10 km., 2 h 15 m
This was just a gentle walk in the woods on a sunny Saturday. Spring got started two days ago with the passing on the equinox, and I wanted to see if there was any sign of it in the woods. So I packed up a thermos of tea and headed to Norwich.
Two days ago I acquired a new Norwich trail map and stretched across the middle of that town is the Bill Ballard Trail, snaking along next to Charles Brown Brook. I had been on one short section of this trail about a year and a half ago, to help work on Luke Kraus's Eagle Project, and had always meant to get back to it.
The path coming out of the parking lot was glazed with ice, so I strapped on my "Stabilizers". These are a walking version of crampons. There look a bit like oversize Teva sandals, except that you wear them over your boots, and on the business side they have quarter inch track spikes. Will gave them to me at Christmas a year ago and I have never really had the chance to use them -- but today they were the perfect solution to the trail's ice.
Beyond the trail head I passed the "Norwich Pool". This is a place where the brook is dammed up in the summer into a community swimming hole. The changing room and picnic benches are ice encrusted, and it seems hard to believe that in three shorts months it will be the end of school and after a hot day the plunge will be tempting. Right now the pool is drained and there is a tangle of sticks below the diving platform, left from an autumn flood, and frozen in place for a few weeks more.
Now the trail really becomes a trail and plunges into the woods. Here the trees are hemlock and white pine, and even though the day is bright it is cool and dark at the bottom of the ravine. The trail clings to the valley's walls as I make my way upstream, and my stabilizers prove their value by keeping me from slipping into the brook.
This is Charles Brown Brook, but it is doesn't have the dower voice which you associate with Charlie Brown. Rather is chatters and laughs, more like when the peanuts gang is off to a party or is joyfully playing. "Come on in!" it calls, but I'll resist the voice - at least for a few months more.
The trail raises and passes an old dam from I know not when. The dam has been broken for half a century or more. Behind it is now a marshy beaver meadows full of frozen cattails.
The valley of Charles Brook is now a bit broader and the trail follows a ridge ten meters above the water. But every time a side stream flows down to join the main brook the trail needs to swerve to the south to find a spot to cross these little ravines. It is here that I cross Luke's Eagle Project Bridge. I stop and inspect it. I remember when we first build a temporary frame in this stream to hold the main members in place while an A-frame support was pieced together. The troops spent many hours hauling in all this lumber on our backs. But the bridge looks great and hardly a day older then when we finished it!
One thing which I find so striking about the bridge is that there is over seventy centimeters of solidly packed snow on the treadway. I have stayed on the path because I am without snowshoes and a few exploratory steps off the path have told me that the snow in the woods is deep. I think it must generally be about a meter thick in most places.
I cross the abandoned "Brown Schoolhouse Road", about half way up the trail. Is this the same Brown family the Brook is named after? I have about two to three hours to walk this afternoon, and it has only taken me forty minutes so far, so I committed myself to going the whole length. The path plunges back to waters edge where the voices are still calling, but I stride on. A trail sign tells me that the "Grand Canyon" is up ahead and I am curious as to what geologic feature of Norwich could claim such a title.
The "Grand Canyon" is undoubtedly the biggest side stream and deepest ravine along this trail. At its deepest I think it may measure between three and four meters, and perhaps it is as much as six meters wide. But the water is not just laughing here, it shouts and roars as it cascades down over the rocks.
The trail followed the canyon for awhile and so left Charles Brook behind and I found myself in a hardwood forest, primarily maples and birches. Because of the lack of leaves the day is much brighter and a lot more still here. I passed an old massive red pine with its heart rotten out. A porcupine had taken up residence in the hollow, as was attested by the pile of dropping on his threshold. With the last few warm days and some snow meltage the accumulated droppings from the whole winter are sure indicator of the occupant.
I cross a few small bridges which I'll remember for potential places to stop for tea on my return walk. All the logs in the woods are buried under the deep snow, but the handrails of these bridges are at an almost perfect height for a bench.
At last I find myself climbing up on Beaver Meadow Road. But the road is not as interesting as the woods, so I turn back and head down stream almost immediately.