Cindy Lane to Clapboard Hill Road 002

Massive blow-down

Thursday, for the third time, Cherry and I set out to walk the Menunkatuck Trail between Cindy Lane and Clapboard Hill Road (the first time, we lost the Cindy Lane trail head; the second time, Cherry had car problems). Today, our car maneuvers brought us close to four deer leaping across the road before us, as they merged into the woodlands along the road margins. Eventually, we parked one car on Clapboard Hill Road and the other on Cindy Lane and, at 9:00AM, headed south on a sunny day that started mid-thirties and ended mid-forties.

Our hike was easy and steady, as we traveled through forested lands, skirted open fields, and glimpsed charming tidal marshes along the East River. Our conversation drifted to holiday plans, our perspectives on Newtown, and personal updates. Cherry was excited to announce she had given six-month’s notice of retirement to her employer and would be a free person starting in July!

Hugging the edge of an open field, we were surprised to hear voices and turned to see three women and three dogs were coming close behind. The women quickly leashed two dogs but one exuberant golden retriever (are there other kinds?) kept running pell-mell toward us, so we stopped to let him catch up before collapsing. We exchanged pleasantries and the women surged past us, pulled by their canine companions.

We continued under power lines, flushing a small rabbit and encountering another group of dogs and their owners. I confessed to some small recent victories, such as knitting a remaining sock and creating hats from a sweater my aunt had begun many years ago. We agreed that getting these nagging items off our plate provided a sense of freedom and exuberance that opened the way for new opportunities.

By 11:30, after stopping briefly for a snack, we reached the southern end of today’s trail. We reviewed the remaining section, which traveled along roads to Long Island Sound. We agreed that it would be a perfect January quest, in case snow or ice made woodland trails difficult. After discarding a tick wandering over my hand, we headed our individual ways until next year.

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It was in the forties when Cherry and I met and rode tandem to park my car on North Madison Road and then park at the Route 80 lot. The sun was strong, the air crisp, and a tint of color marked the maples. By nine o’clock, we were on the trail, with 2.2 miles ahead.

With its clear markings, we had no difficulty hiking this section known as the Timberlands. We continued a conversation that had begun in the car about relationships and whether to pursue them. “I tend to fall in love with people, all kinds of people, men and women,” Cherry explained. “I just love them. And I am attracted to what certain men do.” I told her I understood what she meant. She went on to clarify that it didn’t mean they would be appropriate partners. In fact, she wasn’t certain she wanted a partner. She was feeling so connected to her home community and didn’t want to lose that.

About an hour after starting, we found ourselves along the shore of Upper Guilford Lakes. The multiple shades of green and juxtaposition of water, sky, and vegetation was breath taking. We decided to sit on the bank and enjoy the view for a few minutes. I shared some of my recent experiences including time with some mutual friends at the Durham Fair, music at Pipes in the Valley in Hartford, the Last Green Festival in Brooklyn, and cold leads and hot starts with relationships.

A short distance away, we came to the Lake’s feeder stream, merrily gurgling along, cascading over rocks under a canopy of green. We were mesmerized by the sounds and scene. Cherry gushed over the view (anyone who knows Cherry understands what I mean) and again we paused to enjoy before continuing along.

Along the way, we noticed attractive cairns marking trail junctions, some of which resembled small fairy houses. We were nearing the end when I spotted a garter snake sunning on the trail. Cherry, afraid, hung back, while I shooed it safely into the brush and stood between it and the trail, so Cherry could pass.

The last section passed through forested wetlands with short boardwalk sections that again engaged the senses. “This is the loveliest hike we’ve done so far,” Cherry said.

And I had to agree with her.

Cherry and I got off to a crisp start this morning, with temps in the sixties when we met at Perk on Main in Durham. We drove in tandem down to Route 80 and had planned to put a car at the southern end of today’s hike on Cindy Lane, but I missed the turn. Instead, we left Cherry’s car at the parking lot on Route 80 and drove together to Cindy Lane. “Do you have your keys?” I joked as Cherry left her car.

Yes, she did and we continued through the Guilford Lakes area down Maupas Road. The scenery was lovely, trees fully green and rich looking. Meanwhile, Cherry had already started telling me about her new beau and their first few dates. I was particularly intrigued with the duck eggs he left on her step earlier in the week. “Hard to match that,” I laughed.

Our maps were a bit spotty, so we double-checked with a woman walking her dogs and she shared that the Nut Plains Woods entrance on Cindy Lane was hard to spot and parking was on the road. Very glad she mentioned that, as it was almost impossible to spot the trailhead.

At 9:00AM, we entered Nut Plains Woods and turned right. I wondered out loud if we would be able to find the blue trail along the white blazed Guilford Land Trust parcel. We continued along for about fifteen minutes and, voila, there it was! I did a little happy dance and felt confident we would easily find Cherry’s car 4.7 miles ahead.

