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On Christmas Day I had a spectacular hike up Coon Mountain in Westport. This is one of the destinations closest to my home and to my heart. I was joined by one brother, one sister, one daughter, one niece and two dogs. The day was as perfect as you could ask for—frosty, sunny and clear. The half hour immediately prior to the hike was a blur of transition from flannel pajamas accessorized with new scarves, ear muffs, earrings and slippers, to base layers, mid-layers and expedition outerwear. Everyone compared the resilience of their socks and footwear to cold and the value of their treads against the possibility of ice. Packed into one tight vehicle, we burst forth at the trail head on Hald's Road in Westport, eager to earn the sweets we'd tucked in pockets.

Dog on a hike
Dog on a hike

This property is wild and free. The biodiversity is renowned as is the view. Although the elevation gain is only about 200-300 feet, the payoff is outstanding. Leaving the trail head we stayed on the older of two trails to the summit, passing the famous burl on a giant hemlock. We continued through a mostly level section that will be a bonanza of wildflowers in May. On the Staircase, as the climb up a rocky section is called locally, there was only a trickle of the intermittent stream that flows among the rocks. As we reached the top of the Staircase I pointed out the American hornbean, or musclewood, whose smooth bark has been polished by many, many hands as they go by.

Winding beneath a cliff and over some talus, we forged ahead. At the next shoulder we passed the vernal pools that will have frog and salamander eggs in spring, shaded by hobblebush. The powdered-sugar snow made the trail festive but didn't require special traction. The summit took those who hadn't been there for a few years almost by surprise and the dogs lay down to lick the ice from between their toes. The turkey vultures are still out of town but they'll be back.

Coon Mountain was the gift of the day. We are so lucky to have it nearby and so pristine. Now it is blanketed with snow and the hike will be completely different- highlighting wintery branches and tell-tale mammal tracks. As 2013 begins I look forward to how it will change each month, creating a new experience each time. You'll need snowshoes for now, and hopefully for the next few months. It's a fun trip for dogs and those who are inspired by low elevation with a good view. The trail register might as well be a list of local residents--we love this hike. It's ten minutes from warm lodging at The Inn in Westport or the Westport Lakeside Motel and on any day but Christmas the perfect combination with the Westport Hotel and Tavern for food and drink.