In late July I walked part of the Narragansett Trail from Stubtown Road to North Road in the Canonchet Preserve on the western edge of Rhode Island. This is my report.
First, I was met in the parking lot by a party of mosquitoes, black flies, deerflies, and horseflies. They were clearly expecting me as the guest of honor. Several of them gave me kisses of greeting while I was still putting on my bug spray. I told them that I was flattered, but had a countryside to explore and I bid them farewell. They eventually stopped following me, meaning that most of the trip I was fly-free. It was a very unusual experience.
There was also a painted stone left behind by some mysterious entity for mysterious reasons. It was similar to stones I had seen in Florida the previous two years. What do they mean?
I then stopped on the shore of a pond (Ashville Pond) where there were dragonflies and small flowers of every color. There were also small fish near the shore that paid no attention to me whatsoever.
The first part of the trail was very much like the other trails previously visited in Canonchet Preserve (Canonchet and Hoxsie). There were small, green fruit on the ground. There were the same thorny plants on the sides of the trail. There were bees and wasps of every possible kind. There were large, black butterflies (some with blue on the hindwings). There were very large boulders scattered about, many of them with smaller stones stacked on top (babies?). There were also stone walls crisscrossing the landscape and intersecting the trail, though I was so far out in the middle of nowhere that I felt no one had been here in a very, very long time. There were even signs of mutant rocks and trees and mating between them (I start getting silly when I have been out in the woods too long).
In one spot only, there were also yellow leaves on the ground. For once, there were also some in the trees, but the very last ones fell just as I was passing. What are the chances? The simple, tapered leaves had green brethren still in the trees above, but I could see no leaves that looked like the four-pointed ones. There were only maples. Could the yellow leaves be mutant maple leaves rejected from the tree? The mystery deepens.
There were also plenty of fungi of every flavor:
What was different about this section of the forest was the numerous areas of bare stone and the amount of sunlight that got all the way to the ground. Once I passed the midpoint of my trip, there was even more stone and more sunlight. The trail began to go up and down and the traditional forest around me was replaced by a rhododendron forest.
This rhododendron flashed gang signs at me:
There were several side trails that led to exposed areas of stone, but I did not have the time to look at all of them. There was an outcropping of rock bordering the second pond (Long Pond) on the other side, but with no way to get to it. There were also many boulder caves filled with spiders and daddy-long-legs, but I didn’t want to get lost or stuck.
I also saw a red dragonfly, a green inchworm, a dead snake, and a dead millipede. Then – at last – near the very end of my trip – I found the last rhododendron bloom. There were no others left.
It is a noble thing to want to do good and avoid evil. It is a noble thing to want to stop sinning. The problem is that most of us build up our fear of being bad (or fear of the consequences) or our pride of being good to motivate us. The problem is that pride and fear are also sins. Fear means we don’t trust God to protect us and pride means we don’t trust that God is the source of all good in us. Building up these sins can only lead to more sin (and its outward manifestations) in the long run.
God is greater even than your drive to sin. Every sin you commit he allowed you to commit. He will take care of it if you let him – and if you sin by not letting him work, he allowed you to commit that sin as well. It is hard to wait for measurable results, but sometimes the only way to stop sinning is to feel the resulting pain first. I know this from direct experience. Believe me, God is going as fast as he can and working harder than you ever could or would. Just be patient and have hope – and if you cannot be patient any longer and have run out of hope, this too God is working to fix.
Upon parking at Crawley Preserve near Usquepaug, Rhode Island, one is greeted at the parking lot by blackberries – or at least they were there when I went in July. There is also a plant greatly resembling a sensitive plant, known for folding in its leaves in response to touch, but this one is either broken or else I have misidentified it.
From there, the trail to the right (the only one to prohibit horses) will take you through several distinct sections each with their own style. First, the narrow trail is banked by thick ferns where foot-biting animals can hide. Next, the surrounding vegetation gets higher. Next, the trail crosses the brook where there are the same kind of flowers growing as were growing in Canonchet’s wetter areas.
