Some time later, we came upon Grafton Notch State Park, just the opposite side of the New Hampshire-Maine border, and its assortment of trails. At one trailhead, we discovered that a toll of sorts had been set up on park visitors and relied upon a variant of the honor system: in exchange for using the trails, visitors were asked to have purchased a day pass at a shelter farther on. Unaware that such a system is widely established in the northern New England’s parks, my companion and I debated for a time the merits of contributing, as well as the different ways of getting around the policy and the likelihood of its enforcement.
Ashamed but underway on a ridge trail, I found myself, not but a few minutes up, circling a solid stone cube in a small hollow to one side of the path. A foot of water bounded it on each side, a dappled altar beneath the treetops. Naturally, I asked myself whose shrine it might be and to what end and could only guess at the denizens present in these woods.
On these trails, it is less a question walking than of mounting the stairs formed from roots and stone. The way is littered with upended trees in the roots of which spruce and fir sheddings and loose stones have packed down with the years and rain and, which matted as they are, remain caught therein as might a length of carpet pulled up and exposed to the air. When given a thump, they shudder but otherwise prove quite solid.
My attention returned to my footing, and I followed the narrow stairway on up, ignoring installed cables and poles and bolted rungs. This led us in time past escarpments and through birch stands. Pausing for a moment, I noted that the bark came off easily with little work from my fingers. I held a scrap and turned it over, observing first the white outside with black flecks and streaks and then the rose inside, lined with shallow grooves. While my companion took a drink of water, it occurred to me that, lacking anything better, I might fashion books from birch bark and fill nature’s pages with my ramblings.
As we returned to the trail, I altered the conditions of my would-be thought experiment and pictured instead a madman lost in these woods and whose existence would be discovered only years later by the hundreds of tomes which he had left behind, carved, scrawled, what have you, on the boles of the birch stand through which I passed, if, indeed, they had not been washed away with changing seasons. Or perhaps instead, the trees would have found themselves reborn as smoking paraphernalia, much as did a section of birch bark fashioned into a pipe on one of Thoreau’s Maine wilderness outings.
Near the summit, I spied a discarded bottle from afar and sent my companion after it. No more than half an hour later, tired of lugging the thing about, he attempted to pass the bottle to me, so as to free a hand. Yet his pass became rather a toss and then a miss. I could only watch, a feeling of absurdity weighing upon me, as it careened along the rockface, over the lip and disappeared into the trees below.