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Family enjoys ordinary forest adventure

October 31, 2021

Seeking connection and adventure, our family recently visited a hiking trail new to us.

Under a cloudless, azure sky we wended our way along a short section of the 114-mile Metacomet-Monadnock (M&M) trail, which stretches through western Massachusetts to New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock. The single track path paralleled a babbling brook, tunneled through underbrush and at times merged with an abandon dirt logging road.

Beech, maple and birch trees stood mostly naked, while the oaks clung to their browned leaves. Green patches of Eastern Hemlock and an occasional towering White Pine reminded us that weeks earlier this was a verdant forest. It was a welcome space for our minds, bodies and spirits to wander, a brief refuge from a world full of strife and the pace of everyday family life.

Our Zoe and Adam, now 15 and 12, confidently led the way, moving briskly but care-free, chatting aimlessly about school and friends. Lori and I trailed behind, reflecting on the passage of time, parenthood, and our shared love of the outdoors.

We agreed on a stopping place for lunch where we spread a tarp over red and yellow fallen leaves. We enjoyed crackers, carrots and celery dipped in humus, chunks of cheddar cheese, and juicy clementines. Lori and I shared a thermos of hot green tea with honey.

A tall vertical outcropping of rocks invited our exploration. Climbing in, over and about giant slabs, Adam and I discovered hidden caverns that we imagined as ideal for an overnight bivouac.

Hand in hand, Lori and Adam led on the return. Zoe and I followed, sharing our excitement about the coming winter and cross country skiing. 

Nearing the end of our hike we visited an empty lean-to, a simple Adirondack style shelter. Adam found hot coals in the adjacent stone fire pit, rounded up a pile of sticks and skillfully produced a warming fire. I pulled the log book from a zip lock bag that hung inside the shelter and set on the wooden platform reading notes from recent visitors.

In one entry, a 20-year old woman shared that she had bunked at the site while thru-hiking the M&M trail in preparation for a thru-hike of the 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail. Inwardly, I wondered if one day Zoe or Adam, maybe Zoe and Adam, might embark on such adventure. Recalling fondly my own travels in the Swiss Alps, the Himalayas of Nepal, the Rockies in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana I wondered whether I might join them.

For at least a time the forest felt all ours that day, even though we were merely visitors on a trail that has known many feet, stories, and lives. It was an ordinary experience in a time when ordinary feels spectacular.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

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