I’ve moved a lot over the years, but the one constant has been finding a good place to walk in the woods. When I lived in Memphis it was Shelby Farms; in Hallowell, it was Vaughan Woods. Even though I’ve lived here in Massachusetts for 4 years, I really hadn’t found a good spot until a few months ago when I discovered Riverbend Farm in Uxbridge. It’s part of the Blackstone River State Park, which is in turn part of the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor. Quite ironically, it also happens to be right next door to my doctor’s office…which I have been going to ever since I moved here.
Better late than never, right?
There are a number of hiking trails throughout the park, but my favorite is the southern half of the Towpath trail that follows along the Blackstone Canal. The Canal was constructed in 1827-1828 as a way to move goods between Providence and Worcester, particularly to the mills that were established throughout the region during the industrial revolution. (There’s a detailed history from the National Park Service here, along with a map of the park.) I was surprised to learn that the boats were actually horse-drawn; the horses walked the towpath alongside the canal, pulling the boats through the water alongside/behind them.
Eventually the railroad put the canal out of business. These days the canal is full of turtles and fish, and there are also tons of birds, chipmunks, dragonflies and butterflies. It’s a very lovely place to walk, particularly on a sunny day:
I’m guessing the path is about a mile and a half long from the visitor’s center down to the Stanley Mill, so ~3 miles roundtrip (from points 8 to 12 on the National Park Service map). It’s long enough to feel like a substantial walk, but not so long that it tires me out. The path itself is very flat and shady, excellent for walking even on hot days. I also find there to be a good balance between having enough people around to feel safe walking by myself, and yet still feeling contentedly alone in the woods (although for obvious reasons it is busier on the weekends). And while there are occasionally families there with small children, it tends to be more of a grown-up crowd, many with friendly dogs in tow (leashes are required). I assume this is because there are no barriers between the path and the canal, and it would be all-too-easy for a small child to fall into the canal. I have also seen a number of kayakers, though towards the mill end the canal is full of pond algae and I can’t imagine it’s great paddling.
Monday morning I started down the path and met a young man and two women. The young man waved excitedly to me, and as I was wondering why on earth this stranger was flagging me down he announced with a tremendous amount of joy and glee: “We saw lots of turtles!” As I got closer I realized he and his friend had Down syndrome, and the other woman was some sort of aide. We briefly chatted about all the great turtles sunning themselves in the pond before continuing on our respective walks.
I’ve thought about this encounter all week. Mainly, I’ve been thinking about joy, and how wonderful it is to see someone – even a total stranger – express such joy. And how very rare it is that we find it in our daily lives — even though it is there, always, whether we see it or not. It also struck me because I too feel such joy walking here; particularly when I’ve got Krishna Das or Deva Premal with me on my iPod it can feel like a holy place, rather than the remnant of the industrial revolution that it actually is. However, Madeline L’Engle, one of my favorite authors, once wrote: “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God”. Even in my most agnostic of moments I find it difficult to argue with that sentiment.
(In this case of course, God is represented by a turtle, which much to my surprise is apparently not that far off base.)