I was looking through some of the old boxes in my basement the other day and found a 10-page guide to the historic Pioneer Trail in Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown.
Instantly, I was transported back in time to the 1970s, when I'd first followed the trail. Back then, the naturalist at the park, Mrs. Melack, led guided tours and nature hikes on the different trails daily. In her official state-park uniform and hat, she reminded me of Miss Jane Hathaway on The Beverly Hillbillies whenever she donned her bird-watcher’s uniform.
The trail was located at the very end of the road where the nature center, a building that housed a variety of live and preserved plant and animal species native to the area stood, and where the visitors usually gathered for the tours.
As a small group and I followed Mrs. Melack to the entrance of the Pioneer Trail, which was marked with a carved wooden sign, she told us to turn around and look at the flat expanse of land we’d just crossed.
“This is an outwash plain formed by streams flowing from the edge of a glacier that covered the area 10,000 years ago,” she said. “The glacial waters sorted and spread the debris, leaving filtered sand to the depth of 60 feet here!”
We stared in awe at the sand, as if it were made of flakes of gold. After all, it wasn’t every day we were able to set foot on 60 feet of 10,000-year-old sand…unless maybe we were on a big sand dune at Cape Cod. And a giant glacier? Images of a prehistoric version of the Titanic sailing through my town immediately popped into my mind.
A neatly manicured trail wound its way through the forest. To guide us, so we wouldn't wander off the trail and end up impaled on a thorn bush or surrounded by knee-deep poison ivy, the trees along the trail were clearly marked with painted yellow squares.
they inspired the guy behind me to keep humming "Follow the Yellow Brick
Road" the entire time we walked.
Mrs. Melack described the variety of plants and trees along the trail, which we observed with only mild interest. But when she pointed out a big patch of plump, wild blueberries, she had our undivided attention. We were ready to dive in.
“You may each pick ONE blueberry,” she said, her tone authoritative. “We do not want to disturb the balance of nature now, do we?”
I didn’t know about the other tourists on the hike, but I was more than willing to disturb the balance of nature at that moment. In fact, I wanted to take off my hat and fill it with enough blueberries to make a pie…and maybe a couple dozen blueberry muffins.
Instead, I obeyed the rules and picked and ate only one berry…well, okay…maybe three...or four.
I think Mrs.
Melack knew I was guilty of sneaking a couple extras, just from the suspicious
look she gave me when I was the last one to emerge from the blueberry patch. I
thought for sure she was going to demand that I open my mouth so she could
check my teeth for evidence of multiple blueberry stains.
We soon came to a cemetery in the middle of nowhere. Immediately I noticed that one of the old grave markers said simply “Sally” on it. I prayed it wasn’t a bad omen - a sign from above that I shouldn’t have eaten more than my one allotted blueberry.
“This is a pre-Civil War cemetery,” Mrs. Melack said. “You will see the last names Johnson and Clark on several of the stones. They were involved in the construction of the Old Allenstown Meeting House out on Deerfield Road.”
We moved on to an area that had been used as a campsite for the Girl Scouts from 1949 until the 1960s. We then passed an overgrown cellar hole, the only remainder of an old farmhouse where a family named Cate had lived back in the 19th century.
My favorite part of the trail, however, was the steep hill that sloped down to Bear Brook in an area where the brook formed a waterfall that emptied into a deep, wide pool. It was a picture-perfect area surrounded by shady trees. I could have lingered on that shore forever, especially since it was so cool there, even on such a scorching summer day.
Over the years, I walked the Pioneer Trail many times on my own and enjoyed the peacefulness of the brook area, where I’d sit and watch the waterfall while dangling my feet in the icy water. Sometimes I’d take a book and stretch out on the wide banking and read.
You're probably wondering...did I sneak a few blueberries while I was there?
No – mainly because I'd heard that since the property was owned by the state, taking anything from it could land a person in state prison. Also, a few times I thought I'd actually seen Mrs. Melack lurking behind a tree and secretly peeking out at me...even years after she'd passed away.
And I didn't want to risk being arrested for "grand-theft blueberry."
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Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org