In July 2018 I visited Smith’s Castle in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, which is not a castle, nor does it belong to anyone named Smith.
Today it is a museum complete with informative tour guides and a gift shop, but the story is that a fortified, fenced structure once existed in the same spot owned by a guy named Richard Smith. While the colonists of Rhode Island got along okay with the Narragansett people, those in Connecticut, Plymouth, and Massachusetts Bay did not, and believed them to be harboring Wampanoag warriors that had plagued them for years. Since Smith was friendly with the governor of Connecticut, even going so far as supporting the ceding of Rhode Island land, he allowed soldiers from the three surrounding New England colonies to stay at his house and launch an attack from there into the nearby swamp. No Wampanoag were found, and the Narragansett were slaughtered in one of the bloodiest battles of those times. In retaliation, the Narragansett burned down every single home on the western shore of the bay in 1676, including that of Richard Smith, even though it was tucked away in the end of a tiny cove.
Note: As it turns out, the site where the Narragansett were attacked is the very same place where I had seen the swamp monument several months ago and several miles away. At last I knew something of where it came from!
Soon after, a new home was built in the same spot, which survives to this day (though only a fraction of the wood is original). The house stayed in the Smith name until 1737, when the owner having no sons, it was given to a nephew by the name of Daniel Updike, a lawyer and Rhode Island attorney general who was instrumental in acquiring four counties from Massachusetts – Tiverton, Little Compton, Bristol, and Cumberland. He also had a plantation where he (or, rather, his slaves) grew corn and raised cattle and horses. He sold cheese and candles. In 1812, the place was passed to the Congdon family, then the Babbitt family, and finally the Fox family, who held it until the late 1930s.
Each room is packed with much to look at. There are heating jugs for the beds, spinning wheels, and candle molds. I saw the seashell plaster they used on the outer walls. I saw the types of beams used to support the house called gunstock beams, which are wider on the top. The beams still bear the marks telling where each one was to attach to its neighbors. Houses of this type in those days were often assembled at one location, marked, and then disassembled and shipped to where they would remain. It was hard to know what questions to ask, but the docent was very helpful.
Sometimes I just want to escape, forget the human world, and go hide in the woods and smell the roses. This is exactly what I did in June when I visited the John H. Chafee Nature Preserve. There were some other people there, but mostly they were out of sight. The main trail will take you right out onto Rome Point, a tiny peninsula that juts out into Narragansett Bay, so to avoid people I ran down a side path bordered by ferns.
Unfortunately, the first path ran into a stone wall on the other side of which was a swamp. I backtracked and took a second side path.
Both of these paths were narrow due to the thick vegetation on either side. Numerous vines and branches crossed them. There were also highly visible thorns which I knew would discourage the average person. At last I was starting to feel isolated.
Before long, I entered an open area where the trail split and there was a giant rock with a tree sticking out of it. This place was clearly frequented by humans, but I did not see any yet. I bore left and reentered the jungle. This is when I finally found the best place ever.
The path shrunk to almost nothing, crushed between walls of roses and other vegetation nine feet high. The smell was intoxicating. The bees were few and left me alone. The thorns did not catch. I was slow and careful and as I later discovered the thorns of one species were soft! It went on like this for quite a way around several tight turns before beginning to open up just a little. This is where I found the ruins.
I didn’t know what to make of the wall. I went down a side trail and back, finding three deep holes in the ground. I half-expected them to be full of skulls and gold coins, but instead they just contained bottles and cans.
Back on the trail of roses, I was feeling pretty good. I often stopped and looked up. The trees were covered in vines and expertly shaded the forest floor. The path was smooth and mostly free of sticks. I felt that I had found my own private paradise where I could do whatever I wanted, hidden from my enemies. Nobody else came down the path. I wanted to stay, but alas, I had to keep exploring. What existed further down the path?
Eventually, the underbrush cleared up so I could see where I was going and several almost indiscernible paths joined the one I was on. I came to what appeared to be a major intersection. The remains of a car were parked there. I had reached the end of uninhabited territory.
I followed the main trail and soon came to a grassy area of many small trails leading to the beach. This is when I first saw humans, but they were far away and paid me no notice.
The tide rushed in between the peninsula and this nearby island:
On the other side of the peninsula, the beach was all stones and lady slipper shells, nothing else. This is where I saw the “rabbit stone.” Straight ahead is a little island with two houses on it. There were also some flowers:
Having seen enough, I returned the way I came. I could not get enough of the roses. I wanted to stay the night. I was going to move in. That is when the humans arrived. Two humans and a dog passed me from behind. I squeezed past another human and a dog going the other way once the trail narrowed. The thorns had not deterred them one bit. I lingered for a while among the bees and had to move over for yet another human. The illusion was broken. This was not going to work out the way I hoped, but nothing could break the good mood I was in.
