East-Central Part Of State, Grafton County. Closest Town: Bartlett. From The Blinking Yellow Light In Bartlett, Go Exactly Five Miles Northwest On U.S. 302. On The Left Will Be A Small Parking Area Where There Is A Trail Sign For Nancy Cascades And Nancy Pond. The Old Growth Is Between The Cascades And The Pond About Three Miles From The Parking.
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The Trail To The Old Growth In New Hampshire Is Not For The Faint Of Heart Or Knee It Is Uphill And Rocky. Many Old-Growth Forests Have Escaped Logging Through Guardianship Or Legislation; This One Survived Because It Was So Difficult To Get To, Then And Now. At Mile Two-And-A-Half, You Are Rewarded With A Waterfall, Nancy Cascades, Which Is So Shady, Cool, And Lovely It Makes You Want To Go No Further. But If You Want To Get To The Old Growth You Must, And Then The Trail Gets Even Steeper And Rockier.
Every Forest Is Unique, But What Makes This One Especially So Is That The Oldest Trees Are The Red Spruce, Evergreens With Short Needles Attached To The Twigs Singly In All Directions, Unlike Hemlocks. There Are Many Slight Variations In The Evergreen Palette, And When You Become Sensitive To Them, You Can See That Red Spruce Needles Take Their Place On The Yellow-Green End Of The Spectrum. Another Way To Identify An Evergreen Is To Shake Hands With It; Hemlock And Fir Are Soft, But Spruce Will Make You Say “Ouch.”
If You Are Seeking A Stroll Through Huge Trees, This Is Not The Place. Considering All The Effort It Takes To Get Here, The Trees Are Not Impressively Large; I Can Almost Get My Arms Around Them. Tree Size, Though, Is Not Always An Indicator Of Age. When Conditions Are Not Ideal For Red Spruce, They Grow Very, Very Slowly. Some Trees Increase Their Stem Diameter By Less Than A Third Of An Inch In Ten Years, And A Four- To Five-Foot-Tall Tree Might Be Fifty Years Old. The Trees Here Are Truly Ancient Some Have Been Cored And Found To Be More Than Four Hundred Years Old But High On This Hillside The Wind Is Harsh And Drying, The Soil Thin And Rocky, And The Growing Season Just A Blip In The Long, Cold Year. Nearby, On Top Of Mount Washington, Where Conditions Are Even More Extreme, Some Old-Growth Trees Are Only Knee High! Persistence, Not Size, Is Their Strong Suit.
And Nature’S Challenges Have Been Compounded By Human-Created Challenges. All Along The Eastern Appalachian Mountain Chain, From New England To Georgia, Growth Rates Have Declined In High-Elevation Red Spruce Since The 1960s, And The Consensus Is That Air Pollution Is To Blame. Today This Seems Sadly Ironic; As I Swoon With Pleasure At The Clean, Green Scent They Release Into The Air, They Suffer From Burned Needles Caused By Vapors Emitted By Our Machines.
Some Of My Friends Cannot Imagine Why I Travel So Far To See Ancient Forests, But Nancy, Who Has Studied Mythology For Years, Says I Am On A Quest, A Hero’S Journey. As I Packed For This Trip, She Urged Me To Take Her Copy Of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, By Joseph Campbell, Who Studied The Mythological Hero’S Journey From The Differing Perspectives Of Many Cultures Worldwide. This Is Not Light Reading, But One Line Resonated With Me: “The Passage Of The Mythological Hero May Be Overground, Incidentally; Fundamentally It Is Inward Into Depths Where Obscure Resistances Are Overcome, And Long Lost, Forgotten Powers Are Revivified, To Be Made Available For The Transfiguration Of The World.”
Am I On A Quest To Transfigure The World? As I Read, I Began To See The Parallels My Friend Had Seen. “The Usual Person,” Campbell Wrote, “Is More Than Content, He Is Even Proud, To Remain Within The Indicated Bounds, And Popular Belief Gives Him Every Reason To Fear So Much As The First Step Into The Unexplored.” But I Was Not Content To Remain Within Bounds. I Had Heard The Call And Wanted To Experience The Ancient Forests Firsthand. My Question Was As Much About How To Grow Old Myself As It Was About How Trees Grow Old. In The Ancient Forests, I Sensed An Authenticity Missing In The Younger, Disturbed Plots. Could The Forests Teach Me Lessons About Human Life, I Wondered? Do Old Trees Hold Clues For How Best To Become Old Humans?
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