It began as a hike like any other. We met at the trailhead and slung our backpacks on our shoulders and pulled our sunglasses down to block the blinding autumn sun, while relishing the warmth. We started one way, and then abruptly changed our minds; we would walk straight up the big ascent first: a classic dirt road lined with old oak trees in their foliage triad of green, yellow and red. One foot after the other, we trudged up a dirt road alongside an electric fence until we came upon the local residents: a herd of dark, black cows, grazing lazily in the sunshine on the shores of their pond. Between the foliage, the hill and the cows, we could only chuckle to ourselves about the “Vermontiness” of it all.
We kept on walking, heading under the fading canopy. Our once dirt road became filled with a thick layer of fallen leaves and we began to drag our feet. The swooping leaf noise overpowered any conversation, and all one could hear was the giggling of two girls traipsing about through the woods. Only 20 minutes into our hike and we had left our adult lives filled with responsibility and anxiousness and transformed into young girls jumping through a leaf pile our fathers had raked for us. Life was simple again and all we had to do was focus on not tripping on the rocks hidden underneath the leaves … and not kicking what we (okay, I) thought was a super cool mushroom. Instead of poofing spores into the air as I had anticipated, my sneaker slid through the gooey grey substance. I had purposefully stepped in the oddest bear scat I had ever seen. Eeewwww.
We came to a random trail marker and left the main dirt road for a narrow, more rugged path around the top of the hill. It was the kind of path that meandered around so much that you could no longer tell which direction you were facing or going, so you just kept moving along. It was my first time on this route and I hadn’t even looked at a map beforehand, leaving me at the mercy of my companion as she told me stories of previous excursions through these woods. As I listened to her description of meandering around fallen logs and climbing through the thick canopy, she paused and broke off the trail. My guide had noticed something new — the fallen leaves had revealed a mountain ridge across the valley and a little exploration revealed an even greater winter season vista to come.
Our now single track path continued to meander, as did our thoughts. Conversation bounced quickly from a completely scientific analysis of a ginormous barkless tree to anxious expressions of how our little pandemic bubble would adjust with the change of season. We noticed some potentially excellent skiable terrain and a quiet little zone that would be perfect for a reading break mid-summer. In the woods, the possibilities of life seemed endless, all our options before us just so long as we kept walking.
And then we rounded the corner … and wow. I should have anticipated something was coming as my companion was barely containing her grin as we headed down a particularly rocky section of path. The sunlight was breaking through the trees but after hours in the woods, I never expected to step out of the woods and into the most stunning meadow. An abandoned grazing field, high on the hill in the middle of the forest with views of rolling Vermont hills for miles. I stopped in my tracks and could do nothing but stand there, gazing out at the majesty of the once green mountains.
I could have stayed there, atop this meadow for days, just gazing, taking photographs and journaling all the different peaceful moments. A young tree making its way toward the sky and an older tree standing proud and independent in the middle. What lucky cows these must have been, to live their lives in such a stunning, hidden meadow, away from the noises of the modern world. The browns and burnt sienna of post-peak foliage mixed in with vibrant reds from a inexplicably second peak foliage weekend made from an absolutely stunning painting of nature.
I couldn’t believe that I had never before seen this hidden gem of Vermont. But then, as we continued along our descent of the meadow, I saw a green marker with a white arrow pointing across the meadow. Soooo many times this hiking season, I have been walking on a new path, thinking I was exploring someplace new and exciting only to come across this same directional sign. I had been here before, many, many times, but from a very different angle, during a very different season and at a very different rate of speed. And in that moment of realization, a huge grin exploded across my face and I burst with anticipation of the adventures to come — snowmobile season starts in two months!!