By then, we were talking about Cherry’s potential retirement and focus on her future. It wasn’t long before I’d started telling her about my recent dates and my hopes for their progress. The trail was lovely, fairly level, through deeply shaded paths. In a few sections, we crossed planks over what would be wet areas in the spring but were bone-dry after this dry summer.

We crossed Willow Road and continued along, sharing our plans for the coming weekend. Cherry described her efforts to balance her need for alone time with this blossoming relationship. We noted that, being older, sometimes it’s a challenge to fit new things into our lives.

Suddenly, Cherry stopped. “I left my keys in your car down on Cindy Lane.” Ooops. Out came the map and we decided to continue to North Madison Road and walk back along the roads. That way, we would have covered the southern part of this section of the trail and could easily park on North Madison and head north to Route 80 on our next outing. And also we could spot where the trail crossed North Madison, so we could find it next time.

Before long, we were on North Madison and walking back to my car. By then, the sun was higher and it was warmer and definitely sunnier along the roads. Our conversation drifted to my ecotherapy work and recent progress with that. By the time we reached my car and drove back to Route 80 where Cherry was parked, she had given me some new ideas and leads on potential directions. We ended our trip after two hours and covered an additional 1.5 miles of the Menunkatuck Trail. Cherry was apologetic about our switch in plans due to forgetting her keys. I assured her suggestions wouldn’t have happened if we had stayed on our original plan and that was worth plenty. We look forward to returning next month for our missing section.

Eagle Scout project

Cherry and I continued our exploration of the Menunkatuck Trail, by starting at the parking lot on Route 80 and hiking north to where we had left my car near Race Hill Road. The entrance was well designed and inviting, although I steered Cherry away from the information board that showed this trail, the Mattabasett and the rest of the blue trails connecting northerly through various states to Canada. “Oh, don’t look at that,” I joked. “Don’t want you to get any ideas. But this trail, when it’s completed will go south to Long Island Sound.”

“I’d like that,” Cherry gave back to me, with a grin.

Today’s section was only 1.8 miles, with an additional half-mile to the car at Race Hill Road, and we covered it easily and quickly. Turns were well marked and the walk was quite pleasant. So was our conversation. Cherry and I talked initially about the challenge of ending a relationship when it wasn’t working. Whether a romantic situation or a work connection, we both tended to stay longer than necessary, at least in hindsight. Cherry thought it was because we were hopeful—optimistically looking for positive change. I wondered if it was our efforts to be gentle and develop a graceful exit.

This stretch of the trail was almost completely in Cockaponset State Forest, our confusing friend from previous weeks. But this was obvious, mostly level, and enjoyable. We crossed a lovely constructed bridge, although there was little water in the stream below. Cherry talked about ending a potential relationship that never really quite got off the ground and I shared that our writing group, that I’d been in for three years, had hit a bump and I was taking a break. I also shared frustration with my ecotherapy certification efforts with two different venues, some other avenues that were opening, and an experience with a tree whisperer.

Before we could finish our topics, we were back at the car. Later, over refreshments, we explored concepts that would support a tree whisperer’s connection with trees. All interesting material and we parted, ready to meet again for the next section of trail and our lives.

Cherry and I hiked on Friday for the first time in months. We got rained out of a previous date and then Cherry’s sister had eye surgery, so she wasn’t available. But Friday, sunny with a cool start, was a perfect day for an excursion. We decided to drop frustrating Cockaponsett, at least for a while, and explore Field Forest, owned by Connecticut Forest & Park Association, in Durham.

Wearing newly-delegated-to-hiking pants, Cherry explained her hairdresser had found a tick a few weeks prior, so she was wearing lighter pants. (Interestingly, I discovered a tick the following day on my left calf at my sock line.) Off we went, with much to discuss.

We followed the main trail that generally encircled the 150-acre tract. Most was fairly flat, with a gentle slope to start. After an update on Cherry’s sister’s surgery, we moved on to cover relationships. I was at a dead standstill, while Cherry was at least conversing with an interesting potential.

We had to circumnavigate numerous blowdowns, possibly from the October snow. We were delighted to see wild geranium still in flower, as most other spring flowers had come early this year. Filled with fully-leafed trees, the walk was lovely. We scared up a red-tail hawk that streamed past us through the forest. I brought Cherry up to date on my activities since our last hike. I had held two signing events for my novel and was trying to publish a second book. My ecotherapy work was gaining momentum and I had just signed up to take a NatureConnect class with Mike Cohen.

The final leg led past a vernal pool, an area I had visited a few weeks prior with Women of the Woods. At that time, the pool was teaming with tadpoles but, today, its edges were lined with green frogs, each giving a little shriek, as it plunked back into the safety of the water.

When we returned to our cars, we agreed to try Cockaponsett again for June. Wish us luck!

Cherry and I hiked Cockaponset last week. Check out the BlogImage