On Camden Hills
I’m ashamed to say that before last week, I had never visited Camden Hills State Park. Really. The state park in the hometown of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, which claims Mount Battie and its surrounds, upon which, and about which she wrote “Renascence”:
The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat — the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.
I mean, really. As a writer and reader of poetry, and as a hiker of some nature who has lived for half her life within an hour of this place–that I have never gone before now is appalling. Fortunately, I have a way-cool sister who was perfectly willing to go wandering among the mountain trails in the park with me last Sunday.
There has been a road up Mount Battie since the middle 1800’s, but Susie and I had no intention of driving. Rather, we met up just beyond the campground and started up one of the trails leading from the parking area. We had a map–the park attendant at the gate was a most helpful woman–but one of the first things we noticed was that, though the park lays claim to some 30 miles of hiking trails, they all appear to be blazed with blue paint. All of them. And not very well signed, either. When we left the lot and headed into the woods carrying water and trail mix and apples and cucumbers, we rather thought we were heading up Mount Battie. After all, I wanted to see the tower. We reached one junction where the sign indicated one trail was the Megunticook Trail, while the other went to the campground. We turned upwards. Neither of the choices were the ones we wanted, but we took the most likely.
It was a reasonably challenging trail, not too difficult, but made a bit awkward by the week of rain which had preceded our trek. The dirt was mud; the stones were wet. The going was by turn squishy and slippery. The air was thick with humidity: at one point my sister indicated to me that her sunscreen had melted and was running down her face into her eyes. Fortunately, most of the trail was through deciduous wood, and what sunlight we saw speckled the ground and our faces and arms rather than blinding us. Because we are leisurely hikers. we allowed all manner of people to pass us; more passed us going down on their return trip, including a sprightly girl of maybe 12 who reassured us that we didn’t have much further to go, don’t worry. Yep. We were schooled by a little girl.
It wasn’t until we came out of the trees onto one of the rock-face lookouts on Mount Megunticook that we found an enormous sign, painted across one of those said rocks, which indicated the Mount Battie trail toward the east. We were winded, but it was only just shy of two, so we opted to go on: we could see, below us to the southeast, the auto road snaking up what was clearly Mount Battie–we could even see the stone tower. And quite frankly, I wasn’t about to turn and go home without going up that. So Susie and I sucked down some water and turned downhill and back into the trees.
The Mount Battie trail, from the lookout, heads down until it in fact crosses the auto road; then it starts upward again, for that last push. Still, after getting most of the way up Mount Megunticook, that little bit of up was no big deal. We stopped long enough to refuel, Susie with her apple and me with my cucumbers (don’t ask), close by a little crop of ladies’ slippers–a flower I haven’t seen since I was a kid. Then it was only a short time before we emerged in the parking lot at the foot of the tower. I must say: I felt very much like sneering in a superior fashion at all the people emerging from their cars. We hiked it, people. We didn’t drive it.
I went immediately up the spiral stairs to the top of the tower; Susie didn’t bother. Then we turned and headed back down: on the trail until it crossed the road again, and then down the road to the cars.
I’m still trying to convince her to come up Borestone with us come October.
It being a state park, I whipped out my park system passport at the gate and asked the lovely attendant where they kept their lockbox with their stamp. In here, she told me, turning back to the office. Apparently, people had broken into the lockbox several times, perhaps thinking it held money; so for safe-keeping, the rangers just brought the stamp back down to headquarters. I must say that took half the fun out of stamping my booklet, but what can you do?