View Full Version : In Memory Of: What's On the Mind of a Trailworker

06-08-2009, 07:49 PM
First, a caveat. If you enjoy TR's with stats like time,distance,and photos galore,well,you may wish to move on. However,if you,like me,believe that hiking is more than numbers,that its greatest element is that which is human,then I hope you will enjoy this story. In the end it will help explain all the extra pounds on my back.You see,trailwork season has begun.

As long as I can remember we had lived in rented homes. First,High St in Whitefield,later Hall Rd,also in Whitefield. Just before I reached school age my parents determined our own home in Jefferson. Procuring land was next,a task gained thanks to my uncle,actually more my great uncle,Donald J Lennox. He sold my dad 40ac at family pricing. From there an age was ushered in. A love affair with the woods,mountains,and hiking blossomed. Its what my parents wanted to provide for us,and it had come. What was once embryonic was about to give full birth.

Standing 6ft tall, wiry yet strong,face somewhat thin,long arms and legs, Donald was born in 1909. Painter,gardener,botanist,logger,musician,heck,eve n his loom was as large as my bedroom. As if hewn from the granite dug from his fields. Always with bifocals,suspenders,and wool pants. Knee high leather boots with wool socks barely emerging over the cuff. By the mid70's when my folks threw me at the trails Donald was almost 10x my age. He could outman,outpace,outcarry,and last longer on the trail than any of us.

As my confidence in the woods grew, farther I would venture,consumed by its inviting shadows . One day I stumbled onto a homemade trail sign affixed deep in the woods. It was traditional size and read 'Return via Fir Grove". I looked about and noticed,though overgrown and little used,a corridor was present. Heart racing and eyes roving up and down I traced its remains which beckoned me. So intent,so focused,before I realized it,I was being led back to Donald's house. There he was,amidst his snapdragons,sunflower seeds on his hat, with chickadees coming and going with the precision of an airport. I asked, did he know about it,who did it,how old is it?, here thinking I stumbled on something grand. Of course he knew of it,he built it for his wife Vivian,who died suddenly in the 50's of ovarian cancer. They had no children and he never remarried. I asked if I could use the trail and any others I found,and he said it would be fine. Though our dirt driveway was quicker and easier, I would use a portion of those trails almost everyday walking home from school.

As my hiking love continued to grow so did what Donald provided. From him I learned how his father,James (mother Edith),who was born in the late 1850's,met Edmands the trailbuilder. What is now a cellar hole across from our potato fields was on two occasions the receipient of a visit. Donald hadn't even been born yet, but he mentioned how his father had been asked if he had any interest in working as one of the "axemen". Donald never knew if his dad did it or not. That name stuck in my head, Edmands..Edmands..trailbuilder,easily graded trails,of which some may dismiss as too soft. A man who,by his own hard work,provided access so anyone of average ability could gain the love of a lifetime. More names began to circulate in my mind..Peek..Cook..Blood..(Sorry Mrs Windsor, at 7, the piano and Bach or Beethoven just couldn't compete with Edmands). Uncle Donald it turns out was quite a trailworker too. He knew the Presi's like no one I had personally met. He spoke of guiding the "Corps", which was the CCC in the day. There wasn't a place I went that he hadn't been to. All I had to say was what time I left,when I got back, and what peak,and he would know the trails I used. I listened raptly at dusk to the flutelike notes of a bird I didn't know but tried to imitate to him,"doo doo doooh doo" I said,"You mean, doo doo doooh dee"he said,"that's the wood thrush." To this day its like hearing his voice. I anxiously await it every spring and mourn its silent departure late summer. He was an expert in all wildlife and it was his efforts of collecting and cataloging the moths and butterflies of the Presidentials and Franconias that resulted in the Donald J Lennox Collection of Lepidoptera at UNH. His wanderings in the alpine zone encouraged him to mimic the soil types found there in his own rock garden at home. There he would be each spring harvesting their seeds from that garden for future growth.

At some stage we reached the point where it was deemed we were ready for trailmaking. Donald helped first, my brother B,then me. We were going to build a spur off of one of his trails to the Big Pine. Donald said at one point there were 3 enormous white pines,the "Sisters" he called them, that his father let remain despite clearing off the rest. One fell in the 30's, another in the 50's,now but one remained. It was huge! My folks,along with me, my brother,and Donald couldn't link around it .I was working with the "Master". Unfortunately,events changed,we never finished it. Though I would visit that unfinished trail in the future,I could never set foot on it again, I could only stand at its entrance. It was quite surreal. I would only bushwhack to the Big Pine in the future.

