trails along the Indian Head River before. At least once, I’d found my way back to the parking area on West Elm Street, via the 78-acre Tucker Preserve. But once or maybe twice before, I’d been similarly lost: on a trail, but not the right trail.
The landmarks were familiar – I’d been there before. But I couldn’t be sure if they were the right kind of familiar. Just because we recognize something doesn’t mean it’s what we’re looking for.
I went away recently for a long weekend: a yoga retreat at Kripalu, in the Berkshires. I spent my afternoons on the hiking trails in the mountains behind the retreat center. I’d been given a map when I arrived. It included not only the mileage of various trails, but also the level of difficulty and an estimation of the time required to complete each hike. Map in pocket, I was far from lost.
Looking out on Monks Pond.
The first day, I chose the trail to Monks Pond. It was a steady uphill climb, and rather muddy. I really had to pay attention, so I wouldn’t slip. One of my objectives for my time away was to gain some perspective. What would I like to achieve, going forward, and what would I need to change, in order to get there? The muddy uphill path seemed like an apt metaphor. I tend to choose the more challenging routes. I make things harder for myself than they need to be. And thus over time, certain kinds of suffering become familiar. It’s like being on that trail that leads to nowhere: it’s not the right trail, but it’s familiar, so it takes me a while to figure out that I need to find a different route.
Standing in a stream, attempting to clean the mud off my boots.
Back to the Indian Head River. So we were lost in the woods. We had at least two options. One was to attempt to retrace our steps, and hope to find the trail we’d missed before. At worst, we could cross the river again at State Street and go back the way we came. Another option was to consult our smart phones. I’d been meaning to download a trail GPS app, but I hadn’t yet. However I did have several, more general, street mapping apps. Quickly we determined that while we were nowhere near the Tucker Preserve, we were quite close to houses and roads. We chose a back yard and very quickly passed through it, to the street. It wasn’t quite so pleasant, walking at the roadside instead of in the forest, but at least we knew where we were going. And twenty minutes later, we were back to our cars. I have since downloaded a map.
On the South Shore, we can get lost in the woods, but how lost are we really? We don’t have any wilderness here. Even our largest conservation parcels aren’t all that big. We follow a trail, and even if we lose your way, we eventually come upona house or a road. As soon as we find civilization, we can find our way back home.
I’ll be heading back to the Indian Head River soon. Now that I’ve been lost there at least twice, I am determined to get my bearings and learn the layout of the intersecting conservation properties that line its banks. Next time I’ll start on the Pembroke side, though, and walk from the fish ladder, into the woods where I know there’s a plainly-marked trailhead for the Tucker Preserve. Also next time, I’ll be sure to bring my map.
by Kezia Bacon
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 15 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com