From this low-lying area, the trail climbs up among mossy boulders where all the major branches of plant life are represented side-by-side. There are non-vascular plants, spore-bearing plants, gymnosperms, and flowering plants. I felt as though I was hiking through time from the Devonian to the Carboniferous, through the Permian, and into the Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Paleogene. I held my breath as I passed from one section to the next so that I would not inhale the time winds and be aged millions of years. Going up, the roots of nearby trees helpfully spread their roots across the wet rocks so I would not slip. Finally, at the top is a flat area dominated by huckleberries.
There were also very many bushes with fragrant white flowers just opening up. Most of them were still buds, but the bees were already all over them. The flowers were everywhere.
Following this trail to its end and returning by the main trail, one sees that it is full of grass – lots and lots of very tall grass. This is where I saw the cutest snake ever. It zipped away before I could get a picture of its head.
I visited Crawley Preserve the same day I visited the Hoxsie Trail of Canonchet Preserve several miles away, eight days after my previous visit. Much was the same and much was different. Though Canonchet and Crawley are several miles apart, I wondered whether my two accounts should be posted as separate adventures or combined into one. I finally decided to separate them.
In both places, I saw orange flowers near the creeks. In both places, I saw a toad. In both places, I saw small, green fruits on the ground everywhere. Cutting open one at Crawley, I found no maggots, however. It was a bit like an apple. As at Canonchet and at Rome Point, there were the same thorny plants here and there, but unlike earlier in the season, their thorns had hardened.
Also at both places, there were mushrooms of every flavor:
I also saw some other stuff:
There is nothing wrong with listening to a theology lecture, but one of the things that annoys me most about church is how hard it is to connect with others and listen how God has moved in their lives. I once went to a church wherein each member was able to bring a story, a verse, or a song that meant something to them. I think there is a need for that sort of thing, yet I’ve never found anything like it since. Instead, one guy stands up front and tediously drones on about something I already know. If examples of God’s activities are ever given at all, they are from thousands of years ago. What is God doing today?
Many churches have programs to feed or clothe the homeless, but do nothing to serve the lonely or the discouraged. Don’t people want to encourage each other, celebrate good news together, and mourn bad news together? Isn’t that what church is really supposed to be?
The last time I visited Canonchet Preserve, I did not have a chance to take the Hoxsie trail, since I inexplicably took a wrong turn on the way back. However, I was able to return eight days later and take the Hoxsie trail in, connecting to the Canonchet trail heading out, thus overlapping part of my earlier expedition. It was a shorter walk. Much was the same and much was different. I wondered whether my two accounts should be posted as separate adventures or combined into one. I finally decided to separate them.
One thing that was the same as on Canonchet Trail was the presence of these star-root trees. The old logs were everywhere. They looked as though they would not have had a good grip on the ground, nor good access to water.
Another thing that was the same was the widespread presence of mushrooms of every flavor:
Another thing that was the same was the presence of yellow leaves on the ground. What was different was the shape. The distinct leaves I saw eight days before on July 17 were gone. There was no sign of them, yellow or green or brown, on the ground or still in the trees. Instead, there were these new yellow leaves everywhere:
Another thing that was the same was the widespread presence on the ground of what looked like powdered sugar, though in some places it could take on a yellow-tan color and in one spot it was pinkish. What was different was the widespread presence of the color black. There were black-winged damselflies, moths, and butterflies, as well as the numerous spots on the rocks and leaves.
As on my previous visit to the nearby area, I saw many wacky trees and stones. There were boulders with smaller stones stacked on top (babies?). There were trees with distorted pits in them (ray gun holes?). There was also this:
These trees appear to be struggling for dominance, their antlers locked together:
At last, I discovered the reason I was seeing so many ridiculous mutant stones and stumps in the area, both on this trip and on the last one! Interspecies mating!
