My friend John B over in Washington is all about the Washington side of the world and my friends in Lempster — Sue L and Jim B are likewise so to the Asheulot River where the Town line meets Washington.
Hey, wouldn’t it be great to go from Millen Pond in Washington to Silver Mountain in Lempster across the Ashuelot River and then up by Sand Pond? This little idea is how an epic day starts. Maybe there is lunch or maybe not.
I have gotten roped into the notion because I am a sucker for enthusiastic people. So we decided to walk what could one day be a great trail through the deepest part of the woods in what is mostly protected land. The hike day was planned for an earlier date in the summer. In this unusually dry year, we woke up that morning to thundershowers and strong winds. I put out for a later date in September.
Here it is, the later date. The crew has burgeoned from a few or several to more than a handful. I think there are eight of us. We meet at the top of Farnsworth Hill. John B has delivered us to the starting point with a shiny new four-wheel drive, four seat, electric dump body Gator – a true country Cadillac. On the way over he has been telling us about those damn kids with their four-wheelers. I say, “yep. un-huh.” We arrive in that four wheeler and others are waiting. We waste no time. John B wistfully fills us in on the deep and arcane history of Farnsworth Hill. He knows history of the Millen Family, the Farnsworths, the McNeils and a bunch of other people who lived up in this hill over 70 years ago. We stand learning of the history. Then he says, “follow Swift.” I say, “I want to warn you, I figured this path out on the map. and laid it down on the GPS. I haven’t walked it all per se. I think it might be crunchy.” Even I don’t know quite what that means, but it sound like a good truth.
Soon we are a group of 8 doing just that, crunching through raspberries and balsam fir headed in the general direction of Sand Pond. We are walking through a featureless sea of brand new forest. One of our hikers pipes in. “A good trail should go by some features.” I remind him to wait a couple of years and this will emerge from stage of being hopeless brush to being a nice young forest. And wait twenty and it will be a real sapling and pole forest. Forty years and it will be bigger trees towering overhead. He will see features soon enough, elsewhere, today.
We proceed down the hill, our eight person mule team, with two dogs, too. By the way, they are now over their first fight. One has a bloody face. I hope that is from a sharp stick and not a switch tooth. We only stop for a minute dealing with their quarrel, all of a sudden what surrounds us is not a hopeless brush sea, but a nice open forest with big mossy rocks. We are nearing the Asheulot River to narrow place I have charted. We can cross, here. On the way, I pipe up how awesome it is for groups in two separate towns to understand this new connection. Furthermore, how if it is designed as a walking trail, walkers will walk on it probably for years to come. Peter understands this because he is a lead worker on the Monadnock-Sunnapee Greenway. A connection there, too?? You bet.
Now, we are paused at the crossing of the Asheulot River. It is a step over because it is dry. We ponder a burma bridge, a tight wire, stepping stones or a raft bridge. None are too much to imagine and only a minor detail to make a reality. What the collective mind believes is easy to achieve.
We cross on rocks and march on. We are hot now. We are entering Lempster. I sing the imaginary Lempster song and have the Lempsterites wondering how they missed the fact that their town had an ancient community appreciation song.
To the music of “If You Want To Be A Badger” — I sing to everyone as we enter Lempster–
If you want to come to Lempster,
Just come along with me,
By the Light,
By the Light
Of the Bright Shining Moon…
They wonder aloud, “How did we miss that?” They didn’t. I made it up. ‘Cuz I’m a Badger.
We head through the thickest fir East of Brattleboro, West of Newmarket. There are an easy 30,000 stems per acre. I am convinced it is absolutely necessary to walk right through the heart of this thicket. At some point, I realize it is a bit easier to crawl.
When we stand on a sunny rock on the other side of the thicket, I tell everyone that there is really no Lempster Song. I just made it up. Everyone sighs. Jim sighs, too. He has lost his pack with his water in it. Fortunately, I have recorded our path. I say “lets go swim back through the Balsam and find it.” He thinks it got ripped off his back. We re-trace and don’t find it. But the rest of us are well rested on the sunny rock. Jim and I are dripping from our three passes through the balsam thicket.
We are half way there. I say that we have done the easy part of the hike. We are down one pack, a lunch, and a water. We are now headed up out of the Ashuelot Headwaters Valley on the Lempster side to the mysterious and marvelous Isthmus between the crystal clear Long Pond and Sand Pond. Somehow, when these two lakes got put here by the hand of the great Whoever, he/she plunked rocks down in a fabulous way by fore finger and thumb. We are headed for them.
A hiking trail should have good features… And up we walk the hill. Now, we are on a ledge “hog back.” Now, we realize the hogback ends. We peel around to the left of it and all of a sudden, we are walking at the base of an incredible mossy cliff with ferns cascading. There is that kind of grey leathery lichen with a soot colored backing, that if you are starving, you can eat. But no one does.
The ledge is like the Vietnam memorial but in the wildest, wild and it diminishes into the hill as we climb. Further on up, we encounter more giant rock ledges. I take note of one where the top of a yellow birch 24 inches at the base and 100 feet tall is brushing the top of its neighboring cliff. It, too, shaggy with fern at its lip.
The excitement is starting to give way to exhaustion. And thirst. Our fellow hikers are generous with water, but we are down and it is dry. I do not fear this. Soon we are on the shores of Sand Pond with little to go. The clear water is lapping calmly on the shore while a gaggle of surface-running-spinner beetles disturb a meat-platter size area near our feet. Someone puts their hand down near them and they disperse like black-bean-dervishes intent on being ecstatic. They leave a pimple-ripple wake where they go.
We are ecstatic, too! Its pushing three in the afternoon and we are almost done with this hike. I know there are many miles to go before I sleep, sorry Mr. Frost. Everyone is ready to have some water and lunch.
The next chapter could get interesting. We can now all imagine this becoming a path. If it is, it will still be a challenge even with a cut trail. And there will be many more stories, like this. And they may also be crunchy!
But we are not quite done yet, I look down at the GPS to guide us back. everything is blurry. I touch the glass in my glasses. It is not there. Drat, another pair of glasses which are a casualty I can chalk up to an offering to the great Whoever. I close one eye to look with with the other through the one good lens. Easypeasy.
We get up to the cars and finish our shuttling back to the point of beginning.
I am too pressed for time to stop anywhere for a good lunch so its the home refrigerator for a cold pizza and some water a shortstop on the way to the seacoast.
Wait, what… the Seacoast? That story will have to wait for another time.