The Great Meadows

Ralph and I walk in the Great Meadows in Wethersfield and Rocky Hill.  I don’t know much of anything about the Great Meadows, except that a Google search turns up the website for the Great Meadows Conservation Trust.  In other words, I’m not the first person of European descent to have discovered this area.

On our first visit, we left a car at the ferry landing in Rocky Hill and drove back around to Elm Street in Wethersfield, off Route 3 and just before the Putnam Bridge.  We turned right on Elm Street and drove maybe a mile until the road was about to pass under the highway.  The road is closed to vehicular traffic at that point; we parked and set off on foot.  Previously, I had spent a few minutes on Google maps working out the route, so I had a pretty good idea where we were going.  Basically, we followed the road and went nowhere marked as “Private, no trespassing.”  We kept the river on our left; three miles and an hour later we arrived at the ferry landing.

The first half of the walk took us along the river; the second half passed through abundant farmland and woods.  Sometimes we park at either end of the route, walk in as far as we’re comfortable, turn around, and walk back out.  We start from Wethersfield if we want to see the river; we start from the ferry landing if we’re interested in the farmland.  (The ferry landing, of course, is an experience in itself; perhaps I’ll describe it another time.)

This time we parked at the ferry landing (we could have parked, a few hundred feet down the road, near where the road is closed to cars).  We walked past the barricade and down a full-width dirt road, surrounded by woods.  The river was to the east, out of sight beyond the trees, and it was all trees on the other side, too.  The birds were chirping and leaves were beginning to fill out the trees.  No doubt, the area is home to many birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

A few hundred feet down the road, the view opened, first on one side and then all around, and we were in the midst of farmland.  The riverbank was perhaps a quarter of a mile away, obscured by trees.  To the left, the horizon was defined by trees in the distance as the land rose gradually from the river to the Silas Deane Highway in Rocky Hill.  The view was dominated by flat farmland, some planted with sod, some lying fallow, some recently plowed and waiting to be planted.

It’s another world.  We expected to see Gary Cooper turning the earth behind an old workhorse with a single-blade plow.  Instead, it was just peacefulness, a breeze and the warmth of the sun as life went passively on its way.  A few people were out there; a guy with a gray beard, riding some kind of powered road bicycle; a 250-pound shirtless guy running down the road, and one or two others walking and taking in a world we don’t see from day to day.  An eighteen-wheeler came through at ten miles per hour, likely there to pick up a load of sod for delivery to someone’s about-to-be front lawn.

Gary Cooper is long gone from these parts, replaced by modern farmers.  They work the land with modern equipment and technology and old-fashioned common sense.  They manage the planting, they monitor the conditions and adjust what they can, and they wait for Mother Nature to do the rest.  They rely on the rest of us to leave this place alone as we pass through.

Is it dangerous in the Great Meadows?  Some people, more familiar with it than I, probably would laugh at that notion.  But for a city person who takes comfort being in the midst of people, the Great Meadows might be a bit intimidating.  No Dunkin Donuts out there.  We were alone.  It wasn’t clear where to go for help and although I doubt it was true, it felt as though my cellphone would have shown no bars.  The occasional passerby approaching from down the road there can stir a twinge of apprehension if you wonder about their motives.

But, no, it isn’t dangerous.  The open space and the luxurious fields are more like an expansive lawn than a threatening jungle with sinister vines or large animals. It could be a grossly oversized polo field.  There are no 18th century highwaymen lurking in the cluster of trees ahead, waiting to relieve us of our pocket watches.  No, this land is lovely, and the people we encounter are here, like us, simply for the experience.  The Great Meadows practically compels civility – we’re happy to see passersby, and they are happy to see us; there is a communal feel that arises from sharing this time and place.

Oh, yeah.  No McDonald’s, either.

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