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The ghost boat

10/06/04 12:00AM By Alan Boye
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(Host) Commentator Alan Boye Boye reflects on finding signs of abandoned human activity deep in the woods.


(Boye) I turn for a last look at Noyes Pond. A solitary figure sits in a single rowboat that floats silently on the isolated lake. I turn back to the faint trail and follow it. It soon fades to a deer path, and then disappears in a tangle of white and yellow birch, and red maple. Soon I am bushwhacking my way deeper into the forest.

I am walking in one of Vermont's most spectacular woodlands: Groton State Forest. Even though the going is tough, I want to walk completely around the pond to find out what surprises the fall forest might hold.

The woods never smell as wonderful as they do in autumn. Like fresh baked-bread, or the deep soothing smell of a hot cup of tea, the breeze carries with it the fragrance of a bountiful season as it turns toward the bare bones of winter.

After twenty minutes of struggling through a thick tangle of vines, trees and blackberry brambles, I discover I am at the mouth of a low-lying inlet. The inlet has created a swampy marsh of gooey mud and thick branches of fir. I circle around the mud and soon come to a gurgling, cold brook. This is the South Branch of Wells River. Not far from here, in tiny springs and seeps on the high granite slopes of Spruce Mountain, the river begins its long journey to the sea. I step gingerly across the brook on three large stones.

Once across the stream, I push my way through the underbrush trying to reach the edge of the water. I am about half way around the pond, and want to see what it looks like from this angle.

In a moment I stand at the edge of the water. Although I am less than a quarter mile from my car, my bushwhacking struggle has brought me deep into a wild place where few people ever come. The pond now is empty; the fisherman has vanished. The thick forest hugs the shoreline in absolute silence.

Just as I turn to resume my walking, I stumble on the skeleton of an ancient boat, covered in the browning remains of last summer's ferns and grasses. It is a rowboat, so sedentary, that branches of trees have fallen across its bow; and a birch tree, as thick as my arm, rises out of its stern. Years and years ago it had been left here; now the ghost of the boat has nearly disappeared in the wild growth of the forest. The people who last stepped out of it have also likely vanished in the long sweep of time.

I turn back to my walk, taking one last look at how the forest cradles the fading remains. In spring, after the long dark winter, new ferns will grow from the old boat, and the forest will blossom again.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College. He spoke from our studio at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury. His latest book is titled, "Just Walking the Hills of Vermont."
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