Guilford harborLast Thursday, Cherry and I set out to hike the final portion of the Menunkatuck Trail to Long Island Sound. We met at 1:00pm at Chittenden Park on Seaside Lane and headed north with one car to the trail head on Clapboard Hill Road.

The entire route was along roads and, with snow recently, it was preferable to walk in the street when possible. It was about 40 degrees and sunny, but the initial section of street was rather busy and there were small shoulders. Cherry updated me on the almost completed status of her new garage, which was a huge relief for her. The Clapboard Hill section to Tanner Marsh Road, also known as Dudleytown (according to research done after returning home), had a host of historic homes. Cherry noted that one of them, dating from 1788, was quite similar to her house (1780). We turned down Tanner Marsh Road and were charmed by old farms and lovely homes and a much quieter neighborhood. Cherry spoke about coming to terms with being Alone, after significant loss in her life. She also whole-heartedly embraced her upcoming retirement in June, despite uncertainty about the future of her PEP program. We had an exchange about relationships and addressed that Alone concept again.

We then reached a stretch that covered Routes 1 and 146. As a main thoroughfare, this was most difficult to enjoy and almost impossible to carry on a conversation. Eventually, we reached Lovers Lane, which we followed to Old Whitfield Road past the Henry Whitfield Museum. We climbed up over the RR tracks (boo, no train going underneath), where I described the myriad options for me this coming weekend and how to make most of them happen. (Little did I know I’d wake up the following morning with a GI tract virus that forced me to cancel each and every plan over which I had angsted!)

We continued to Armster’s  Spaceship, before turning down Sunset Lane to the park and our final destination, a view of Long Island Sound. Clearly Storm Sandy had wrecked havoc here, although the water was tranquil and hid its potentially destructive nature. We were charmed by some flowering forsythia en route and, after covering the final 3.68 miles in just over two hours, congratulated ourselves on completing yet another milestone — hiking the Menunkatucket Trail from start to finish.

What will we do next? Find out next month (weather permitting).

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.

Fall Flowering Forsythia 002

Monday, Cherry and I had planned to hike the Menunkatuck Trail, but we were forced to postpone until next week. Now, here it is, Wednesday, and I’m still struggling to adjust to the change.

It would have been a lovely day for a hike. Sunny and balmy for this time of year. Perhaps it’s the unseasonable weather that has me flummoxed. Southern fronts keep coming, making it warmer outside than inside my house.

Mind you, I am thrilled to be warm and not shovel. It’s the longest Indian Summer I remember and it helps me pretend that a long, cold, lonely winter is not on its way. So, why am I out of joint?

I go for a walk and am startled by the sight of flowering forsythia along my neighbor’s hedge. Have they been lulled by the warmth into considering it spring? What will happen when we get the (inevitable) cold snap?

Or are they taking advantage of a window of opportunity? Ah, a chance, a special opening in the grays of November and dark of December to celebrate, to stretch and grow. To catch up with the last few remaining tasks that didn’t get done in September and get a jump-start on Spring.

Now that feels exciting, motivating, enthralling, inspiring. Forsythia flowers: let’s tidy up our loose ends for 2012 and get a head start on 2013. I’m with you.

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.

We are starting a new blue-blazed trail, the Menunkatuck! After brief confusion about the meeting place (thank goodness for cell phones), Cherry and I parked her car at the end of our planned hike on Route 77 in Guilford, and then drove to our starting point on Race Hill Road. Here was another glitch – the road didn’t go east as indicated on the map. Fortunately, the area was well posted, indicating only a half-mile walk to the trailhead, so I left my car under the sheltering arms of low-hanging tree. We got started around nine o’clock and the weather was overcast and in the sixties, which felt perfect.

Along we went until, after about fifteen minutes, I started to get antsy. I thought we’d gone a mile and had seen no indication of the blue blazed Menunkatuck Trail. We hoped this would not be a repeat of our disappointment in the trails at Cockaponset. Just about ready to give up, I checked the map contours, walked a few more steps, and voila! Blue blazes! And a nice sign indicating it was 3.2 miles to the junction with our former friend, the Mattabesset Trail.

So, we were off. Most of the area was forested, with scattered rocks and boulders. We followed the woods road until we began twisting and climbing up rocky formations. We never did get a good vista, but it was beautiful.

As usual, we talked about relationships. Or rather Cherry did, because I had nothing to report on that front. I did however have a lot to report about other ventures. The online course I was taking was off to a slow start. I’d begun offering a series of ecotherapy workshops, which was going well. I was trying to finish up a sequel to my first novel and that was stuck, again, although I had added another 10,000 words this month.

Cherry talked about her work and desire to retire in some reasonable amount of time. I interjected I’d been trying hard to understand why I was so overextended when I had no full-time position. We came to a rock cairn, one rock carefully placed atop the next, perfectly balanced. But for us, balancing work and pleasure was always a challenge. Can we trust our inner voices to guide us to the next right thing?

I shared an idea I had recently heard, which I have since looked up, below in its entirety:

 Don’t change. Change is impossible, and even if it were possible, it is undesirable. Stay as you are. Love yourself as you are. And change, if it is at all possible, will take place by itself when and if it wants. Leave yourselves alone. The only growth-promoting change is that which comes from self-acceptance. ~Anthony de Mello.

Certainly, that’s what the trees and rocks do. We found a rock, cleft in half, perhaps by ice or other natural phenomenon. We might do well to follow nature’s example of flowing with what is happening, instead of trying to fight our way upstream.

Eventually, we reached the beginning of the Menunkatuck where it joined the Mattabesset. The sign indicated it was 1.3 miles back to Cherry’s car. We continued, had a snack, admired the ferns, and both agreed that we were tired and ready to be done. Three hours after our start, we spotted Cherry’s bright red car through the trees and gratefully make our way to it.

But, it was only a few seconds later that Cherry said, “That was wonderful. We’ll have to pick a July date for the next piece. We should start early to avoid the heat.”

We’re die-hards, what can we say? We’re hooked on being out in nature, hiking the trails, getting some exercise, and sharing some of ourselves with each other.