Find your Quiet Place in The Last Green Valley

Chief Ranger Bill says welcome

Find your Quiet Place in The Last Green Valley

“Time and space – time to be alone, space to move about – these may well become the great scarcities of tomorrow.” Edwin Way Teale

When I was about 12 years old, I discovered an ancient white oak tree located about a mile from my house. It stood alone in the corner of a large field. With no competition for sunlight, the canopy and branches had spread out wide in all directions. It grew large seeking the sun and was a perfect specimen tree.

The tree must have been over 100 years old and four or five feet in diameter. About six feet off the ground were long and thick branches. I was able to grab a branch and swing myself up into the tree. One of the lower branches was so wide I could lay back on it.

For my teen years and even when I was home during my college days, that tree was my special quiet place where I could go to be alone with my thoughts. I spent many lazy afternoon hours stretched out on that branch looking up into the canopy of leaves in the quiet company of my private dreams and wishes.

I have mostly fond memories of my teen years. Along with my siblings and neighborhood friends we would ramble through the woods near our part of town. We played pick-up baseball games at the nearby school ballfield and basketball at the hoop in my driveway.  Sometimes we would go fishing or catch frogs and turtles in nearby ponds. That old oak tree, however, was mine and mine alone. It was my secret. It was my special quiet place.

Around that time my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She survived breast cancer the first time but the cancer came back within a decade and took her from us when I was 22. That tree was where I would go to be alone and try to think things through for myself. I understand now that the tree was my sanctuary from the unspoken fear and questions of a teenage boy.

The old white oak tree faced to the west where beautiful sunsets would spread yellow, orange, pink and red afterglow over the sky. As the daylight faded, I would jump down and head back home in time for dinner. Mom would ask me, “So Billy, where have you been?” “Oh nowhere, just to my tree” would be my usual reply.

Do you have a quiet place where you go to be alone? I am not referring to a comfortable chair in your house where the wind and sun are shut out by four walls. I am referring to a favorite outdoor spot – a place to think and feel the earth, to remind you that we’re all part of nature that surrounds us, and to where someday we’re destined to return.

Here in The Last Green Valley there are many special quiet places. If I want to spend some alone time with a great view I’ll head over to Ross Cliffs at Old Furnace State Park in Killingly. Another great viewing location is the summit of Mount Misery in Pachaug State Forest. Both places offer spectacular eastern views.

You can also find quiet locations along our hiking trails. I especially enjoy the Nipmuck and Natchaug Trails and will look for a quiet rest spot during my rambles. A log from a fallen tree or a large rock provides a good location to sit, listen, think, and feel the forest.

One of my favorite locations on the Nipmuck Trail is Pixie Falls in Ashford. It is located just off the trail section that stretches between Iron Mine Lane in Ashford and Eastford Road in Eastford. The falls are located at the end of a trail spur, about a half mile from the trailhead at Iron Mine Lane. (Look for a sign for Pixie Falls on the main trail.) The gurgle of the woodland stream falling over a fissure in the hillside adds to the appeal of the location.

If you’re heading out in search of a quiet place for a bit of alone time you might consider taking a book to read, and if you are so inclined, a field guide to birds or trees. I usually take a pencil or pen with a journal or note pad for jotting down thoughts or observations. A pair of binoculars can be handy too. Don’t forget bug spray, sunscreen and some water and snacks.

If you must bring your cell phone – a good idea in case of an emergency – please turn it off or set the ring on silent mode. Give yourself the gift of disconnect from the digital world.

I moved away from “my tree” 40 years ago. Today the field where that ancient oak proudly stood is part of a town-owned farm called Land’s Sake. Totaling about 70 acres, they grow vegetables, make maple syrup, and conduct educational programs for local kids and adults.

I contacted the farm manager at Land’s Sake to see whether that old tree was still standing or had been lost to the ravages of weather and time. He reported that “my tree” continues to stand at the edge of the field.

Many more trees have grown up along the edge of the field and the old white oak is no longer alone, but it stands tall above the others as the proud elder citizen. I like to think of it keeping watch over a new generation of trees and perhaps a few young people as well.

I don’t get to my home town much anymore. If I am, I try to stop and pay my respects at my parent’s graves. Next time I visit, I’ll make sure to visit Land’s Sake and walk out through the field to the old tree.

If my 60 year old body will allow, I’ll climb up one more time and stretch out along that long wide branch. I hope the sunset is still as beautiful as I remember seeing with the eyes of a teenager. When I get home that night I’ll remember to ask myself, “So Ranger Bill, where did you go today?” “Oh, just to my tree” will be my quiet response.

Our beautiful region is filled with many special quiet places. Do you have one or more that you would consider sharing with me? Together lets pass them on to others so that they, too, can come to appreciate the quiet places that make The Last Green Valley so special.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org

(The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the following article.  The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.)

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