I’m on the hunt for a forgotten tragedy within a stone’s throw of the trail. Up and down from Preston Notch toward Higby’s peak, the path taunts the cliff edge. Views are muted and bluish in hazy humidity. White and violet asters light the way like luminaries, their eye-like yellow button disks staring upward.
Just before the summit, I head off trail in a swale of mixed hardwoods punctuated with oases of hemlock. Descending slightly, I pass a large traprock overhang forming the jagged maw of a cave. Four deer, just downslope, spot me and dart into the woods. Following a logging trace paved with grass and ferns, I come to a small plateau strewn with mechanical detritus—rusting pipes, gears, wires, springs, struts, and pieces of sheet metal, some of them melted. On a rainy night at mid twentieth century, a silver Beechcraft sheared the tops of three oaks, crashed and burst into a fireball burning three people beyond recognition.
Perhaps the pilot saw Higby as a mere shadow, a dark cloud proving impenetrable. No one is buried here, but a graveyard’s somber weight hangs like the muggy air. I stand not amidst junk, but an accidental memorial. Finding this wayward, broken work of man feels strangely disorienting. The plane rests in pieces among sticks, fallen leaves, acorns and brush, moldering like nature’s own debris.
broken metal bird
shards among ferns, beneath oaks
rust, acorns, leaves fall
(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/