The old stonewalls surround me. Parts of the lichen covered structure stand erect and perfectly square; other parts have slumped yielding individual rocks that now seem cast away from the once mighty structure. The gray, black, and greenish hues on the stones elicit a calm feeling. It is not ancient in the European sense, but for this area it is about as old as human remnants get.
The forest has grown up around, through, and within this substantial structure. I am in the midst of a human artifact that is now part of the natural world. Chipmunks live here, red back salamanders hide in dark moist pockets beneath the heavy stonewall, and short tailed weasels use this wall as a productive hunting territory.
This structure was likely a livestock paddock. It is about 80 feet long on each side and about three and a half feet tall. Each stone appears to be carefully fitted into the structure. Small flat stones are intermixed with large rocks, filling the gaps between the oddly shaped slabs and forming a unit that will stand to frost heaves. The wall is slightly wider on the bottom than on the top which, without a doubt, contributes to its longevity and stability.
On one end of the wall there is an opening that is about four feet wide. It leads to an old foundation presumably the remnants of an old barn. On the opposite side there is another opening, slightly narrower, that leads to nowhere.
I am curious about this second opening. I wonder if it is an opening that allowed livestock to exit towards green pastures and enter the paddock and barn when they returned. Looking out from the opening in the wall there is nothing but forest. The hardwood trees in front of me are randomly spaced and close together. The dark green canopy shades the forest floor where only a few saplings and ferns survive the general lack of sunlight. At first I think the mix of hardwoods is relatively homogenous; sugar maple, black birch, yellow birch, and beech, but as I scan the forest I notice that the trees are in two distinct age groups. There is a fairly narrow path about six feet wide where trees are 12 to 16 inches in diameter surrounded on both sides by trees that tend to be much larger, perhaps 24-30 inches. It strikes me that what I am looking at is an old trail possibly used by livestock to access a nearby pasture.
I try to follow this lost trail. It is very difficult. I am constantly looking at the tree trunks trying to see a pattern that will lead me forward. Sometimes the tree trunk size blends together, particularly where there is a corner. I look at the ground. Although a new organic layer of soil has formed it is much thinner. Occasionally I can see the remnants of large roots once exposed by the hooves of animals who wore the soil away through many years of travel along the same corridor. Upon closer examination I notice that there is a slight change in topography along the course of the trail. It is slightly sunken in some areas, also the result of long ago erosion.
Trying to relocate this trail is a real puzzle. Like many things in the forest it is a mystery just waiting to be solved by some curious mind. After a long time and a short distance I sit down on a schist boulder. I am not physically tired, but my mind is weary from all of the concentration. I decide to take a longer break and shift positions so I now sit on the cool ground with my back against the rock. It occurs to me that this is a great exercise for my mind which has not worked as efficiently as I would like it to lately. My long term experience with Lyme disease has impacted the way my brain works. On some days my mind is fairly bright and crisp. It processes information clearly and effectively. On other days I cannot think about anything complicated without great effort. I forget names, places, and what I am doing. I plow through life in a brain fog. There are no lights to guide me. The lack of knowing or not knowing when this will occur is equally frustrating. Each day is a surprise; on some days, perhaps, a not so pleasant adventure.
My mind wanders as I rest. A cloud of black flies circles my head but they do not land or bite. I watch them as they randomly circle around. There is no pattern to their flight. They crazily fly around my head with complete disregard for the order of the universe. Or so it seems. Since getting Lyme disease I try to find the familiar in everything. I look for familiar patterns, common ground, anything that can make the dissimilar recognizable. I look for reason and sanity where none may exist.
As I sit here I think about the trail. It seems obvious and not obvious at the same time. It is there waiting for me to find it. At moments it is crystal clear where this trail once was, and other moments I can’t seem to find where it goes. It is a puzzle with some missing pieces but maybe one that has a conclusion.
After a while of this mind wandering I find myself back on the mystery trail. I follow it slowly, ever so slowly, by examining everything around me. Eventually I find myself at the bottom of a steep hill. The old trail here is very evident. As I look up the hill there is a distinct washed out gully that traverses the hillside at a forty five degree angle. It is evident that the runoff from heavy rain still drains along this old pathway. It is a tangible moment on this beaten track. For the time being I do not have to concentrate.
As I climb the wooded hillside along this exposed, rocky aisle in the woods I am relatively free from thought. I can appreciate my surroundings and see the forest as one living entity. I hear birds singing, a distant brook rushing down a slope, and the trees swaying in a gentle breeze.
When I reach the top I go through an opening in a rough stonewall. Here there is a large, level plateau. All of the trees are of approximate equal size and smaller than those that lined the ancient path in the woods. It is clear that I am at my destination. I have found the location of the long ago pasture where livestock once spent there days foraging on grass and legumes.
I stand here. There is no long view of distant valleys. There is no precipice from which I can declare a victory. There is a middle age forest, the remains of a fallen down stone wall, and evidence of pasture abandoned many years ago.
There is a moment of clarity and a brief point in time where the world makes sense.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in August of 2009.