Friday, June 27, 2008

Chestnut Mountain

Chestnut Mountain (623') is the 3rd highest hill whose summit is within Middletown, after Higby Mountain (892') and Bear Hill (653'). This guaranteed it a spot in my quest to summit 7 hills in 7 days, even though it is not in a park and has no marked trails. Chestnut Mountain is just northeast of the intersection of Chamberlain and Chamberlain Hill Roads, very close to the border between Middletown and Haddam. The top of the mountain is within a very large, undeveloped parcel of privately owned land adjacent to a corridor of power lines. I parked my car on Chamberlain Hill Road, where the power lines cross. Unfortunately, there were stark NO TRESPASSING signs, blocking my way. While thinking about how I was going to make it up Chestnut Mountain, the sun lulled me to sleep at the base of the signs. I began to dream ...
In my dream, all citizens were responsible stewards of all land, and the world had been purged of no-trespassing signs. I walked north underneath the power lines. The expanse of cleared forest under the power lines is huge, about 100 yards wide, and stretching north-south as far as the eye can see. It has a peculiar kind of beauty--exposed granite, low shrubs, and meadows create a resemblance to naturally stressed landscapes near the tree line of high western peaks in their mid-summer. After half a mile or so I turned west, heading up the hill towards the highest point I could find. In doing so I saw vernal pools and swampy wetlands; it always baffles me how areas near the top of hills in Middletown can sometimes be wetter than areas lower down the slope. In this forest there are also spectacular old stone walls, testimony to the rocky soil, the industriousness of the farm labor that turned the forest into grazing pastures, and the remarkable ability of New England forests to re-grow.
My dream got even more interesting after I reached the top. The clouds obscured the direction of the sun, and I could no longer tell which direction was east or west. I wandered down the slope without trails and without anything to orient me. The forest looked the same in every direction. Would I be the first story on the evening news, rescued after 6 days of eating bark and ferns? Fortunately, this dream was in Connecticut, a state where even if you don't know where you are going, you still get there. In this case the sound of a farmer turning his hay woke me from my dream, and I looked up to see the power lines and the familiar no-trespassing signs. Chestnut Mountain was behind me.

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