Other than one visit in early May, work and weather conspired to keep me away from Bliss Hill this summer until August 19 when I enjoyed a full day in the woods. It's been a busy summer, with a little stress thrown in, so I was eager to take a day off to spend some time in the woodlot.
I left home at 8:30 and was in the woods by 10:30. My trip was both helped and hindered by new paving of Route 32 north of Athol. The smooth road allowed faster and easier driving, but the work was still going on right where I needed to turn west onto Warwick road, so I had to continue north nearly to the New Hampshire border where I could turn south on Bliss Hill Road. This short detour was no bother as it gave me a chance to learn more about the neighborhood and locate Royalston Falls, a Trustees of Reservations property I will have to visit soon.
I planned on spending about six hours in the woods and I wanted to keep the agenda simple. I wanted to continue work clearing a walking path I started in May and I wanted to continue the felling of storm-damaged birch that began in March.
As far as I can tell, this woodlot has has been untouched since it was logged-over about three decades ago. So many small trees sprang up under the thin overstory that was left behind that it is now difficult to walk - and even see - through the woods. In the past, I've used a small bowsaw to clear small limbs and saplings as I moved about these overgrown woods, but this time I brought a pair of lopping shears. This tool proved so ideal for the task at hand that snipping branches and small trees out of my way became an addiction. They made a satisfying snap and pop with every cut, like biting into a fresh carrot.
The path mostly followed an old skid trail left over from the logging. It goes from the road about 800 feet all the way to the back southwest corner of the property. I first marked it with green flagging and followed up with green paint once I became confident I had picked a good route. Using the shears, the path became walkable surprisingly quickly.
It soon became clear to me how important a good path can be. In the past, as I stumbled around through the undergrowth I was often unsure of my exact location, and relocating a particular spot could be time-consuming. Having a clear path allows me to quickly locate landmarks and have a good sense of where I am. It helps me become more quickly familiar and intimate with the land and helps me plan future activities within the framework of a better mental map. I've already started laying out a side trail to a favorite lunch spot on an old stone wall and hope to complete a loop around the whole place.
After I was satisfied with my new path, I paused for lunch on the old wall. The property is only gently sloping and relatively free of large rocks for New England so I've been having a little trouble finding particularly inviting places to sit, eat and look around. Forestry feng shui can be tricky. I have a segment of an old wall on the property and at a gap in this wall is a nice flat rock for sitting. As I ate and rested, I looked around and thought about ways I could clean up the woods a bit and improve the view. Eventually, I hope to find a good spot for a fire and sleeping.
After lunch, I fired up the chainsaw to continue cutting down small birch trees that were bent over by an ice storm a few years ago. By the end of the day, most of the remaining damaged trees were down and my wood pile had grown. I piled some of the wood under a tarp so it can begin drying for future campfires or trips home. I left behind any sizable birch that wasn't storm damaged and the area is starting to look much better. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I'm not 100% sure about the species identity of every tree. I'm beginning to suspect that in this one small area I may actually have four birch species: gray, yellow, paper and black.
By the end of the day, I was really feeling good. With every visit, I feel more familiar with the property and feel like I'm making a little progress toward putting my own mark on the land and making it my own. Now, I'm more eager than ever to get back to Bliss Hill.
Before heading home, I drove over to the other side of Bliss Hill to Chase Hill Farm in Warwick. This is an organic dairy farm where they produce meat, milk and cheese from grass fed cows. I purchased a little cheese on the honor system, and brought home a little reminder of my day in the country.