I took a daypack and headed out. Can’t get up to the Whites, so I did the next best thing and took to the woods of Deerfield. I went up Ben White Road, which is nothing more than an overgrown track. It used to be the road up to (surprise) the house where Ben White lived, somewhere back in the nineteenth century. A family called the Batchelders lived up there, too. There are two old cemeteries along the road, both of them empty. Well, almost. The graves were moved to a nicer cemetery in the center of town, but I have it on good authority (the town historian, who happens to be my cousin) that a distant relative of mine is still buried up there in one of the two cemeteries. Ephraim Flint was just a baby, and had only a fieldstone marker with nothing on it. I’m not sure if it was because they just couldn’t find him or what, but his grave was never moved.
So I walked past the tumbled stone walls which imprecisely mark this hallowed ground, and nodded g’day to Ephraim, wherever he may be. There’s a stone bridge going over the brook just before Ben White Road climbs the hill towards Steve Hicks’ property. The bridge has fallen down, reduced to a treacherously narrow strip of dirt that you cross at your peril. But you can still see the huge granite slabs that they used to build the bridge. Never ceases to amaze me how they built such a thing with just the sweat of humans and animals, and a knack for engineering.
I don’t cross that bridge. Instead, I cut off to the right and bushwhack my way along the brook up to Saddleback Mountain Road. This is how I make my way to our local CSA, Saddleback Mountain Farm, run by Wilmer Frey. Boy, does that man know how to grow a garden! So far this year we’ve had big heads of lettuce, fat cukes, broccoli and cabbage, rainbow bunches of chard and fragrant bouquets of basil. Food, glorious food, just as delicious and wholesome as it comes.
But I wasn’t going to the CSA that day. I continued up the road towards where NHPTV has their station on the top of Saddleback. There’s a ledge up there with my grandparents’ initials carved in it, and that’s another whole story. I didn’t go up that far. There’s a trail that forks off to the left, the Parsonage Woods trail. It’s a boy scout project, and takes you across Saddleback and down to Northwood Meadows State Park. That’s where I went. There’s an outlook at the height of land. I stood for a moment gazing at those distant, hazy peaks. Later, I thought. Someday soon.
My destination was Demon Pond, tucked into the woods to the east of Northwood Meadows Lake. There’s a trail that goes partway around it. It was a beautiful day, and I had all day to get there, so I took some time to explore some of the side trails, mostly just snowmobile paths and logging roads. I got myself good and lost. In fact, I ended up stumbling into the swamp behind the Northwood Transfer Station, startling a deer in the process. She tore off right in front of me, and I thought she might have had a wee companion, but the grass was too high to be sure.
Well, I backtracked and followed the sound of traffic and finally managed to get myself out onto Rte 4, my legs scratched up and deer flies orbiting my head in clouds. But I was in a good mood, chuckling at my own folly, because heck, it was a beautiful day and I was out walking with a pack on my back. I hiked in through the main entrance to Northwood Meadows State Park, past the inevitable folks with dogs. Everybody goes there with their dogs. I used to, back in the day. Only have one dog left now, and he complains after about a mile of trekking. So I leave him behind to lay on the steps and dream of younger days.
It was about two in the afternoon when I finally found my way to the trail by Demon Pond. I reached the end of it and kept going. No destination in particular in mind, but I knew I’d recognize the spot when I found it. I stepped over brush and fallen trees, ducked under low-hanging hemlock branches, the pond always to my right. Then I came out to a gentle slope down to the edge of the water. This was it.
Demon Pond is pretty shallow. You could barely sink a body in it. There’s some stretches of open water, but most of it is covered with lilly pads. They were in full bloom. Lovely white blossoms floated on the surface near bright yellow ones like bowls on green sticks. And the air was thick with dragon flies. They darted and zipped and hovered, coupling and rattling their wings and dipping their abdomens in the water in the glorious act of making more dragonflies. As a result of all those dragonflies, there was nary a skeeter to be found. Nor any deer flies, hallelujah. I hate deer flies with a blue passion. With apologies to my Buddha nature, I feel immense satisfaction when I manage to smack one of those bastards and end its buzzing, maddening life.
So I found a perfect spot, right at the edge where the checkerberries and pine needles segue into eelgrass and muck. A big pine shielded me from the rays of the sun, which was pretty hot at that point. The breeze was heavenly. I cleared off sticks and pine cones and dropped my pack, digging out my old poncho. It’s heavy, army green plastic, the hood long gone and repairs made with duck tape. But I pack it because it’s great to sit on, and still provides a goodly amount of protection should the weather turn foul. I wore it huddled on White Ledge near Chocorua during a thunderstorm during my crazier days of irresponsible youth. Damn fool, watching lightning strike yards away, whooping like an idiot.
That afternoon by Demon Pond I sat in peaceful contentment, eating the sandwich I’d planned on eating a couple of hours ago, before my detour through the swamps of Northwood. It tasted all the better for the delay. When I finished eating I drowsed a bit, then sat up and stretched. Time for a bit of contemplation.
I got myself situated, legs crossed as best I could, towel folded under my backside, and I took in the pond. Sunlight glinting off the water, a brook splashing into it somewhere roughly across from me. Enormous tadpoles sunning themselves on submerged sticks, salamanders hanging in the the water, crows conferring somewhere in the woods, other birds piping up from time to time: winter wren, some sort of warbler, oven bird, woodpeckers, the omnipresent chickadee. Jays being rude and arrogant. Something breaks the surface. Can there really be fish in this oversized puddle?
I am here. My mind keeps throwing thoughts at me. There’s a worry. Stuff I need to do. Now my stomach tightens as something painful surfaces. Busy little brain, refusing to be still, running like a pack of spaniels all over the place. Patiently I guide my focus back to the present moment, my breath slipping in and out, the present scene spread out before me. Aware of my thoughts as I am aware of the sounds. Can’t keep from hearing them, just let it happen. Watch and listen. Be. Just be. Aware. Alive. Present.
Busy little mind reminds me I’ve got troubles. That’s true. There’s an awful lot of suffering in the world, and I’ve got my piece of it to be sure. We cause an awful lot of our own suffering by clinging to things that can’t last and don’t really satisfy, by railing against things we can’t change, by worrying and agonizing over the way things are, or aren’t. We let the bad poison the good. Fear of what might happen prevents us from appreciating what is happening.
I focus on this moment, where there is peace. I can take this peace with me, take the strength it gives me, and walk back home. Yes, all those fears and problems will still be waiting for me. I’ve got a difficult path ahead of me. But if I focus on each step, and just that step, if I keep striving to be open to others, to practice kindness and compassion, to avoid acting out of fear or anger, I can handle whatever catastrophe life throws at me.
And when I need to, I can come back to sit in quiet contemplation by Demon Pond.