Nope, not even that.
The orange one is even more beautiful in person.
It’s not much of a beach, with not much of a view, and according to the signs the water is polluted, but Calf Pasture Point in Rhode Island is packed with interesting stones, shells, and bits of trash that make one wonder just what half these objects used to be.
To get to Calf Pasture Point, I walked the bicycle trail there. On the way, there was much to see to spark interest. There were large boulders to climb or sit on. There were peeling trees. There were flowers. There was some sort of water barrier or something I imagined to be a giant snake. There were imposing piles of dirt in the middle of nowhere. There were a few trails running into the woods I did not have the time to take. There were holes in the fence, some quite obvious and others very nearly hidden. I also noticed that running parallel to the bike path was another paved path completely overgrown and only visible here and there.
Finally reaching the short peninsula, I walked around its perimeter. I found it overgrown with three different types of brambles, the most spectacular of which was covered with red thorns and stiff hairs.
There was a tiny lagoon just big enough to be a natural jacuzzi. There was a lot of red, white, and green seaweed (Christmas!). On the sand, the seaweed had somehow dried into a solid, papery mat that crunched under my feet. In other places, there was rubbery, black, stratified mud. In at least three places, I had to cross streams dumping into the ocean. Crossing one of them, I was surprised when my foot sank rapidly into the muddy bank, drenching my foot in cold water. I pulled out and looked back to see the mud fill in and smooth out my footprint so that within seven seconds there was no sign I had ever been there!
There were so many curiosities packed into this place that I could not focus on any of them and my account is less of an adventure story than a chaotic, incomplete inventory. What I post is only a fraction of what I photographed. What I photographed is only a fraction of what I saw. What I saw is, I’m sure, only a fraction of what was there. In addition to the items listed above, there were also all forms and varieties of litter, every kind of shell (sea life’s litter), and several types of rocks (Earth’s litter). There were even some bones and some dead crabs.
There was even liquid litter in the form of this oily patch:
There was also a hairy shell. Whatever it was that grew on the outside of it put up perfectly regularly-spaced hairs. There was also a sponge and another shell covered in tubes. Other shells were stuck together in stacks.
I found a rust-colored stone that was basically a big lump of rust. I dropped it and it broke in two, revealing the inside to be the same crumbly orange as the outside.
I have no idea what this is. At first I thought it was a jelly fish, but then I thought it could be the remains of someone’s half-digested soup that had formed a skin in the hot sun. Can anyone identify it?
There was also much evidence of a prior visit by the
Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things:
I wonder if the same people might have put all those bottles in the trees at Ryan Park.
If anyone is looking for buckets, ribbons, or large pieces of eroded Styrofoam to play with, this is definitely the place to visit.
The sign at the miniscule Davis Memorial Wildlife Refuge in North Kingstown, Rhode Island is covered with rules. It prohibits loud playing and jogging. My parents always told me to go play outdoors, but maybe in Rhode Island people play indoors instead. The refuge is supposed to be a quiet place to enjoy nature – exactly the type of place one might have a picnic – except that picnics are prohibited as well.
I quietly walked the trails and soon decided that this was one of the noisiest places I had been. No fewer than four types of birds were singing at once and screaming curses at me. Stopping beside the pond, I was repeatedly harassed by a bumblebee, forcing me to break the rules by jogging away. I think it wanted the shore all to itself.
I walked around the short trail loop, but I didn’t see much of note. I did see a fragment of green wood and strange, metal trees with wires strung between them. The map called these “power lines” and the rules also prohibited going past them. I also saw a hanging branch that had clearly broken and healed several times before. Maybe it was all the noise. What a weird place.
Sometimes even short trips to small places can be something special. This April, my grandfather wanted to get out of the house, so we visited Wilcox park in Westerly, Rhode Island. I noticed that in several places the road there split in such a way that I could not tell which was the main route and which was the turn, and road signs were often absent, but we got there somehow. Rhode Island roads are not user-friendly.
The park is so small that one can see all the way across it from most spots within, but this is no mere field of grass. There are interesting trees, flowers, hills and uneven walkways, a concrete-lined pond, benches, and artifacts of historical interest. Right next door is the city library.