I also saw a rabbit, a wasp nest, and all these weird items:
Handshakes: At many of the churches I visit, the service is stopped partway through and the congregants encouraged to shake hands. I don’t understand the point. It’s certainly not to socialize. The music plays too loud for us to hear each other, the event is over too quickly, and before I can even exchange names with anyone they are either moving on to the next person or else the next person has interrupted us first. Do they have to make quota? There is no meaningful social interaction whatsoever. It’s just an awkward way to spread germs. There is a lot of forced, false intimacy in churches in general. In some places, they hold hands during prayer and the pastors have gigantic, creepy smiles all the time. Why not be genuine?
Close Your Eyes: At many of the churches I visit, during the closing prayer the pastor tells us to close our eyes. This is of course the last thing I want to do when being told to do it – especially when surrounded by strange people. I don’t consider it any of his business what I do with my own body. Then he invites those who have made a commitment to Jesus to raise their hands, reminding them that no one is going to see them. If the point of closing eyes is not to put anyone on the spot, why make them raise their hands at all? If the point of raising hands is to take a public stand, don’t they want to be seen?
Loud Music: At many churches the music is far too loud to be healthy. The bass vibrates my insides and makes me feel sick. It reflects off the walls in cacophony and makes me feel trapped. It’s very uncomfortable. I don’t even like any of the music they play anyways. I am told that singing along expresses gratitude to God, but how can that be? You can’t tell me that over a hundred people just happened to start singing the same song at the same time out of genuine gratitude by chance! Clearly it has more to do with conformity. I’ve always thought of such things as a little creepy.
Stand Up: I can hike all day, but standing in one place is extremely uncomfortable and tiring. We are expected to stand during scripture recitation and during the music portion – sometimes for fifteen minutes or longer. What is the purpose of standing?
Bad Hours: What sane person wants to be out of bed Sunday morning? This doesn’t work for a lot of people. Some churches also have services Saturday or Sunday night, but why not on weekday afternoons? There are a lot of people that work late Saturday night and sleep in Sunday morning. When can they go? Why don’t churches hold services on different days from each other so people can visit multiple churches and make friends in all of them?
Simple Sermons: Sermons are almost always very simple. The same basic point is dragged out and repeated in different ways, but the larger context is left out, its importance is never explained, evidence is never given, and the exceptions go unmentioned. What is taught is very basic and I’m sure is old news for most of the people in the room. I have always been incredibly bored.
Sin Management: Rather than focus on the greatness of God and his current activities, churches seem to be focused on what I and my father call sin management. They give advice on how we can trick our darker selves to avoid sinning and build up our self-control. They constantly lecture on the dangers of sin and how to tell right from wrong. Knowing that I am dead to the law and that there is no good thing in me, I let God take care of my sin problem and instead focus on the good news. This is hard to do when I am continually reminded of the bad.
What I Love About Church: Some churches have coffee, donuts, and little libraries – and some have quite interesting architecture. They usually have ministries to join, if they fit you. Sometimes I can also find people to talk about God-stuff with, so church isn’t all bad. I’m just not sure that donuts are a good enough reason to get out of bed.
What do you love/hate about church?
The Canonchet Preserve in western Rhode Island is a collection of smaller preserves cobbled together with some private land sandwiched between. Off Route 3 is the Hoxsie section, where I began my journey. This area is filled with large stone structures, apparently the remains of a town. Whoever might have lived here before, it is home to rocks, trees, and flies now. I planned to take the Canonchet trail through the Hoxsie section all the way into the next section and then north to Stubtown Road before turning back, reentering the Hoxsie section, and taking the Hoxsie trail to the parking lot. The map at the trailhead made it look like a four-mile round trip, tops – at least that’s the way I remember it.
The first thing I noticed was the prevalence of yellow leaves on the ground. It was too early for autumn, and they were all of one kind. What was going on?
