Over the River and Through the Woods

This winter keeps coming and going. This morning there was sunshine all over wet, spring snow but a week ago it was still blustery, dry and truly winter. I spent the duration of the last storm at my desk and finally came up for fresh air and exercise. Having an errand at Full and By Farm, the CSA where I have a share, I decided to try the trail nearest the farm. The trail is really an abandoned road, the McAuliffe Road, which connects Jersey Street in Essex to Sunset Drive in Willsboro. It's trail number six on the current CATS map.

At this time of year it's best to park along the Leaning Road to avoid trouble with the snowplows. A short walk up from the bridge over the Boquet River takes you to the obsolete street sign indicating the start of the trail. Stepping over the snowbank left by the plows, there was deep powder and an immediate change of ambiance. Two quick clicks into back country bindings and a few long glides took me into the woods. Because it was late in the day the sunshine was blazing horizontally from the west through the treeless canopy over my head.

The beginning of the trail leads along the widest part, where it still resembles an old road. Current owners of the adjacent property have abundantly posted their boundaries but after a nice downhill glide past their camp, the forest regains its independence.

On both sides of the trail the forests are clearly overgrown fields. Telltale fence line and big pasture pines bring livestock to mind. The Boquet River just down the slope to the east barrels over a rocky drop along very icy banks. It's hard to believe we swim in that river in summer.

The trail continues through a field which was been kept open longer than the others—young white pines and poplars are expanding from the edges into the center. The staghorn sumac is still feeding birds this winter with dark red seeds. On this day the former field looked like a miniature glacier. Every twig of last summer's weeds had caught the snow and made peaks that looked like meringue.

Red barn in the champlain valley

I kept gliding in perfect snow up to the old homestead which recently burned down. The bright red barn and sugar maples still stand tall. As the sun got lower there were dark silhouettes of wild mint and other summer weeds along the fenceline and plenty of animal tracks following the hedgerow.

On the way back my trails made the skiing even quicker. My dog, energized by the snow and the cold, continued to track down every scent we came to and then flushed a roost of birds that were settling down for the night. As I approached the road again I watched the last sunlight on a house in the distance that looked like a fairytale destination, literally "over the river and through the woods."

Sunlit View

These quick ski outings are perfect for me on a late afternoon but they are also perfect for the visitor who wants a woodland hour between social events or needs some exercise before one of the many farm-to-table meals in the vicinity. For current trail conditions come to happy hour on a Thursday afternoon at the Essex Inn and ask anyone who's been out. 

Mayor of Coon Mountain
AWE-Sable Chasm!