In 1984 Donald had a stroke. It wasn't uncommon to not see Donald for a day, but two was exceptional. My dad and brother went to check on him and found him motionless on his downstairs bed. He could barely say "I don't feel good" and those were his last spoken words. By the time the ambulance arrived and got him to the hospital he had suffered another stroke leaving him paralyzed and speechless. Who knew it would be his last day in his home or that I would never see him walking up the driveway for dinner at our house again?

Donald had named my dad power of attorney years before. As a family one of us sat with him virtually round the clock in the beginning, hoping for some sort of miracle. It never came. Though concious he couldn't speak or move. We set up bird feeders outside his window and prayed he wasn't in pain. As years went by we weren't sure if his hearing had failed or not. For myself,the passing of years,schooling and work demanded more of me and my visits were less frequent. I graduated,my brother married,and he was stuck in a nursing home.

After a long abscence I returned,almost ashamed it had been so long. When I walked in he noticed me and his eyes seemed to grow wide. With my head bowed down looking at my feet I choked out an apology for being gone so long. When I had the courage to look at him, his eyes seemed moist,then mine were too,perhaps he sensed what I said, or his hearing was still there. I sat by the bed and told him what I'd been up to. How after my graduation I had spent all of July hiking, everywhere I could.I showed him a picture of my girlfriend,Michele,and told him this was the girl I would marry (and I did, and happily still am!). She was a hiker too,and was,I proudly proclaimed,a fellow New Englander. I stayed into the night,remembering and reciting,and when he seemed tired I told him I wouldn't be upset if he nodded off. He slept a bit and awoke when the nurse checked in. Eventually I had to go,and between the two of us,I bade goodbye,leaving his now fragile frame alone. Two weeks later,almost to the day,he slipped away from this earth,peacefully asleep. A lick of flame,glowing faintly and alone in a sea of night,finally went out. An era of my young years was caught in that whisk of air and carried away with him. How influential it would be was now up to me.

How does this tale of yore relate to this weekend? As hikers we are familiar with impressions.We see them on the trail often and they tell us a lot.There are greater impressions made on the heart and mind.The human impression can be like a branch caught in the swift current of a mountain stream,not a hinderance, but providing direction and guidance for an otherwise rampant course.That being so, a trail is like a lump of clay, an easel, or a brush, awaiting the coming of artists who will also use that medium to create their own individuality, their future.Providing and maintaining the outlet of trails is essential. So, whether one runs,walks,crawls,bushwhacks,curses & swears, or rejoices when on the trail, remember those who have come before.Though the vast majority of us already do so,raise a glass,take a swig on their behalf at your next post-hiking watering hole. Of some we know the name, but not the face, and sometimes we know neither. But their work is still here. That's what trailwork means to me. A silent succession.A joyful burden.Heritage.Inheritance.A happy sort of penance.Whatever it is, though I live a distance away now, its my Lorelei, I have to come back to the place I call home.Everytime I come out here a piece of me stays behind. Whenever my axe descends through the silence of forest air that is pregnant with expectation of the clash and fury to come, whenever I slog through the woods looking for the perfect log or rock for a waterbar, whenever I hear the wood thrush, whenever I seek a complete envelopment in the mountains, I think of Donald, and all those who worked hard to leave something for us.

At times his figure is still ahead of me. The smell of those wool clothes,the fragrance of pine,fir,spruce needles stuck within the fibers. His white brimmed grey woolen cap with the little red pompom on top. He is never too far ahead on the trail to discourage me or make me feel inadequate,but just far enough ahead to remind me there is a ways to go. Keep on moving ahead Donald, though I hope to live a long life, one of these days I know I will catch up. When that day comes may we meet in a place where there are always sharp edges and handles that never break . Thanks for giving so much in just a short period of time.
here's a few pics:

06-08-2009, 08:32 PM
Wonderful tribute. You're right - trip reports (and the hikes/trips that they describe) are about much more than stats. This one surely told of something that's deep inside you. Thanks for sharing it with us. Beautiful pictures from the trail too. Those of us that hike and haven't yet done any trail building or trail maintenance owe those that do a large debt of gratitude.

06-09-2009, 07:01 AM
Thanks for the reminder...it's the journey not the destination.

My grandfather created for me what your uncle created for you and when we are young we don't realize the gift we are being given. Now we get it.

06-09-2009, 07:22 AM
This was very moving. You have done a beautiful job of making Donald come alive in the reader's mind. So many wonderful details. I will think of this portrait you have drawn the next time I hear a wood thrush.

06-09-2009, 10:06 PM
Thanks for your words guys! Writing thoughts is never easy, but when its about NH & its people its truly never impossible.