This week I hiked the Rocky Ledges Trail of the CATS system. It starts at an inconspicous trailhead on the Leaning Road in Essex, just south of the Jersey Street bridge over the Boquet River. The trail begins in what was once a meadow and I quickly came to an apple tree that had probably belonged to a former farm. You don't usually see apples under pine trees but there were pretty yellow apples all over the ground beneath the white pines that had grown up around the apple tree as the field changed to forest.
The trail starts into the forest but then winds along the edge of a hay field before heading up the hill. The forest is typical Champlain Valley mixed-hardwood gradually becoming oak-hornbeam-hickory. This year the hickory trees are producing a huge volume of nuts which are hanging on the trees and littered all over the trail. There were various sizes of hulls, shells and nuts left by the many animals that eat them, ranging from mice to bears. I found several areas that looked like someone large had been crunching on them by the mouthful and spitting out whatever they didn't want. Others looked like they had been surgically chewed in specific spots to most efficiently access the nut meat.
The trail gains elevation at a nice moderate rate with lots of easy switchbacks in and out of grassy glades and new forest. The South and North Boquet Mountains around which this trail wanders were both logged heavily in the 1990's so there are lots of pole-size trees filling in dense groves. There are also sizeable stumps supporting nice moss varieties and nice rocks with pretty lichen.
Everything from tiny weeds to great big oaks were bearing fruit. Lower down there were blue berries on the Red Osier Dogwood right next to creamy white ones on the Grey Dogwood. As I climbed I found black caps on sprawling raspberry canes. In wetter, shady spots I found speckled False Solomon's Seal berries and both Red and White Baneberrry. The White Baneberry fruit is also known as Doll's Eyes because it looks so much like the beads that were used to make eyes for dolls and stuffed animals in the past. I found a single Ginseng plant with a tight cluster of berries right next to some Red Baneberry with bright berries on an open stalk. Gingseng was severely over-harvested in the 1970's and 80's so I leave it alone when I find it.
All the beggar's tick and tick trefoil were sporting sticky seeds so I was momentarily glad not to have my dog with me.
I did a lazy figure eight up the trail that leads to Cook Road then headed north and came down via the ledges for which the trail is named. There is a short ravine to descend and then a nice rock wall that makes you stop and look. As I came back to rejoin the original trail I noticed the sign saying that the trail is closed during hunting season so I was glad to have had a chance to do it on a bright day early in the fall.