The trail was easy.
It offered a clear path through the summertime woods and the thick tangle of underbrush. The edges of the trail were guarded by a wall of thorn-laden briars eager to tear clothing and flesh. Behind the briars the forest was full of face-whipping, eye-poking tree limbs, rocks to trip over and uneven terrain perfect for spraining an ankle.
I had to get in there.
Sure, the trail offered easy, hazard-free walking as I ventured out on a combination trout fishing excursion/nature walk. But the worn pathway was also limiting. Many other have taken this same route. The trail offered the same sights to everyone that walked it, and it led to the same destination.
While most people opted for the ease of the trail, I wondered what was I missing on the other side of the wall of briars.
I raised my fishing rod over my head and gently waded into the thorns.
There’s a method to walking through a briar patch. It requires a tolerance of pain, obviously, but also a good deal of agility. Head for the thinner spots between the branches, go slow and let the thorns gently slide across your clothing, If you do get stuck — and you will — don’t try to push straight through the thorns. Gently turn and twist to prevent the briar branches from wrapping around you.
A few harmless scratches later, I made it through the wall of briars into the cool shade of the forest floor.
Right away it felt like a different world compared to the man-made path I had followed. In the woods there was a comfortable stillness. Giant tree trunks dwarfed low-growing saplings and bushes. The flies and gnats that buzzed above me on the trail had vanished and the hot sun was rendered harmless by the thick tree canopy.
Lacking a path, I had to make my own. On my right, the forest floor was strewn with rocks and boulders as it made a steep descent into a hollow.
The hollow was my destination as it contained a small, shaded stream that I knew held native brook trout. But the rocks and boulders would make for a tough trek.
On my left, the ground sloped gently downward and was generally clear of rocks and other debris, aside from a few logs. I chose the gentle slope as my new path and made my way toward the hollow.
Halfway down I encountered a doe standing in the clearing created by a fallen tree. I stopped and watched as the doe paced nervously to each side of the clearing, snorting and occasionally shooting me an annoyed glare.
She had a fawn nearby and wanted me to leave, or at the very least focus my attention on her.
As tempting as it was to look for the new spotted fawn curled up somewhere on the forest floor, I decided to let the doe have some peace of mind and turned back to make a wide loop around the clearing.
Doing so required me to walk through a portion of the area covered with rocks, and this section also featured plenty of low growing trees with limbs at just the right height for an annoying poke in the eye.
I stepped from rock to rock, and hunched over to spare my eyes and face a beating from the limbs, and along the way I spotted a papery thin snake skin wedged between two stones. This was copperhead territory, and I gently picked up the delicate skin to see if it was left behind by one of the venomous snakes.
It has long scales the stretched in a neat row across the width of the belly, and large, diamond-shaped scales on the sides and back. But the skin lacked the color pattern of a copperhead, so I surmised it was from a northern racer — a harmless but sometimes aggressive snake.
After carefully finishing my trek through the stones, I made it to the small stream. Up and down the stream were small pools in between stretches of flat, cool water. The mud along the bank showed tracks of raccoon, mink and deer, but no people.
It was too far off the beaten path.
As I cast my spinner into a clear pool and watched the little brook trout give chase, I knew that sometimes it’s the place without a path that yields the greater reward.