Smarts Brook Trail is a favorite hike of mine. It leads from a point 12 miles away from my dad's house, up to Sandwich Dome (3,986ft) and Jennings Peak (3,440ft) on an approximately 13 mile out and back. Earlier this day I had received some news about work that made me uneasy and I just felt the need to get out and search for positive thoughts. I knew we would be getting some weather and well aware that the sun would be going down soon. I was excited by these out of the ordinary conditions. What a spectacle it is to watch 100 foot tall trees dance in the wind and hear it rip through their branches. And at night, the senses are on edge and make for a whole new experience. Bundled up and with a collection of Edward Albee's stories and my journal in my backpack, I started out on Smarts Brook and collected some tinder along the way. In its first mile, the trail follows a swift section of a stream that gathers from higher up in the Sandwich range. I wandered down and spent a great deal of time picking along the icy bank and leaning over portholes through the ice into the clattering round rock water beneath it. The small drops of water along here built beautiful ice sculptures that I could trace the outlines of for hours. These little frozen sculptures, among the most beautiful I've seen, may be gone within days, they may grow and shrink striking different poses at the weather's whim. Their obvious mortality is beautiful.
I picked along the ice covered stream and its banks, sometimes falling in, making my way up stream. I jumped back onto the main trail and continued into the hills, slowly scanning the forest with eyes, ears, and heart trying to pick up on anything that might provide enjoyment. I followed the sound track of cackling leaves, chickadees, dribbling water in the distance, and dragging wind to the beaver pond that is one of the sources of Smarts Brook. I hopped across lily pads of ice and crossed the mounded dam to the opposite side of the outlet and followed the shore. Beavers are amazing creatures. Looking over the forest of chewed off stumps, I think how surprising the clean cuts are. That's a compliment to their amazing ability to strip these trees like butter and the scale at which they do this is quite impressive. With a single den at its center this beaver pond must be over 1000 sqm and the resulting wetlands an additional 25m along it's edge. These fellow animals are respectable builders, though they might pale in comparison to the abilities of our own species at least as size and durability go. Let's consider though that there home's are in a closer balance with natural order and allow for the continued growth and health of their supporting ecosystem. In that sense, which I would suggest is a good measure of building quality, there is absolutely no contest.
I moved along the shore and walked across the frozen pond to its center where the beaver den stood above the surface. It's quite a thing to stand on a pond looking over a beaver den when it's viewed from such a distance that your not quite sure it's real. I have proof now that they are real! Crossing the pond I picked through the channels crossing the wetlands and found my way back to the cut trail. Light began to fade at this point and I kept my light in my pack, letting my feet find the way forward with small, well planted strides. My attentiveness to noise grew making the noises seem to grow in intensity as the light receded and my vision took a back seat. At this point I was totally focused on not falling flat on my face and avoiding taking branches in the eye. My mind wandered little. I would break from this meditation and look up as the wind would rise and carry the trees into a dancing frenzy. Continuing on and pausing at times I crossed two streams and gradually slowed as my feet sank more often into the weak crust of snow. A blow down of 4 or more large trees blocked the path and I picked my way through the peaceful carnage of pine and maple to find the trail. At the third stream crossing I paused and decided this would be a good spot to sit, not feeling up to the commitment of summiting in these conditions and being content with my comfort. I plowed off of the trail a ways where a found a shelter of two rock faces. Here I dug into the snow and packed down the base to form a little nest of sorts where I built a small fire which didn't provide much warmth and sat down with Abbey's stories. Once the fire died down after an hour or so, I cleared up and made my way back down to the car, taking moments to get lost in the surrounding beauty, but mostly trying to avoid sinking into the soft pack along the narrow path of tracked out snow. I picked up a stick and tapped my way back on saplings, trees, and grasses along the trail. My heart warmed slightly and relief arose once I saw passing headlights near at hand. Though I enjoyed this little excursion for space and found what I was looking for, I was ready to end this long day with a warm meal. Altogether, I covered approximately 8mi at a little over 1mi/hr. That's a solid contemplation pace.