I don’t play computer games anymore, but I still remember the feeling of joy I would get discovering a hidden section in Commander Keen. I got that feeling on a brief excursion into the woods Sunday. I was going to bushwhack my own short cut-through over Bog Brook back to Bog Rd and pushed past some brush. A new path. New in this context actually means an old path, no longer used, but new to me. Such trails are usually leftovers from a single season when an area was logged. Pickup trucks or other equipment would have to get through on makeshift roads over broken terrain, with small logs packed parallel in wetter patches. It is not always obvious what town road or farm road these temporary tracks are going to lead back to, but the choices are few, so one gets pretty strong clues where it’s headed within a hundred yards or so.
The other clues are the fun ones to read. How long ago was this road in use? How much moss has grown up on the wet logs, how much growth has come up in the tracks? If the trail in question continued in use for snowmobiles or four-wheelers for a few seasons, those clues might suggest different answers. How old are the younger trees in the area? No one clear cuts in this area anymore, so there are some older trees even in woodlots that were heavily cleared, and very old trees in the corners where stone walls meet. The whole place went to white pine over a hundred years ago as the farms were abandoned, so you can see at a glance the places that haven’t been logged in the last century. But new growth forest springs up where there was harvesting, and the age of the first-growth trees is a clue. Witch hazel, pin cherry, and alder come up first. I think I know those. Aspen, and paper birch are theoretically next and those I’m solid on identifying, but they aren’t as common in my particular patch. Don’t know why. Red maple and hemlock I have seen in the forest, but not in any of the patches I’m estimating the age of. Beeches are more common than the birches somehow. Sawed-off logs are another clue, where a width had to be cut when a tree fell across the trail. It can be hard to tell whether that cut was made for the pickups in the original year or was cut later to let snowmobiles pass.
I have decided there are no clear signs where any such road was after 20 years of inactivity. I am sure that roads that were used over decades remain visible longer, but those single-season routes disappear. Even fifteen years seems to be a lot unless you get extra clues from running along a wall or happening upon the makeshift log bridges through swampy spots. I got an extra set of clues where the path divided further on. One branch was still being used by the occasional four-wheeler until 2-3 years ago, the other branch doesn’t seem to have been touched in ten years. There were possible other paths off both branches, though I didn’t follow them. I can sense where they would cross paths still in use and will learn someday whether they are actually ex-paths or random brief clearings leading nowhere. For now, not much interest.