Needing to kill some time before the store opened, I visited Shady Lea in North Kingstown, Rhode Island on the last day of November. It consists of a small pond next to an even smaller parking lot immediately adjacent to busy route four where it meets route one. In addition to the scattering of picnic tables and fire pits, there is a small brook running around the perimeter and a pretty nice boulder to sit on and watch the ducks. At least, I think they were ducks. It was hard to tell at that distance. I began writing my account while I was still there:
I hear birds in the trees. Birds are often surprisingly hard to find. I can hear them and narrow down their location by sound alone to within a ten-foot radius, but sometimes I still can’t see them. I don’t understand. There are practically no leaves here for them to hide behind. The trees are very nearly bare. Maybe the birds are invisible. Oh, I see them now.
This is a simple place. There are no mysteries here – no great discoveries to be made. Everything is out in the open. There is nothing but trees and stones.
I walk around. The ground is covered in a thick layer of oak leaves. What is underneath? I suddenly step into a depression in the ground and feel my foot go down into the leaves. The leaves are eight inches deep here!
I must know what hides underneath! Treasure? Lost cities? Monsters? Something killed that deer. I have found a mystery at last! I clear the leaves away with my foot. Slowly but surely, I get closer to the underlying substrate. Finally, I see it. Under the leaves are mud and roots. I have solved the mystery!
The greater mystery now is what lies under the mud and roots…
Beavertail Park covers the southern tip of Conanicut Island. Over the years, I have been there several times with family. It is a fantastic place full of geological oddities, including an arch and pools full of pebbles. Water leaks from the sides of cliffs and rocks come in every color and texture imaginable. To the north of the park are trails cut through the woods, sometimes in the form of tunnels with branches wrapped overhead. It is often windy and this is the place I once saw a bird flying perfectly sideways, unable to move forward against the wind. There are also some grassy areas, a lighthouse, and the remains of a fort or something.
I had planned all year to visit, but never got around to it, so when my aunt and mother invited me in September, I tagged along, hoping to get pictures of all these things for the first time. Unfortunately, the problem of going with other people is that nobody ever wants to stay long enough for me to see everything. I left early before I had covered more than a third of the place. Here is what I saw:
Purple And Green Protists:
This Impassible Gorge:
And This Path Leading Out Of The Park Altogether:
Where does it go?
Soon after leaving Blue Pond, frustrated at my inability to find it, I stopped further down the road so I could take the Narragansett Trail past Yagoog Pond at the border of Rhode Island and Connecticut. It was a very hot August day and no one else was stupid enough to be outside. It was very quiet. Never have I felt more alone and at ease about it. I walked for a long time.
The first section was dominated by rhododendrons and descended downhill. I saw a lot of fungi, mostly of varieties I had not seen anywhere else – including just down the road. These walks never get boring simply because there is always fresh variety. This late in the season, the fungi was already dying and being cannibalized by other fungi.
This section of the trail was joined by countless side trails, some of them almost invisible. Some of these side trails also had invisible side trails. It was down one of them that I found a rock cliff overlooking the water. I felt like I had stumbled across a secret lost kingdom that I could claim for myself, so I did. It’s mine now. :P
Further down, I walked along the edge of the pond (more of a lake), which was continuous, smooth rock. After this, I veered away from the water and continued to find side trails, some of which ended in clearings with clear signs of human habitation. Who dares to trespass in my kingdom?
Eventually, I reached the road to the north and decided it was time to turn back. I had to go find a queen to share the place with.
The map of the Canonchet Preserve in western Rhode Island clearly shows two trailheads for Blue Pond off of Canonchet Road. I could only find one. The map clearly shows the trail loop all the way around the pond and return to the road via the opposite trailhead. It also shows a crosstrail connecting the two sides of the loop. I could find none of this. Instead, I followed a trail that began almost as wide and clear as a dirt road that gradually became narrower and harder to discern before terminating in a large field of tall reeds. A small pond was in the distance. I considered crossing the field to see if I could pick up a trail on the other side, but it was mucky and wet in places and I was already hot and tired.
I spied a couple of “islands” in the field in the distance – small hills rising above the reeds, covered in trees and thick brush. I thought how cool it would be to explore them. I could build a secret fort on one of them, or spend all day relaxing in the shade isolated from the world and completely hidden from the outside. I could be king there and pass whatever decrees I wished! I made a second try to wade through the tall plants, but it was just too tough, too wet, and too slow.
Turning back, I went down the only two side trails I could find – one to the right and one to the left. The one to the right gradually disappeared into ever-thicker brambles until ending completely. The one to the left crossed mud and rocks until there was nothing left to follow. In both cases, I went beyond the end of the trail as far as I could go without getting lost to see if I could pick it up again. There was nothing. The ground was so uneven and the vegetation so thick that it was clear there had never been a trail. I had to go back the way I came.
While finding and circumnavigating Blue Pond turned out to be impossible, the trail into the woods had many treasures to share. Seeing a gap in the bushes to one side, I was able to find a clearing with a stone structure. It’s some sort of fireplace. It is very nearly hidden from the trail despite being right next to it. To one side of the structure (not in picture) is a long, low boulder several people could theoretically sit on or lean against to watch the fire. Who built this? Who uses it? Do they know where the Blue Pond is?
