Thursday, February 12, 2015

Woods, Trails and Maps

Back when we were kids, my brother and I used to spend a good deal of time up our cousins' house.  My Mother's brother had moved away from the city in the late 60s and bought four acres of land on the county line between Lawrence and Beaver.  One of the things we liked to do, when visiting, was walk the trails on the top of their property in a woodsy area.  We would draw maps of the network of trails with pencils and I still remembering labeling the Creek as "Crick".  That's just how we said it so that was how I wrote it.  

Each time I make a trip home, I usually find myself up on the third floor, passing through the closet door into the craw space of the attic.  I look through the boxes up there as if I am looking for buried treasure.  Some times I find good things, sometimes it is just part of the stuff that a family gathers as it goes through time and life.  I hope to one day find one of my hand drawn maps.  Tucked away in a box somewhere in that magical attic.   Until then, I will have to draw a map of the trails near our house in Schramm's Woods.  I have been spending lots of time in those woods these days, walking Ginger and enjoying this little bit of woods.  It feeds my soul to walk in the woods.

At  almost every place we have lived since I left PA and those childhood trails, we have found a copse of nearby woods, that usually have a trail or three, where we have walked our dogs and ourselves through the years.  When duty meant it was time to pull up roots and pack up the house and move to wherever they were sending us.  We would find a place to walk.  Sometimes it would be the urban streets of Staten Island and the little getaway island off the tip of Manhattan named GI, other times it would be the grassy balds in the Marin hillsides of California.  In the three different places we have lived here in Maryland, there has been a nearby woods with trails, that we walked on.

Schramm's Woods is the name of the woods near this latest of houses.  The Schramm's came here I think in the later 1800's and bought the land where I sit now and some couple hundred acres surrounding me.  They grew prize cantaloupes and gladiolas and eventually they raised a whole bunch of smelly turkeys.  When we moved to this current house in 2005, the once huge farm had been mostly converted to a housing development named Farmington Village.  The farmers, had a nice house and barn built on the northern corner of their property and planted some orchards.  They had a few fields still and they would sell their goods at a little market just outside their house.  They would only do it until about 2007 and then they let the field go fallow and closed the market.  I guess they got too old and all their kids had moved on.

So shortly after we moved here, we found the entrance to the woods at the end of one of the numbered streets of our neighborhood.  The woods were about an 11 acre copse of woods with a field on the western side of the woods.  This piece of land now belonged to the county school district.  I guess there was once a plan to build a school there, but it never happened.  There was a paved path that ran from our neighborhood over to the Farmington neighborhood that was used by kids walking to the nearby middle school that sat to the north of us.  That path skirted the edge of the woods, the rest of the network ran north and west towards Mountain Road.  Some of the trails were there when we discovered the place, others we would develop ourselves, as we expanded our exploration of the place.  Most would be "improved" by young overzealous quad riders, who needed to widen the trail for their four wheelers.  So the network grew and developed over the next ten years.  I have grown very close to the woods myself.

My drawing of my latest favorite woods
When we first started walking the woods, it was a rough rectangle of four trails.  In the middle of that small network was a kid build shack.  It was pretty big, and we never really checked it out until it was destroyed.  I don't remember the details.  One day it just went from shack to pile of rubble, to scattered rubble to now, just dirt, some stumps and a few boards.  Nature took back the land.

As I walked the trails with Lisa and Ginger (twice a day at least, the dog insists), I started to give each distinct trail a name.  I picked the names for various reasons, but each name is meaningful.  At least to me they are.  

There is Entry Trail.  The way in, where you break away from the paved path.  Entry leads you to the Traffic Circle.  Where three trails come together.  The quads like to do small circles here and hence the name was born.

I always turn left here.  I started walking that way when I was carrying urbanite to my campsite and in my head it was the shortest route until I could drop the rocks.  Eventually, it became the way to start our walk.  So that trail is named Pine Tree, because it leads to... wait for it... a pine tree.  There are many pine in this forest, most of them are tall skinny branch-less trunks with the needles up near the top, where the sun still shines.  This tree is like a big Christmas tree that is full top to bottom and about 20 feet tall.  

To the left of the tree leads Farmington Trail.  That is where the Boys (playmates of Ginger) come from.  Ginger always checks this trail first for signs of the Boys.  She likes to play with them.  To the right is Field trail, which runs along the field which used to grow pumpkins, but now just grows locust, sumac and broom sedge.  Halfway along this trail the old dilapidated fence opens to the field.  Sometimes we go into the field where the dogs play tag with each other.  From time to time the local hooligans would bring furniture to the field to make their hanging out more comfortable.  It is quite a sight.  The broom sedge also makes it easy for the field to periodically blaze up from someones deliberate act or carelessness.  I think it has burned two or three times since we have lived here.  Luckily it has been extinguished fairly quickly, but the first time the fire entered the woods for about 100 feet.  

Also at this opening is where Paintball Trail heads across the forest to the east.  At the end of Field Trail you come to another junction.  Hill trail heads down the slight incline that gives it its name and straight ahead is Pink Lady Slipper Trail.  Just as you start this trail, Homeless Trail forks off to the left and winds towards my little campsite.  The campsite is where a homeless man had pitched his old leaky tent when he lived there for a few weeks one summer.  When he abandoned the place, leaving all his stuff, I took the site over and disposed of the old tent and blankets.  I have built a few primitive shelters here and have made a fire from time to time in the urbanite fire ring I made when I crave the flame.  

Home less leads back to Pink Lady Slipper Trail.  This trail has a couple dozen of those pretty flowers come up each spring and Ginger likes to smell them.  PLS Trail circles around, where Schramm's Trail heads north to their old road and the house and barn, and comes to a well established trail that has some bike jumps dug out of the soil.  There are also a number of large Hickory trees, so this trail is named Hickory Trail.  Hickory leads back toward the bottom of Hill Trail and this trail now becomes Oak Trail.  We also see the other side of Paintball Trail here.  This trail's name is evident by the log barricades and fox holes you see as you traverse the path in the middle of the woods.  The kids have had their battles here.  

Oak Trail leads back to the Traffic Circle and from there you can retrace your steps down Entry Trail back to civilization.  I really enjoy our times in these cool woods.  I look forward to each days visit.

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