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Returning to Trail Wood

7/15/2014

I had been to Trail Wood before, but coming back as a participant in the Connecticut Audubon Society's Edwin Way Teale Artist-in-Residence Program last summer was something I never could have anticipated.

I had been to Trail Wood before, but coming back as a participant in the Connecticut Audubon Society's Edwin Way Teale Artist-in-Residence Program last summer was something I never could have anticipated.

Even now, it is a little hard to comprehend.

Trail Wood is the former home of naturalist Edwin Way Teale, a writer whose work I long had admired. After Teale died, ownership of the Connecticut farm was transfered to the Audubon Society to be managed as a nature sanctuary.

In 1978, while on a camping trip to Maine with a friend Charlie Sullivan and my young son Mike, I had the good fortune to visit Teale at Trail Wood. I had some misgivings about interrupting him just to autograph a book, but Teale could not have been more gracious. He invited us into his home, gladly signed the book and engaged in some pleasant conversation.

Images of that visit -- the house, the room we entered, the bound volume of typewritten notes Teale showed us, and Teale's passion and youthful enthusiasm -- all continued to shine in my memory.

So here I was, going back to Trail Wood under a program designed to promote the legacy of the man I had met there so long ago and who had been such an inspiration to me. It was quite remarkable.

For a week, the sanctuary became my enchanted forest, complete with a cottage teeming with magic and mystery. I saw few visitors during the week, and the caretaker, Vern Pursley, was there only at night. So I had the place mostly to myself.

Enticed by the charm of names such as Lost Spring, Steppingstone Brook and Starfield, I set about exploring the sanctuary in earnest.

I hiked trails lined with picturesque stone fences, walked down paths crowded with ferns and wildflowers, wound my way through thick stands of hickory and juniper, crossed dry brooks and wet brooks, and lingered in the restful scenery of the Summerhouse.

Every morning, following in Teale's footsteps, I took a ritual stroll down the long lane to the mailbox at Kenyon Road. That walk never failed to yield the identity of some fern or wildflower.

One night, I joined a group of visitors on a moonlight walk led by Vern. Under darkness, the forest took on whole new shades of enchantment.

Sometimes I would stalk the woods at night with a flashlight, looking for the eye-shine of animals and insects. The fall chorus already had begun, and the night buzzed with the sound of grasshoppers and katydids.

The beauty and wonder of the sanctuary kept reminding me of Teale. I almost could see his soul reflected in it, for nothing more thoroughly defined the character of his life and work.

Trail Wood is more than a sanctuary, it's a living memorial to the life of a naturalist. You still can see signs of his presence there in the house, in pictures on the wall, in the pond he made and trails he laid out, in the Writing Cabin and Summerhouse, in his library and study, and especially in the books he had written.

To me, that was the best thing of all about Trail Wood.

Ever since that day I met Teale at Trail Wood, I have been taking what appears to be the long road back. It was the road of a slow, meandering writer. When I returned last summer through the Artist-in-Residence Program, it felt like I had come to the end of a long journey.

Richard Weber is an outdoor enthusiast and frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.

rweber@gbta.net

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