A longtime friend put out the call by email, earlier in the week. Saturday morning, bring your favorite hand tools, park in the big field behind the house. A dozen or more hardy souls turned up, wielding axes, loppers, pole saws, and more. The dogs played with a stick, chasing each other across the field and through the pond. The hardwoods were showing their true colors, on this warm but cloudy October morning.
We were here to brush a trail from the end of a gravel lane on the west side of Lyme, up through forests and former pastures and over century-old stone walls, to a pretty vista looking out into Vermont. This informal network of trails, criss-crossing low forest hills owned by a patchwork of landowners, is used by walkers, hikers, bikers, horse riders, hunters, skiers, and snowshoers – not to mention deer, coyote, and more. The trails are known only by word of mouth, a generous gift from the landowners to the community. Today, that grateful community turned out to return the favor.
After a round of introductions, with many explaining how their own land connects to this trail network, and how much they enjoy biking or skiing the trails year-round, we set off across the field and into the woods. It was mostly light work, clipping the saplings and brambles accumulated in recent years. The trail weaved its way up and down hillsides, in and out of hardwood and hemlock forests, as the conversation wove through stories of children growing up, grandchildren arriving, careers in transition, and news about neighbors in town. It was clear to me today as it was decades ago – the bonds made while doing physical labor alongside other people, building a community trail, build community bonds far beyond the trail itself.