A walk in the woods (and other brilliant ideas)

'Untitled' On Black

My mom and I (and the dog) spent a few days in New Hampshire recently. We had a map of a woodsy area with hiking trails that we wanted to check out, so we headed off in the minivan to find it.

We were heading down a dirt road with a general awareness that we'd probably taken a wrong turn somewhere, though we hadn't gone far enough to give up on the hope that a gravel parking lot with a forest department sign marking the entrance to the trailhead would appear at any moment. We were looking at the sprawling patchwork houses, their so-called lawns dotted with pieces of farming equipment, rusted bikes, broken swing sets, and tree stumps, and wondering if the people who lived there had electricity or running water or had ever paid Federal taxes.

That's when we saw the pickup truck blocking the road.

We slowed. The truck didn't move. We stopped. The truck didn't move. We waited. The truck still didn't move. Finally, a woman came out from behind the truck and walked toward us. I rolled the driver's side window down. The dog started barking.

"Can I help you?" she asked, as if we had just arrived at the drive-up window of a fast food joint and were not, in fact, innocently traveling down what appeared to be a perfectly public (if very bumpy) dirt road.

"What?" I asked. "Is this a private road?" The dog continued to bark ferociously.

"Not exactly," she said.

I would have started an argument, but my mom leaned over and said the name of the road we were supposed to be on and the woman, softening a bit, told us that we had missed the turnoff -- it was about a mile down the road. Back the way we came. She stared pointedly. The dog barked some more.

Meanwhile, another truck arrived, coming from the other direction. The taillights on the truck that had been blocking the road flashed briefly, and the truck that had been forming a makeshift roadblock backed up, clearing the way. The second truck drove by with a wave to the driver of the first truck. The driver and the woman, who was still standing at the minivan window, waved back.

"I guess you know them, huh?" I said.

"Yeah," she said. "We pretty much know everyone around here. And then we saw you coming, with the Massachusetts plates."

"And you didn't know us."

"That's right."

"We're mostly harmless."

She looked at the dog. Who was still barking and was now also throwing herself at the window.


The road was a little too narrow and the ditches on either side a little too deep to turn the minivan around. We sat and contemplated this while the dog barked and leaped some more.

"Maybe we could turn around in the driveway there," I said nodding to a dirt driveway off the dirt road just beyond the pickup truck blocking the dirt road.

The woman looked over at the man in the pickup, who had since moved the truck back into its position across the road. He shrugged, and the taillights flashed again and he backed up to let us pass. They both watched us very carefully, keeping an eye out in case we tried to make a run for it.

Later that night, watching the local news, we found out that someone had called in a bomb threat to a nearby public school. It turns out the back-woods, off-the-grid, pickup-driving hippies had formed their own posse to protect a private school further down the public road from the likes of us and our barking dog and our Massachusetts license plate.

Meanwhile, we were still looking for the wooded area with the trails. We drove down a couple more dirt roads, relieved that neither was blocked by pickup trucks. Then the road we were on got a lot narrower. And a lot steeper. And the ditches on the side of the road got deeper. A couple of pickup trucks -- really old pickup trucks driven by grizzly-faced men wearing flannel jackets -- passed us. I squeezed the minivan as far over to the side of the road as I could without actually driving it into the ditch. They stared at us as we passed. We soldiered on.

The road started to climb, and the climb got steeper. Then it descended, and the hard-pan dirt of the road started to disintegrate into a looser, rockier approximation of a dirt road. We saw two women walking ahead of us. They seemed friendly enough, at least from behind. So we slowed as we approached them and rolled down the window. They jumped a bit as the dog started barking.

"Wow," the older woman said. "That car is very quiet."

The younger woman kind of smiled at us. The dog continued to bark.

We showed the women the map, and explained about the public land, and the supposed parking area, and the marked trails in the woods.

"I've lived here all my life and I've never heard of such a thing," she said. "And there's walking trails? You're going to go walking? In the woods?"

"Yes," we smiled. "That was our plan, anyway."

"Hmmm," she said, taking stock of our seasonally-appropriate green and brown scarves and hats and our wooly wintry coats and sweaters, also in autumnal earth tones, and our little brown barking dog. You know, the one that looks kind of like a fox or a very small deer.

"You know that it's hunting season, right?"

The nice older woman (who at this point must have thought us a couple of complete morons) told us of a nearby field, which was fairly open, where the dog could run around.

"Stick to the roads if you're going to walk," she told us. "They're not supposed to shoot you on the roads."

And we pulled over and let the dog out (who immediately found a big old Maine coon cat to chase) and we walked through the field, somewhat nervously at first, but then, when no one shot us, a little more confidently. And then we found this old graveyard. The light was terrible -- shining harshly directly overhead -- but we took some pictures anyway. And this one came out OK (there's another one here).

But, quite frankly, it kind of seems like a lot to go through for a couple of pictures and a short walk in a field.


Alice said...

Clearly you weren't in OUR neck of New Hampshire, where the locals are much friendlier, or certainly you would have invited me to walk with you ;-)
I've had my share of undiscovered trail markers since moving up here. I once took Augusta on a 2 hour hike in search of "balancing rock" and "Orris Falls," neither of which we found. Instead, we walked on an unmarked path that lead into a swamp. Even Augusta recognized the creepiness of these woods and would not let go of my hand the entire time.

Gienna said...

You know, I pretty much forgot that you'd even moved to NH -- that's how bad I am. I would have made a New Year's resolution to keep in better touch with my friends but last year I made a resolution to stop making resolutions.

I wish you had a blog. I think everyone should have a blog ... it would be so much easier to keep up with them!

And by the way I do think balancing rock exisits -- I'm pretty sure I've seen a picture of it.