Thursday, November 23, 2017

Trail Talk

Over many years of reading many things, I have written down phrases that resonate with my mindset at the time I read them. One of these, jotted onto a pink sticky note and stuck to my desk some time ago, is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature: “In the woods, we return to reason and faith.”

Into the woods
I go often into the woods, seeking – if not reason and faith – at least the quiet space to let my thoughts drift where they will, to regroup both mentally and physically. I feel lucky to live in a place where I may wander wooded trails that branch from my own yard or from downtown or from unmarked entryways along any number of nearby roads.

So the prospect of a master trails plan that would link some pockets of existing trails to each other, create a few new ones, and connect these pathways to town centers, schools, and other community centers and recreational outlets is exciting. That’s just what the local Friends of Profile Trails group has set out to do in Franconia and surrounding communities, retaining renowned trail-builder John Morton of Vermont-based Morton Trails to assist in the effort.

I attended an informational meeting hosted by the group last week and was impressed to see in attendance not only interested locals and the dedicated group undertaking the endeavor, but also leaders from the Division of State Parks, U.S. Forest Service, and the Forest Society, along with representatives from the more local Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust and Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country. All have a vested interest in the development of a comprehensive trails network.

So, in various ways, do all of us who live, work, and recreate here.

The day after the meeting, before picking kids up from school, I went for a run with the dog in Fox Hill Park, exploring a new trail that traverses recently conserved property now connected to the town-owned park. How lucky I am, I thought as I ran along the Gale River, then up through a mixed and leafless forest and toward a view of Cannon Mountain, to live in a place where it is so easy to hit the trail – and to quickly resurface in town or at home or to work.

In this area of the world, many of us have this gift of easy access to trails. Residents of downtown Franconia can explore the network of paths branching through Fox Hill, of course, and I often run into familiar faces there. Those in the Easton Valley can walk or bike to and through the labyrinth of trails traversing Forest Service land. Others are easy distance to town forests and private property open to public access and conservation lands that are local favorites.

Spending time on these trails, in the woods, is a good way to retain a sense of reason in a world sometimes seemingly gone mad – and to find faith in many things. Developing a thoughtful system for connecting these trails so they may be used for both transportation and recreation will make them even more valuable.

I have walked the paths winding through the woods closest to home countless times. Sometimes I go alone. Usually I have a good dog for company. Often I have gone into the woods with my children – first carrying them, then walking slowly as they toddled along, and now keeping stride as we explore together.

We find many things in the woods – signs of the changing seasons, hints of the animals who pass along the same track we follow, wildflowers and tiny mushrooms and newly formed brook ice with intricate patterns. And with each journey, perhaps, a bit of the reason and faith Emerson found in a different landscape so many years ago. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the November 24, 2017 issue of the Littleton Record.

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