There was also stonework everywhere, especially stone walls and stone-lined pits. There were also many of these odd stone nests:
I also saw this boulder carrying her babies on her back:
And this one:
And this one:
I also saw this giant piece of quartz:
I also saw a few flowers:
And there were mushrooms of every flavor:
At last I came to the edge of the Hoxsie and set forth on to Stubtown Road. My trek had felt much longer than it should have been. I was tired. There was a map at the junction of the two trails as well, but this one made it look as though I was facing an eight-mile round trip! Could I have misread the earlier map? No, there must be a reasonable explanation. I’ve heard that the universe is expanding due to dark energy, but this is just ridiculous!
I decided to press on anyways. A little further down the trail, I looked back and realized that I could see a lot farther than I could when I had looked forward. It seemed as though the trees were further apart now, allowing me to see between them. Was the space between the trees getting bigger?
Something else happened. I noticed it was very quiet. I could no longer hear the traffic from the road. The only noises came from myself and my ever-loyal companions the deerflies, who had followed me from Hoxsie. They would stick with me right until the end. I could no longer hear civilization at all. Was the park expanding so fast that I was receding from the parking lot faster than the speed of sound and that was why I could hear nothing? I shuddered, but kept onward.
There were also spiders living here, some of whom had carelessly strewn their webs across the trail. I walked into four of them. Well, it serves them right. My deerfly companions were content to let me walk ahead of them. I don’t blame them.
These spiders were a strange breed, with high, spiny backs of a silvery color (spiny micrathena). I tried to take a picture, but the camera would not focus.
In one area, I came across several trees that had been damaged by what I can only guess to be some sort of spatial disruptor weapon. Obviously, a gunfight had broken out here once – but who was fighting whom? And were they long gone or still lurking around?
As I examined the trees and contemplated this mystery, a bomb from above narrowly missed me. I dove for cover, but it did not explode. It wasn’t the only one. This area was almost carpeted with them. Curious what was inside, I cut one open and found it full of maggots. These weren’t bombs at all. They were the fruits of the maggot tree!
This was an eerie place indeed. Everything wanted to be something else. I encountered these mushrooms pretending to be lettuce. Their smell gave them away. They smelled like mushrooms, a bit earthy and a bit grassy. I was not fooled. They would not end up in my salad.
I came across this stump pretending to be a duck. Again, I was not fooled. It never quacked once.
I don’t know what this is, but it was pretending to be a caterpillar. I knew it wasn’t. No caterpillar would ever be caught outside the home looking that silly. I think it might have been a drunk college student.
Reaching a swampy area, I encountered a tree whose roots were pretending to be a boulder. I wasn’t fooled. I never sat on it. Just beyond this were tree roots spread across a brook and covered with moss that were obviously mimicking the nearby bridge. I wasn’t fooled. I chose the real bridge.
Once past the swamp, the trail gradually went uphill and the average size of rock became bigger. The boulders were absolutely massive. Clearly, they were taking steroids – or maybe they were mutants. The size of these stones gave cover to hiding animals, as well as hijackers and pirates, probably. I rounded one stone only to encounter a mess of roots and dirt pretending to be a black-cloaked robber. I almost peed myself.
Shortly after that, something passed me that looked like a bumblebee, but wasn’t. It was at least twice the size of the largest bumblebee I had ever seen. Settling on a leaf just two steps in front of me, I could then see that it was possibly the scariest-looking insect I had ever seen in my life. It had a vaguely bee-like body, but the wings and head were all wrong. I can’t even be sure it was Hymenoptera. In its jaws, it held the lifeless body of another insect, as if to demonstrate what it would do to me if I stepped out of line. I almost peed myself again.
Note: After returning home and looking it up, I think it might have been a European hornet, though this is doubtful; it didn’t look quite the same. It may of course have been a mutant European hornet.
At last I reached the end of the trail. Here there were flowers, open air, and direct sunlight. There was also a wasp on the ground pretending to be an ant (No, seriously, I’m not joking this time; look it up).
