Blog 21: If Trees Could Talk Would You Listen?

I came to the woods late in the game. Trees, now my guides, beckon and enlighten. I swear they talk to me. And I am learning to listen. I know that teachers appear at unexpected times and in surprisingly varied disguises. They don’t always stand at a chalk board in sensible shoes. They can be towering pines or twisted scrubby oak.

And I’ve always heard when you are ready, the teacher is there.

During a walk to Lobsterville Beach, I suddenly feel the need to take a sharp right turn into one of my favorite land bank spots. I park and pat myself on the back for realizing I need not to be in the open space of sun and sky, but cradled in the quiet of my own mini Muir Woods.

I get out of the car and for some reason, even though I hate maps, I walk up to the glassed-in case thinking for once I will plan my route. I have always resisted reading maps. I’m not sure if my disdain comes from the small print and my weak eyes or some kind of dyslexia or my childhood experience of someone yelling at someone, “quick just tell me where to turn, can’t you read the damn thing?”

As I stand there I actually become dizzy. My vision blurs and I have the distinct revelation that I have an actual fear of maps. Then I hear the unmistakable roar of a giant lawn mower.

Darn it, I think. I came here for silence. And I need my trees. Oh well, I figure I’ll go in the opposite direction. I climb up the hill, wave at the fellow and he cuts his engine and approaches me.

“Hi, gorgeous day,” I say.

“Sure is,” he says. “Sorry for the noise. I just started the job.”

“No problem,” I say. Why make the guy feel bad. “I’ll just go on down to the beach.”

“Well, wait a minute,” he says. “There are lots of really great walks I can turn you on to. Do you have a conservation lands map?”

“Oh, I’m not good with maps. Thanks anyway.”

At this point I am talking to his back as he heads to his mower. I watch him climb up, rustle through some stuff and come back unfolding a huge Atlas-type of thing. He proceeds to spread it out on a nearby flat rock. He is just about to begin his lecture when I say, “really I can’t read these things. So I’m kind of useless.”

He continues undaunted. “See this here? We just bought all this land right here.”

His finger traces along an edge of the paper as he looks up to see if I am following. Of course I am not following. I am gazing off into the middle distance. But he perseveres. “See this,” he says. “I just finished mowing there, so this one is absolutely gorgeous. You just have to drive to Outermost Inn. You know where Huey’s place is, right?”

“Yeah, it’s beautiful there,” I say, trying to let him know I have no intention of going.

“Well, you’ll have to park your car at the end at the town lot and then walk, but the walk is nothing.”

I interrupt him. “Actually, I’m all set. I’m just gonna stroll on the beach.”

He continues: “If you don’t want to do that one, have you been out to Chappy recently? We just got this, what’s her name, I can’t think of her name, but she donated all this terrific property so now you can go from here to here.” He travels with his pointer finger across green and blue and brown blobs. “It’s spectacular there now.”

The thrill of a lifetime, I’m thinking, would be getting away from this man. Pretending to be interested, I’m actually plotting my escape. The dude is relentless. Somehow I’ve wandered into Map Reading 101, a course I have managed to avoid my whole life. Why doesn’t this guy hear me? Why doesn’t he get that I’m not going on any of his walks?

And then it hits me. When you are ready the teacher is there. He’s the teacher. Funny, I hadn’t thought I was ready. I never do. This happens to me all the time. Why do I forget? Hello. I was the one who had wanted to go into the woods. I was the one who happened to have some extra time. I was the one who approached him first. And here next to the rock with the map spread out with sunlight shining and illuminating all the words so I can actually read them, is a patient professor so anxious to share his joy and his passion. I gulp and I stop my stupid resistance and fall into the reverie he has offered me right from the start.

Turns out, it’s not just a map. It’s a travel brochure with great writing, and with trails I never knew existed and long lovely narratives like this one: “The property’s dozen roadside acres are grassy and hilly; notable is the white oak near the hilltop with its stately crown...geologists will especially like the red trail in the woodlands as it follows the crest of a long esker.”

I have to look up esker. It’s a long winding ridge of stratified sand and gravel occurring in formerly glaciated regions.

Here is another description: “The corridor is profuse; nesting songbirds are abundant, and include yellow warblers, redstarts, common yellow throats and oven birds. Footbridges span the brook which drains into Chilmark upper pond easing hikers into habitats which would have been too dense or remote to visit.”

There are 61 of these walks, 61 descriptions, 61 new places for me to explore. So once again, no sensible shoes, no chalk board, not even a talking oak. This time the teacher is an enthusiastic Vineyard Conservation guy. I write this so you will help me remember.

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