My grandfather had wanted to show me “Harry Lauder’s walking stick,” a form of mutant hazelnut that grows there. Unfortunately, we found out it had died years ago. Instead, we looked at a giant birdbath-thing that used to be a drinking trough for horses. Then we walked around the pond before going home. For such a small place, I somehow managed to take a lot of great pictures:
Later at Burger King, I spied this strange, painted stone outside. Could the same mysterious cabal of stone-painters that inhabit Florida have followed me to New England?
The first time I visited Ryan Park, I only found it because I happened to be driving past its northern entrance. I could not find it on any map. It was only after I explored the western half – thinking I had finished with it – that I discovered a map showing it had another side. I had completely missed the main entrance. There were a couple of ball fields but not much else. A trailhead was marked, but it looked like there was too small a space between it and the pond to be worth much. Still, I decided I should at least make a quick check the next time I drove by.
What I found was astounding. Between the lobes of the pond ran a narrow isthmus on which sat the trail. On either side was just enough brush to feel hidden but not so much that it blocked the view. I was soon way out in the middle of the water. It was quiet except for some frolicking geese. This idea of having long, thin walkways connecting distant islands across the sea is exactly how I would design a planet. In some places, the land was wide enough for there to be side trails, which I took. In other places were forests of densely-packed reeds over nine feet high. Around every turn was something new.
I had discovered a world of intense beauty. This was the prettiest park I had been in. It was still morning, overcast, and sprinkling off and on. It was cool and comfortable. There was no harsh sunlight to hurt my eyes or cast dark shadows in contrast. The lighting was just right for all the colors to pop. Color makes all the difference. Moss and lichen were everywhere.
I reached the mainland on the other side and found a complex web of trails that seemed to go on and on forever. The trees still had not grown out their leaves yet since it was still March and so I could maintain a long enough line of sight not to get lost. I could even see other trails from the trail I was on. Here and there were small, black ponds of the same kind I saw on the west side of the park (where I heard the “fairies”). There were also bowl-like depressions of roughly the same size that I thought should have filled with water, yet had not. Why?
I also saw the same green briars I saw on the west side. In three places I encountered them hanging across the trail and did my best to tuck them away so they wouldn’t catch other hikers. This is harder than it sounds. The thorns kept getting caught on the surrounding twigs and the vines were spring-loaded, requiring me to get a better grip on them – a grip I was unable to achieve without getting thorns in my hands. One time, by pulling on a vine and trying to force it through a narrow opening between two others, I unwittingly pulled a branch of it down so that a thorn hit the corner of my eyelid!
There was a lot to see. I saw a pair of very large blackbirds. I saw a cardinal. I saw a tree with a tumor the size of a large watermelon. At the edge of the park is a stone wall beyond which are houses. Most yards have openings in this stone wall with short trails connecting to the main trail. All these people are lucky to have their own private entrances to the park.
I also saw this mysterious writing. What does it mean? Is it a warning? Is it a welcome mat? Is it graffiti? Or did some animal just scratch the ground to clean off its paws?
Passing by an area with several black ponds I again heard the strange, gurgling, duck-like voice I had heard several days prior on the west side of the park. There seemed to be many more voices here. Just as before, every time I approached one of the ponds it would fall silent. I tried being extra quiet and slow, but even when I stayed on the trail, the moment I was visible from the pool the voices would hush. I stood next to one pond for a long time waiting for it to start up again. I scanned back and forth across the sixty-by-thirty foot puddle looking for even the tiniest movement. I wished I had someone else to experiment with to confirm that the voices stopped for them too, but there was no one around at all. Finally, I saw dim, grey shapes in the water. Frogs! They would float just under the surface totally still as if dead, but the moment I raised an arm, they would rapidly descend into the brown gloom below.
Before I left, I also saw a twisted tree and a hole in the ground next to a creek.
By this time I was in a pretty good mood. Then the sun came out and I thought it was a good day for a drive with the windows down. This was how I ended my March.
How did you end your March?
I had been tipped off about the existence of the swamp monument weeks earlier, but decided to visit Walmart for some fluorescent gear first when I found that it was a hunting area and it was required. I was told that the monument at its end was also known as Indian Monument and was erected to memorialize some Indian war from the colonial era, but I could find no information online about it.
Then in late March I decided to first visit Cocumscussoc State Park, but it was difficult to find an entrance. Some maps showed it recessed behind residential property far from any streets except for a single, narrow connection to the main road. Other maps gave it two narrow connections. Other maps showed it enveloping one of the side streets. It was as if the park existed in some sort of quantum superposition of states measured differently depending on what map one used. The northmost connection I was unable to find. The eastmost connection I narrowed down to a small area where every single point along the road was clearly part of someone’s yard except for a single driveway heading into the woods. This was absolutely the only place the park could have been.
