In the woods, I mean. There’s nothing like it. I remember spending hours as a kid wandering around in the strip of forest that runs between the neighborhood streets. It’s not a large patch of land, but it was quiet and foreign enough to make me feel like I had been swept back in time. If I had run into a knight in shining armor, the most surprising thing would have been the fact that I had met another human being.
It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced that meandering sense of hiking through a wilderness. Most of the trails I’ve been on as an adult have been populated by plenty of other hikers and meticulously groomed–the sorts of places that have bathrooms at the bottom of the trail, plenty of parking, and an extensive amount of information about them online. I have no complaint about such trails, really, but after hiking the Endean Trail on Saturday, I was struck by how minor the civilization of a trail needs to be to isolate you from the minute beauties of the natural world.
I have not found anything about the Endean Trail in East Walpole on the internet, save for the number of the scout troop that has supposedly adopted it. Parking is scarce and sketchy. The trail starts at the deadliest curve of a very winding and narrow road, offering parking for no more than two cars in a tiny turn-off that doesn’t quite look like a legal parking spot. A map posted at the beginning of the trail (the only reason we noticed the trail in the first place) declares it to be a mile long and beaten-up orange blazes mark the way.
The trail was easy to walk in that it runs on mostly flat land beside a river, but we were slowed down by the fact that the trail is very poorly groomed. The lack of grooming, however, was exactly what made the trail worth traversing. When you have to step carefully around and through plants, moving at a leisurely pace, you notice things you never would on a wide-open tourist trail.
We never would have noticed this tree, for example, growing to accommodate a parasitic vine, if we hadn’t been slogging our way through a patch of waist-high, wet grass full of thorns and burrs. We had stopped to wonder if we were actually still even on a trail and only then noticed the unusual growth of the tree.
These unusual berries were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Most of the vine was covered in the paler berries, but the range in shade from robin’s egg blue to cerulean to royal purple was stunning. I had to look it up when I got home, and as best I can tell, it’s a porcelain berry vine–welcome to some gardens for its colors and leaves, but an invasive threat to woodland areas. My knee-jerk reaction was to pluck one and squeeze it all over my fingers, to see if it would pop like the red fruit my sisters and I used to refer to as “booger berries.” The pop, I must report, was unsatisfyingly similar to a blueberry.
John shook his head when he saw me rubbing the berry juice off on my hands. We didn’t know anything about the plant, such as whether or not it’s poisonous. Porcelain berries are, in fact, edible, but I didn’t know that at the time and I had literally been commenting on the fact that we were far enough out that if I were to go into anaphylactic shock for some reason, I would probably die, since John doesn’t know any first aid. What can I say? I like to live dangerously.
Okay, that’s a lie. I know that anaphylaxis generally takes at least two exposures and that any life-threatening danger from a poisonous berry is more likely to come from ingestion, not epidermal contact. But still, I adventurously spent the next hour monitoring my hand for signs of a developing rash…
My feet, sockless in my ignorant assumption that we’d be walking a groomed trail, suffered some serious scratches, but the damage was worthwhile payment for the pleasure of feeling lost in and encompassed by a world that looks at human endeavors and giggles. It’s easier to sense more, to imagine more along the overgrown paths that smell richly of rotting leaves and forest fungi than any place else in the world. I’m almost hoping that this particular post doesn’t get much local attention, honestly, because I’m looking forward to going back to savor the solitude again.