View from Glen Hill: Walking in the Wilton Woods

I could see upon our return after two months of walking along Maine logging roads that my dog Tanzi was somewhat bored with our usual Glen Hill Road route. It’s not that it’s not a beautiful walk; it certainly is, but it just doesn’t compare to the sights and smells of a logging road penetrating deep into Maine woods.

So last week, in the time between our return and the start of my teaching responsibilities, I thought I owed Tanzi a change of walking venue. I remembered my good friend Judith Zucker’s encouraging words some years ago, “Steve, you really should try walking the Town Forest!” She spoke from both wisdom and experience, of course — as Judy always does.

Therefore, I got out my handy Hagstrom’s (yes, some of us still use that venerable resource) and found the forest has an entrance abutting Branch Brook Road about a half-mile past where Mountain and Hulda Hill roads and Chicken Street converge. Thus, there Tanzi and I went. A rustic sign adjoining a small graveled parking area alongside the road told us that we had reached our destination. So Tanzi and I hooked up and hit the trail.

The Conservation Commission has done a beautiful job of laying out walking trails through the forest’s 188 acres. Tanzi and I decided on the blue trail for our first adventure there. A large map posted at the entrance shows that this trail follows closely the outer perimeter of the forest. I should say more correctly that I decided for us, but in fact, after 10 years of being together on pretty intimate terms (“I’m your dog; you’re my person”), I have a pretty good idea of her likes and dislikes: I felt sure she would want to go for the maximum distance available.

The trail was really well marked so that any time I might have had a twinge of doubt about which way to go, a deep blue blaze on a tree nearby (or only a little farther ahead if I looked carefully) would reassure me: “You’re on the right track, buddy; just keep moving.” Meanwhile, Tanzi was taking it all in and perking up just as I had hoped. She found spots right near the trail where she could submerge the bottom half of her 65 pounds of curly black fur and bask in the joy of refreshing Barrett’s Brook that runs roughly north-south through the forest and is never far from the blue trail along most of its length. I’m sure the brook reminded Tanzi of those Maine logging roads where a small culvert or a larger stream regularly bisects the road and gave her many pauses that refresh on our summer walks.

I would call the forest’s blue trail moderately challenging, at least for an old guy like me. The trail has fortunately not been turned into a Disney World-esque arboreal superhighway but left largely in its natural state with lots of rocks and tree roots that can be stumbled over if one is not careful and with multiple rocky-path crossings of the brook and its small tributaries where there are not simple wooden walkway crossings. There were also a couple of significant grades to climb in the 80 minutes or so we spent covering it all.

Tanzi always took the lead, and we stopped to smell the roses — or what I guess pass for rose-like smells to a dog’s heightened sensory palette — and to let a skilled adult mountain biker pass us. It was mid-afternoon on a beautiful early-fall day, and during our walk, shafts of brilliant sunlight permeated the otherwise shady forest, deftly putting the glorious greens of nearby leaves on vibrant display.

As we walked along, I couldn’t help but think this must have been the way all of Wilton looked to Native Americans like Chief Chicken (who was quite a celebrated traverser of these parts in the early 18th Century, according to Bob Russell’s Wilton) and to the first European settlers. What a daunting sight for them to try to imagine how they would turn this dense stone-and-hill-covered forest primeval into farm and pasture land.

I felt a deep sense of gratitude to these forebears and also to our town for its farsightedness in preserving such a beautiful tract and to the Conservation Commission (and town staff who work in coordination with it) for making it accessible without diminishing our appreciation of the as-yet-untamed forest splendor that was most of Wilton three centuries ago.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.