Follow the leaders

I like walking and hiking solo. Peace, quiet, my own pace. But sometimes a guided hike is a good thing. I have a lot to learn about the things I see. One way I try to expand my horizons is by participating in some of the guided hikes offered by the Forest Society throughout the year. The latest one was at the Society’s McCabe Forest in Antrim.

I found McCabe Forest a couple of years ago during a Society program. It was summertime, and the insects were out in force. Now, it’s autumn, the golden time, pre-ice and post-bugs. Forest trails are in style.

The Contoocook River edges the property. The river is lazy and low this time of year, but there’s evidence of how high it can get in periods of heavy rain. I thought about how often I’ve seen the Contoocook during my travels: I’ve hiked along the rail trail in Rindge and Jaffrey that follows the river from its source. I’ve walked the Peterborough Common Path in wintertime with the river beside me. I’ve seen it as I’ve explored Mast State Forest in Concord, just a few miles from where the river flows into the Merrimack.

River and forest, autumn, New Hampshire
Contoocook River, Antrim NH. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

I long ago abandoned the silly notion that if you’ve seen one forest trail, you’ve seen them all. Even a single trail can fascinate me with its changes from one season to the next. Accompanying someone familiar with a property can help me sharpen my powers of observation. How could I walk right by a mahogany-colored mushroom of majestic dimentions? I would have, without a guide. It would have been just a random thing blending in with the fallen leaves.

Fungi on the forest floor, dwarfing the leaves

People living in a house at one edge of the property enjoy a view that many of us might envy, with no sign of where the backyard ends and the Forest Society land begins. The “border,” such as it is, is figuratively afire with a very attractive shrub that is unfortunately an invasive nuisance. Burning bush is an apt name for it, with leaves whose color stands out from everything around them. Originally imported as an ornamental, burning bush has escaped garden plots all over the state and now crowds out native plants. In fact, it’s now a prohibited species in New Hampshire, so don’t try to buy it. In my own town, it’s one of several hard-to-control invasives on our Conservation Commission properties.

Burning bush, a invasive ornamental plant
Burning bush, attractive but invasive

These Forest Society hikes feature informal lessons on natural history, geology, and the people who have lived in the area. (If you’re ever on a Society hike with Dave Anderson, settle in for some good storytelling.) Also, it’s fun to meet people who share an interest in New Hampshire’s natural beauty. Keep the Forest Society in mind if you’re looking for guided-hike ideas. You’re bound to come across something interesting.

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