I thought I would stop at the tourist information building immediately adjacent to the driveway for some maps and suggestions of where else to visit before I walked up the driveway, but the lady inside insisted it was not the entrance after all. She seemed very keen to talk me out of ever visiting the place, claiming it had no trails, was too dense with foliage to navigate, and was infested with ticks. After looking through the pamphlets, I decided to visit the swamp monument after all.
Heading south on Route Two, I briefly stopped at the Barber Pond Fishing Area. This is a tiny spot on the side of the road with two benches and a picnic table next to a beautiful blue pond. It was nice, but it was too cold and windy to stay long.
Next I stopped at the end of Swamp Monument road and took the trail into the woods. The main trail is a raised, grassy road about a mile long. From there I could only see trees forever, lending a feeling of calming isolation. The only sound was the breeze and my own feet. Most trees lacked leaves still, but there was some Holly here and there.
Only in the final third of the trail does the surrounding area become swampy. Then I saw the monument. It stands maybe 20-25 feet high and is a single stone. On the side it mentions some war from the seventeenth century. It is surrounded by four boulders on which are carved the names Masachvsetts, Connecticvt, Plymovth, and Rhode Island. There is also a flat stone in front giving some additional information, but it is nearly illegible. The place seems very nearly forgotten. I say nearly, because I did happen to run into one lady with a dog while I was there.
From the monument clearing a trail runs west until it skims the northern edge of the Great Swamp Wildlife Reservation. I knew this because as isolated as it seemed out there, I still had a cellular signal and I was curious how close I was getting. I thought that maybe the trail might be a back way into the reservation, which might be helpful to know if I ever got trapped there or something (I really just like to know stuff for no reason). Unfortunately, the trail became impassibly mucky after maybe fifty feet and I turned back.
Nearer to the entrance I saw another trail heading east. This one also skimmed along the northern edge of the GSWR. It was a bit overgrown, but passable, and I made it a couple hundred feet before reaching a very large puddle I was not in the mood to tangle with. There were more leaves here and it was shadier. There were even patches of snow still left where sunlight did not reach. After marking my territory in the name of the empire, I returned to the car.
Since it had been a shorter day than I had planned on, I attempted again to visit a bookstore that had been closed the last time I was there. It was closed again. This is not the only place that seems to have staffing problems and an irregular schedule. There is also a pizza place closer to home I had been curious about that is always closed when I go. Also, Ryan Park does not show up on any map and I only found it because I happened to drive by one of its entrances one day. Now I can’t find a way into Cocumscussoc Park even though it is on the map. I’m beginning to think that Rhode Island doesn’t want me here. At least I found the swamp monument!
I visited Ryan Park off of Lafayette Road in North Kingstown, Rhode Island on March 24th, 2018 A.D. It consists of a broad dirt road running through an open field area in the middle with forest around the edges. The road gradually tapers to a trail as it approaches the southern entrance on Oak Hill Road. To the east is Belleville Pond, which can be seen through the leafless trees in the winter. The park is actually kind of boring, but I had myself with me and he’s very interesting. This is how the park looked through my weird Dan glasses:
I originally took the central path from north to south. Many narrow trails appearing to be bike trails entered the woods on either side. The topography was very hilly – very much unlike Florida. In fact, many of the tiny hills were a bit too steep to have happened naturally and I thought that a mighty civilization of humans must have once dwelled there. No sooner did I have this thought than I stumbled across a ditch full of large stones of roughly uniform size. The race of humans must have been sorters. What was it that had caused their demise?
Further along the trail, I continued to see signs of the artificial nature of the park. If only I knew what these signs portended I would have left immediately, but fool I was I assumed they were only signs of past human activities. There were odd piles here and there of neatly stacked stones, logs, or tires. What was their purpose? Were they territorial markers? Did they have religious significance?
Reaching the southern extreme of the park, I turned east towards the pond. At first, it seemed unapproachable, as a dense border of reeds and marshland surrounded it, but eventually one path brought me to a row of wooden beams sitting atop the mud, allowing me to walk right up to the water’s edge.
There was quite a web of paths running every which way, and if I could not see my way through the trunks made bare by winter, I could have easily been lost forever. It was in this area I saw the first shoots of spring rising from the land in hopeful expectation of the glorious seasons ahead. In addition to pitcher plants by the pond, there were short plants with black leaves. In other places, there were patches of green briars with formidable thorns.
