A Ragged Mountain Romance

To Find A Trailhead Nearest You Everyone in Connecticut should claim some part of the blue-trail system as his or her own. Most residents live less than 30 minutes away from an official trailhead. You donít need to wait for the economy to turn around to plan your getaway. Pick up a copy of the official blue-trail guidebook, The Connecticut Walk Book, or visit www.ctwoodlands.org for more information. by Chris Siloac

On a particularly lonely Saturday in early spring, I hike up Ragged Mountain as twilight nears. The din of a chainsaw chewing through trees in the neighborhood below accompanies the first stretch of my ascent. I consider turning back, but then the trail swings to the right, and I'm surprised by the sound of spring peepers. Each step I take along the muddy path buries the growl of the chainsaw deeper beneath the pulse of the music. Crickets, bullfrogs, ducks, and dogs join the peepers in song, and the newly budding trees pick up the tune and echo it all around me; I can't tell if I I'm heading towards the music, or if the music is rushing towards me. When I find the vernal pool that the peeper choir uses as a cathedral, I'm no longer worrying about what I'm going to do on a Saturday night. My loneliness has scurried away.

Ragged Mountain, a hunk of traprock ledges and woodlands, rises 761 feet out of the Connecticut River valley. With such modest elevation, its name seems like little more than a Yankee boast, yet the trailhead greets hikers with an ominous notice from the South Kensington Fire Department: "Be prepared before you enter. Every year we have to perform numerous search and rescues." The first time I saw this sign, I counted myself firmly among the lost and stranded. After separating from my girlfriend, I had moved into a studio apartment not far from the mountain. I had lost my romantic partner and faithful hiking companion. Walking through the woods without her felt like wandering around the apartment we had shared; everything held a memory.

The first time I went up Ragged Mountain alone, the past kept pace with me. I recalled that one of our first fights occurred there, on that soggy part of the six-mile loop, where scenic views give way to deep woods and ambushing mosquitoes. Our respective positions in that afternoon skirmish only became more entrenched as the years passed, and now I wanted relationships to come with a handy hiking guide to give me the lay of the land: distance between landmarks, notable fauna and flora, expected elevation and descent. Harassed by these thoughts, I struggled to the meadow-like summit, where bees zoomed through the long grass looking for flowers, and rock climbers' life-lines hugged the trunks of stubby trees. I was struck by how exposed and trusting the climbers seemed, dangling beneath me in their harnesses, feeling for their next foot hold. The mountain gave them just what they needed in order to keep climbing.

Throughout that summer and fall, I'd make it a priority to hike the mountain at least twice a week, and the more familiar it became, the less alone I felt. Like a boy with a butterfly net, I began to seize its strange language. When I felt trapped and insecure, it answered with a carpenter ant struggling in a spider's web. When I was glum about an upcoming root canal, it answered with two swans flying low across Hart Pond, the tips of their wings rippling the reflected trees in their wake; I'd close my eyes and revisit this image while sitting in the dentist's chair. When I was benumbed by schoolwork, it answered with squadrons of bright blue dragonflies swirling around me, two of them turning my copy of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" into a landing pad; the two-hundred-year-old poem seemed to write itself at that very moment.

I created my own landmarks from the mountain's traprock: two chinese dragons stacked atop each other like the wall of a fortress; the head of a giant turtle gazing out at the hills beyond Hart Pond. With my hand, I traced the raised scars in the rocks, a reminder that even mountains undergo movement and change. One morning, after a year of hiking on my own, I saw a snake skin wrapped around the sharp remains of a small tree. The delicate skin shook with the breeze, and though I was tempted to take it before it blew away, I realized it belonged to the mountain; it was a memento of our relationship.

After the breakup, my friend Todd told me: "You'll get over her when you fall in love with someone else." I guess he should have said something else. My brother lives in Colorado, so he laughs whenever I say the word "mountain." This past August I saw the Rockies for the first time, and though I was awed by their beauty and grandeur, I felt a little homesick after a few days. Colorado's towns cower beneath the chiseled bodies of giants, and the raised roads seem like they could be shrugged off at any moment; distance dominates the landscape. I missed the relatively modest view from Ragged Mountain: the white church steeples punctuating the fall foliage, a hawk hovering over a pond filled with mallards, horses trotting on a splash of green, a yellow school bus winding through a cul-de-sac. The people and the landscape coexist more intimately here, and the separation between neighborhoods and nature is less severe. The Rockies are undoubtedly more spectacular. I'm just not sure they could have comforted me the way my little Yankee boast of a mountain has.

Trailheads Near You

Everyone in Connecticut should claim some part of the blue-trail system as his or her own. Most residents live less than 30 minutes away from an official trailhead. You don't need to wait for the economy to turn around to plan your getaway. Pick up a copy of the official blue-trail guidebook, The Connecticut Walk Book, or visit www.ctwoodlands.org for more information.


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