A WALK IN THE WOODS
“Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path
and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
On that early fall afternoon in 1957 when I walked an old logging road through woods and across a pasture and to the edge of a deeper forest, the path ended and my adventure began. I had reached a place “at the end of the trail” and its
name would become Shabomekaw. In the words of Robert Frost, “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence” and this has come to pass: I’ve written fourteen chapters about Kinniconick and the cabin for this blog.
The cabin and the creek were always central to the experience of living in the woods but I spent uncountable hours walking the sixty acres and beyond, usually within sight of running water and never disappointed by the view. The paths that existed had been there for a long, long time. The Zornes family, the folks who previously owned the property, had walked those trails. Before the Zornes arrived, the McCarty family had roamed these woods for a hundred years. I’m sure the McCartys found paths trodden by native Americans, where the Shawnee had hunted the buffalo and the deer, and long before first human presence the tracks of animals created the trails.
One path led from the cabin site and followed the creek, almost always in sight of Kinniconick as it flowed downstream. It was lined with hemlock trees, ferns and wildflowers. Along its entire length one would always hear the sound of flowing water: riffles and rapids are music to the ear. Two of the oldest and largest trees lived along this path, beech trees that spread their canopies wide in the woods. One of them was at least four feet in diameter and would have been in its spot above the creek when the Shawnee trod that very ground. A special event on walks in the spring was the drumming of Ruffed Grouse, when a male bird beat his wings to summon a female nearby.
On this downstream path, and inside the boundaries of Shabomekaw, stood the ruins of an old, old cabin. I was never able to learn the identity of its occupant, but without doubt it was a friend of the McCarty family and he or she was in love with Kinniconick. The remains of a stone chimney and of the log walls stood on the bank above a shallow stretch of water, about half a mile from Pine Eddy. Further along on this trail the bank steepened and enormous slabs of sandstone rose like monuments, and the ancient rock enhanced the feeling of solitude. After all, those slabs were millions of years old, formed by sand eroded from ancient mountains to the south, then compacted into sedimentary rock, then moved by the Teays River a million years ago. The slabs were covered by lichens and moss, and it was always cool and damp along this magical trail.
I have my good friend Sharmon Davidson to thank for the following photograph, one showing a path thru some of Kinniconick’s geologic history.
One upstream trail commenced at the cabin and followed the creek along an old logging road, with a great view of a small eddy. Another path climbed the ridge, and led to an old cemetery where the McCarty clan buried their folks beneath rustic stones. Some of the graves are well over one hundred years old. From the cemetery the path was steep. The reward was escape and the age-old search for a forgotten past.
If you’ve read earlier chapters you know that my parents loved Shabomekaw as much as I did, and in retirement they spent more time there than I could spare. I was in the whirl of making a business career in Cincinnati and got to the cabin on weekends, but they spent many weeks vacationing there. Dad loved to “whittle”, and he spent many hours on the porch working on pieces of laurel, ash and sassafrass. Hanging on a hook he had made were “hiking sticks”, carved staffs similar to canes, most of them made from sassafras wood. There were three or four beautiful sticks for family and visitors to carry on hikes through the woods.
The geology of Kinniconick, described in earlier chapters, resulted in an abundance of relatively rare wildflowers, and along the trails of Shabomekaw one would encounter such plants as trillium, wake robin, dwarf iris, bluets, lobelia and arbutus. Mountain laurel was prolific, and I discovered one plant of big leaf laurel, closely related to rhododendron, on a hike further downstream.
One walk on that trail was not so serene. It was during a fishing weekend with friends, and after canoeing down to Pine Eddy and then returning upstream Saturday evening, we left the canoe about half-way to the cabin and walked from there. The canoe was up on a bank, not far from the water. Our plan was to go back down to the eddy the next morning.
In the middle of the night a storm rolled into the valley. Thunder and lightning and pouring rain, and when the downpour continued I knew that the creek would rise. How could I ever forget walking that trail, almost a mile of it, drenched by cold rain and seeing the bolts of light in the black sky. The power and the fury of it, the raw side of nature, is frightening but also thrilling. I saved my beloved canoe from the rising waters of Kinniconick that night and it was more than just a walk in the woods.