I carefully watch my step climbing the talus slope of uneven broken rock fallen from cliffs above. A wrong step, a loose stone sliding underfoot could send me down hundreds of feet. I think about the black dog. I’d seen a sooty-looking spaniel on this trail years ago, a happy creature that caused me to smile. He was followed soon after by a red-bearded man I assumed was his owner. Now I’m not sure.
People have died on this ridge of grotesque rock shapes, violent winds, and sudden storms that darken the path in clouds. Some blame the deaths on the black dog that has long been said to wander these lonely slopes. If you meet him, the story goes, the first time will be for joy, the second for sorrow, but the third means you will die.
Walking ever upward, I squeeze between two jagged stone pillars and then cross a slope of fallen stone blocks requiring a hopscotch in heavy boots. A four-foot-long black racer snake sunning in a crevice startles me and slides away. Chickadees chant their dee, dee, dee mantra in twisted oaks.
I’m not much for ghosts or demons, but the black dog haunts. No matter a summit antenna farm, blue blazes and other signs of a mundane, pragmatic world, this is a foreboding place where people best be visitors. The trail meanders nonchalantly along the uneven edge of nothingness at sheer cliffs. Footing is tricky, and glancing at spacious views across a valley of farms, factories, homes, transmission towers, forest and swamp tempts fate, stirs the black dog.
narrow trail twists by crag cliffs
black dog treachery
(Haibun is a marriage of prose and haiku. It was first practiced by seventeenth-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho who perfected the form in a journal he kept on a trip to the remote regions of northern Japan. Gary Snyder, James Merrill, and Jack Kerouac are among American interpreters of the genre. Haibun best expresses the spirit of the New England Trail because it combines clear-eyed prose descriptions of people, objects and places along with poetry that awakens the imagination.)
The New England National Scenic Trail, a unit of the National Park Service, runs 215 miles from Guilford, Connecticut to the Massachusetts/ New Hampshire border. The trail is maintained by volunteers of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association in Connecticut and the Appalachian Mountain Club in Massachusetts. For more go to https://newenglandtrail.org/