Thursday, March 23, 2023

Mount Tom Notched


     This may be a case of saving the biggest (and best?) for last. Over time I've posted about exploring the state forests of southern Washington County. All except for one. That would be Mount Tom State Forest. At 1724 acres it's more than double the size of any of the others. A lot to explore so let's get started.

     This large, irregular shaped block of land lies southeast of the Village of Cambridge near the Vermont border. You can drive a clockwise circle around it by going out Ashgrove Road (Co. 67), turning right onto Chestnut Hill Road, then taking another right onto either Lincoln Hill Road or, going a little further into the hamlet of White Creek to access Co. 68. Finally, one more right turn will put you on Rt. 22 back to Cambridge. It's a scenic drive of farms and forests, streams and mountains easily done in a leisurely half hour.


     The easiest way to immerse yourself in Mt. Tom might be a traverse of the Notch Truck Trail. As the name implies, this is a rough road best suited to 4x4 trucks and then only in summer and fall. It bisects the eastern side of the forest from Chestnut Hill Road to Lincoln Hill Road. No 4x4? No problem. This is a fine route on foot, mountain bike or horseback. One other option is to ski it. That is what I did on the first day of spring. It's a nice little trip but not without its challenges.

I risked the travel and am glad I did

     My first mistake was to start from the Chestnut Hill Road end. When there's snow (sort of needed for skiing) there's no place to park. It wouldn't be Washington County if they made an effort to accommodate the visitors that are encouraged to come. A few swipes with a plow is all it would take. After pulling off the road and into the snowbank as best I could, the next hurdle was mashed potatoes. At least that's what I think they call the wet, heavy spring snow I encountered. It's tough to make turns in but doable for straight ahead  X-C touring. 

     A sign, a gate and a gentle slope quickly leads to a crossing of Pumpkin Hook Creek which was flowing busily on this warm, melting day. Then comes the longest uphill of the trip. It warms you up nicely and there's the promise of a fun run down on the way back. Most of the Notch Trail is actually level to gentle grades, somewhat surprising given the rugged terrain surrounding it.

     Broken and bent trees from a recent heavy snowstorm were the biggest obstacle I encountered. Chainsaw work will be needed before the route is drivable. Other than that it was an easy ski until the far end where direct sun had melted most of the snow exposing dirt and rocks.

The Lincoln Hill end of the Notch Trail

     You're at the wrong place if you want precise time and milage info. I gave up on watches and such a long time ago. My best guess would be that it's a couple of miles one way and can be done in a relaxed hour out and another hour back. From Lincoln Hill Road the Notch Trail is plowed for a ways and there is parking where the trucks turn around. This might be a better place for a ski start.


     A few observations: the trail traverses an attractive mixed hardwood forest with lots of hemlock sprinkled throughout. There are small rivulets and pools of water beside the path for much of the way. Rugged ledges and dislodged boulders hem the road in places and there are a couple of unobtrusive camps mid-way, apparently private in-holdings. There may be snowmobiles at times and though ATV's are prohibited...well, you know how that goes. The only other tracks I saw were those of a snowshoer coming in from the south end. Light use seems to be the norm but it's probably best to avoid during hunting season.

Birch, boulder and byway


     The Notch is just one small part of the state forest. Other points of interest include an abandoned lime kiln and quarry, various summits and wetlands, a tree seed orchard and the site of a former settlement. And the Mount Tom that gives the forest its name? I'm not sure where that is. Guess I'll have to come back and try to find it.



Thursday, March 16, 2023

On Canvas & Screen

      Passing along a couple of items on relationship with place as reflected in art.

     The Laffer Gallery in Schulerville currently has an exhibit of over 200 works by Harry Orlyk. Based in Salem, he paints landscapes on location, even in winter, while ensconced in his black Dodge van. For those familiar with southern Washington County the fields, streams and barns he puts on canvas are recognizable old friends.  The show is up till March 26 and Orlyk will be at the gallery on Saturday, March 18 at 6:30 pm for an artist talk. Gallery hours are Thursday - Sunday from 12 to 5 pm. Visit their website and facebook page for more info.

     In Days of Heaven there are scenes of reapers all but lost in endless fields of wheat. These sequences have special resonance for me. Family lore tells of my great-great-grandfather bringing the first mechanical reaper to Washington County. He would move from place to place with horses, machine and crews of men bringing in the late summer harvest. Today, whenever I drive by a field in Easton or Argyle I wonder, did my ancestor from over a hundred years ago once work here?

Still from Days of Heaven

     Terence Malick's 1978 film is oft cited for its beautiful cinematography. It takes place in early 1900's Texas but was actually filmed in Canada. It somehow manages to convey both the beauty and the harshness of the American heartland as well as the struggle and joy of those who worked it. Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard anchor the love triangle plot and there's Linda Manz's unforgettable narration. What's its message? Maybe something that can't be put into words. Something that can only be conveyed thru images and the emotions they provoke. One of the most sensitive evocations of place ever captured on film. Days of Heaven can be streamed and is available on DVD from local libraries.