Again heading north, I began to hear strange speech, but could see no one talking. The language was eerie, the words rather like the sounds of a duck or a frog, yet it had a certain human quality to the pattern of speech. I eventually traced the sound to a large puddle, at which point the sound abruptly stopped the moment I appeared. There was no one to be seen. I was quite familiar with this phenomenon from my time in Junior High School. It meant that the hidden speakers had been talking about me!
Further along the path, I came across a baseball cap draped over a fallen tree. Someone had lost it somehow – but why had they not turned back to pick it up? Were they in a hurry? Were they being chased? A short distance further I saw a single glove. Did it belong to the same person? Why were they losing their clothing? What had happened to them? Further along I saw an empty can of diet coke. Now I knew something was wrong. Nobody gives away soda for free. I saw now that this was a dangerous area where unsuspecting travelers might be chased by woodland fairies who would strip them of their clothing and take food right out of their mouths! At that moment I remembered the strange voices near the pond and realized I might already be a target. I would have to be on my guard.
Walking quickly, I crossed a stream and happened to look to the left. This is when I finally understood. A recent windstorm had knocked over the trees – but instead of uprooting, they had pulled up the carpet beneath them – exposing the true nature of the park beneath! This was no park at all! No wonder the trees did not have leaves! No wonder the topography was so strange! It was some demented fairy’s idea of what they thought a park was supposed to look like so that they could trick and trap unsuspecting explorers!
I instantly broke into a run, screaming like a baby. I did not even stop to take a picture and have no idea how it got into my phone. As I tore through the web of crisscrossing trails, I began to worry that I might never make it out alive. That is when I saw the signs. Branches laid against trees spelled the letter “Y.” It being a letter used only by humans, I thought it might be showing a way out of the woods. I also thought it could be a fairy trick just to toy with me and prolong my suffering, wearing me out before they closed in for the kill. I had little choice; I took a chance and followed the mysterious trail.
I followed the path as it ran along the top of a tall, narrow ridge, its artificiality blatantly obvious now. How could I have been so stupid? I passed around an unusually large patch of green briars and went near another pond. There I heard the fairies speaking even louder than before. They sounded angry and I took it as a sign I was headed in the right direction. I ran and ran past more of the signs. I still don’t know how the pictures got into my phone…
At last, I found myself at the parking lot where I had come in and scurried to the safety of my automobile. The fairies would not catch me that day, and I would never enter that trick park again.
A few days before Halloween I was driving through the several towns surrounding the University of Rhode Island. The roads in this area seem to have grown organically like roots with no forethought that humans might one day need to navigate them. Fortunately, my grandfather’s century-plus of experience living in the area guided us home. “Left, left, right, straight, right,” he said. I’m not sure how he does it.
This area has a strange mixture of urban and rural qualities. Everywhere we were surrounded by trees, but there were closely-spaced houses among them. The roads were narrow and winding, yet heavily trafficked. There was nowhere to safely stop and take a picture. The nine-foot, pumpkin-headed being depicted above was actually sighted on a separate trip several miles north of this area. Among the houses are numerous local businesses with creative signs and facades, reminding me of a fairy village. I started to imagine that I might have took a wrong turn into the fourth dimension somehow and I was now trapped driving in circles forever.
Every yard had a stone wall going all the way around it. Some bordered right on the road. Some had fitted stones and were very neat. Others were sloppy. Some had jagged stones and some had rounded stones. Some were made of very large stones. There were even stone walls partitioning lots full of trees and boulders with no houses. One yard had a very deep valley running through it. The topography was always interesting. It seems like a cozy place to live.
There were book shops, flower shops, and antiques dealers. Every other residence seemed to be selling hay, firewood, mulch, or eggs. Returning a few days later to explore, I was disappointed to find some of the stores still without power from a recent storm. Among the open stores was The Purple Cow Company, a gift shop selling clothes, jewelry, cards, joke books, incense, geodes, and various carved figures. I was intrigued by the locally-made mini-houses made from smooth beach stones stacked and glued. Glass was used for windows and doors. It was a fairy village within a fairy village. I also stopped to look at the Tillandsia plants, which look like cute Lovecraftian horrors. Next door is the The Green Line Apothecary, which in addition to selling drugs, supplements, lotions, and providing screenings and immunizations, also has a bar where they sell soda, ice cream, shakes, floats, coffee, tea, lime rickeys, and whatever the heck egg creams and cherry phosphates are. I was not in a sugar-mood (unusual for me) and so I just had iced coffee with milk.
One day I shall return.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.