There were other signs of human use as well. I found a large iron pipe half-buried in the ground running perpendicular to the trail. It didn’t show itself anywhere else that I could find and there were no human structures to be seen. It reminded me of the wire I found in the dirt at Dyer Woods.
Just as everywhere else I went in Rhode Island in August, fungi was everywhere. I kept seeing new varieties. This yellow, spongy mass was on the underside of a tree limb:
This preposterous-looking being I thought for sure was a fishing lure before I picked it up and realized it had been attached. The top half was very soft while the bottom half was rubbery. It smelled just like freshly-peeled corn. According to Plant Snap, it is an elegant stinkhorn, so now I feel stupid.
I also saw this clear mushroom and this tubular fruit:
Okay, maybe I am stupid…
Here are some other things I saw:
Do you know where Blue Pond is?
Clothing is very helpful. It can protect me from scrapes, from biting bugs, from the cold, and it allows me to carry all sorts of gadgets and things in pockets. I love clothing, but sometimes I wonder how it would be to go exploring naked (I wonder about a lot of weird things). This is why in 2011 I visited a clothing-optional beach for the first time to find out what it was like. It was crowded, steep, and shifting stones filled the water. The next day I visited a smaller beach equally useless. I cannot recommend either. Besides, I soon became so busy I never had a chance to go back. Finally, in August of 2018 I visited the Dyer Woods Nudist Campground in Foster, Rhode Island to see what it was like. I considered it my job as an explorer to learn what people do there. I think it’s probably something everyone should do at least once. This is my report.
Unlike a clothing-optional site, nudity is mandatory there and it is not free. They also frown on photography and I didn’t want to risk any trouble by taking pictures of fungi or trees. As a result, my report is rather colorless. It’s a pretty nice place. There is a pond for swimming surrounded by a grassy slope that people put their chairs on. The people that day were very friendly and laid back.
A decent-length trail runs into the woods around the perimeter of the property that I decided to take barefoot. While the ends of the path where it meets the camping area are covered in hard pebbles, most of the path is covered by moss. It was perfect! In one spot, it passes by a picturesque pond with several boulders jutting out of it. Along one side is a ridge of stone. There was a lot of fungi about. One stump was coated with a tiny forest of tiny, thin-stalked, bright orange mushrooms. Another mushroom must have been at least nine inches across.
There are a few benches, a cemetery, and a hollowed-out mound left by who-knows-who. Not far from this was a wire running across the path. It was firmly buried at both ends and there was no sign of it anywhere else. I was probably a third-mile from any machinery or modern human structure. What does it serve? I forgot to ask.
After exploring the trail, I sat around the pond and wrote in my notebook while dragonflies landed on me. The shore was guarded by small frogs. Finally, I had to leave and this is when I got in a brief conversation with two guys and a lady sitting on the deck. All four of us were completely nude and it felt like the most ordinary thing in the world, finally confirming what I had always known.
Goddard Park is disintegrating! Every rain erodes it away further as chunks of it fall into the ocean. By the end of the century, it will quite possibly have disappeared completely. Hurry and visit while you can! How fitting that even my memory of my visit is fading since I took so long to write down my account.
I visited Goddard Memorial State Park in Rhode Island sometime in August 2018. It is a large place with winding driveways through expansive grassy fields lined with picnic tables. There are restrooms and a golf course. The interior is wooded, with trails sometimes frequented by horses. The western edge is a sandy beach touching a marine cove. I parked near the beach and set out on foot to explore the northern tip of the peninsula.
There were dozens of fallen trees where the highlands met the beach. Many still had their leaves on. The edge did not look sturdy. Gullies and exposed roots were everywhere. Side trails from the main trail simply ended abruptly at the edge of cliffs and overhangs.
I finally reached the seashore where there was a short jetty leading to a large boulder in the sea. I rested in the sun surrounded by waves a while before taking a picture of the way I had come.
Around in this area were additional signs of erosion. Rocks broke into flakes held together by organic matter. Strange pits speckled otherwise smooth stone.
I also saw this cool rock and shell:
There were also hordes of small animals here that allowed me to videotape them. I love animals! I have recently been having problems with my videos such that after taking them they will inexplicably rotate to vertical. I have since bought an app to fix this and I will let you know how it works in the future.
I then headed south along the beach where I saw another animal that I thought was only something I had made up out of my imagination myself when I was a kid – the mysterious sea bread:
I returned to my car for lunch, then took the trails to the south. There were very many branches to the path. Then I discovered this map on a tree! Well, that would have been helpful if it was placed near the entrance!
This part of the park is used by horses and there is the occasional pile of horse dung. There wasn’t much else to see. I vaguely remember a piece of metal stuck in a tree, but that’s it. I soon became tired and returned north by way of the beach. This is when I discovered that animals far scarier than horses also frequent the park. What kind of animal poops rocks?
I went home in a hurry.
Shrooms And Blooms
Just as all over Rhode Island that August, there were mushrooms and other fungi. Most were the same as those photographed elsewhere and I was too lazy to bother this time. There were also a few flowers. Here are the photographs I bothered to take:
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.
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:
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:
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.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.