I turned back the way I came. By this time I was exhausted from the heat and humidity. If not for the constant encouragement from the deerflies to keep moving, I probably would have taken a nap. One of them even kissed me on the cheek to make me feel better. It hurt.
I have always found it remarkable just how many new things can be seen on the way out that were missed on the way in. Everything looks so different when seen from a different angle. I saw little bits of green wood like I had seen at the Davis Memorial Wildlife Refuge. How had I missed that? I also came across the edge of a boulder sticking through the ground. It was a stone pretending to be a log! How had I missed that? I then came across some more fungi. There was no way I could have missed it. Had it grown up while I was gone? Was time expanding as well as space? Was I about to return to an Earth where humans had long been extinct?
As time went on, I realized it had been a long time since I had seen any of the landmarks I saw on the way in. Every hill and valley looked unfamiliar. I began to wonder if I had somehow stepped onto the wrong trail, though I could not understand how, since I never saw an intersection. “I think I might be on the wrong path,” I said to my deerfly companions, just as I walked face-first into yet another spider web.
Since I had walked into every web on the way in, I was now sure I was on the wrong trail. After seeing through all the other trickery around me, I had been duped by the wrong trail pretending to be the right trail! I should have known all those other things were mere distractions! I considered turning back, but I was too tired. For topological reasons, I knew I must have been heading in roughly the right direction, since I had not yet run into the roads that border the preserve. Besides, I was too curious to see what lie ahead.
Eventually, the trail dumped me onto a road next to some houses with beautiful gardens. My deerfly companions finally bid me farewell as I walked along the road back to the place where I had left my car. Human civilization still seemed to be intact. There was no sign that more than a few hours had passed or that the world was any bigger. I’ll let the cosmologists figure it all out. I give up.
I am still seeing flowers pop up around the yard and around town. Unfortunately, I cannot stop my car just anywhere to take pictures of all of them. These are only a fraction of the total. All these photos were taken in July of 2018.
No, that’s not a flower. Dan, we talked about this.
In addition to fiction and non-fiction books featuring the natural world, Hal Borland once wrote columns for newspapers and magazines. Then in 1967, he compiled many of his old columns into a book, Hill Country Harvest. In it are 136 anecdotes about life on his small farm. He covers science, childhood memories, holiday traditions, etymology, farming, weather, differences in cultural attitudes of the city and the country, and most of all his encounters with the plants and animals of north-western Connecticut. He observes the interactions of birds and squirrels at his feeder, the behavior of swallows nesting in his garage, and the trends in plant life from year to year. His stories remind me of those found in Country Magazine.
I can’t quite pin down why I like the book. Hal is not particularly eloquent. His descriptions are not especially vivid, nor do they capture a slice of life that inspires my nostalgia. He has no detectible sense of humor. His anecdotes are not particularly insightful, unusual, or exciting. They are so simple as to be almost boring, but something keeps them just above that line.
I think what caught my imagination was the idea that if he can be successful with such a venture, so can I. Hal reminds me a lot of myself. He has taken a relatively normal life and picked out the best parts, ordering them like a sequence of adventures. Thinking about my time in Rhode Island so far, I realize I definitely have enough material to start a similar book. I am going to start keeping a journal. I might have a relatively normal life, but it is real, and nothing about me can ever be boring. I’m my own favorite subject.
There’s a lot that happens to me that doesn’t quite rise to the level of what I normally put on the blog, such as the time I saw the rabbits in the yard, the rainbow at sunset, the hummingbird, the deer, the woodchuck, the Baltimore oriole in the lilac tree, or my take on all the local coffee shops around here. These will go in a book.
What could possibly be better than getting gifts? Unwrapping them of course! Imagine unraveling a ball of strip paper to find a prize at the center and you have just imagined a surprise ball. You might find a finger puppet, a marble, a ring, stickers, or even candy – it doesn’t matter; IT’S ALL WRAPPED UP IN PAPER! Once a fifties fad, the novelty gifts are making a comeback, the current incarnation sold by TopsMalibu.com.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.