Stroll Call

Stroll Call

I’m not sure if it’s a hike or a simple walk in the woods we’re undertaking on a recent weekend at Housatonic Overlook and Tucker’s Ridge in Orange. The trail is relatively easy, and since the pinnacle lies just beyond where we parked (at the end of High Ridge Road), if it’s just the view we’re after, this could be a very short trip. But “I don’t feel like I’ve earned it yet,” as a companion says, so we circumvent the overlook to follow the trail and save the best for last.

All the paths here are literally labeled “easy,” according to the kiosk that offers a map, some rules and a somewhat unnerving list labeled “BearWise Basics.” In total, the trails here add up to 1.7 miles, including the minuscule white trail—just .07 miles—and the still-not-very-long red trail, clocking in at 1.15 miles.

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There are five of us, and not everyone knew each other when we set out this morning. As we follow the splashes of paint that tell us we’re on the red trail, I hear politics working its way into the conversation and say a silent thank you to the tree gods that it doesn’t erupt into discord on this beautiful fall day.

The relative ease of the hike affords room for banter, self-reflection and light-hearted camaraderie once the politics have petered out, so after picking our way down a moderately steep and loose-rocked incline, we turn to appreciating this free adventure. I was here a week ago when the trees were more uniformly green. I marvel at the reds and oranges interspersed now, and I tell the others about the hawk that flew overhead and the loud screech that pierced the silence shortly after it disappeared. We search the skies for avian life, and I hold a trail guide that says, “During the winter bald eagles can frequently be seen soaring over the water or sitting in trees on either side of the river.” But no wings today.

“We never really look up,” one of my fellow hikers comments. So, we make a point of looking up, at the leaves, the sky, and note that the beauty in the woods often comes from the sunlight sneaking through the branches and painting streaks and sparkles on the bark and moss, which is plentiful here. When we lower our gaze, we spot small statues made of balanced rocks, and we see something else unnatural: a teepee off to our right, perched on a clearing overlooking a marina far below. We squeeze into it for a photo, wondering who built the sturdy structure.

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The trail system is like a loop with veins running through it, and a description attached to the map I printed out tells me that the paths along Tucker’s Ridge “overlook the Housatonic River with the Town of Shelton directly to the west and Two Mile Island and Derby to the north.” describes it as “generally considered an easy route” that “takes an average of 39 minutes to complete.” We’re talking and wandering off trail, so it takes us longer.

We approach a wooden bridge of sorts, and we cross it one at a time, the budding philosopher among us seeing the side-by-side planks as a metaphor for life. “Bridges are great because they bring you from one place to another,” she says. We continue on and spot railroad tracks and amble down a steep embankment to get a picture, then pass a stone wall, a Brownie or Girl Scout troop and a steep overlook that we contemplate before pushing back through overgrowth to the trail. One of us calls it bushwhacking, which makes it sound more adventurous.

We’re on the blue trail now, and the artist in the group points to two trees bent toward each other, touching, forming an archway. She teases, “A portal to a different dimension?” and we step through it, but we’re still here. We try to identify the trees we pass: beeches, birches and maples. We spot acorns on the ground and deduce the tree above is an oak. “There’s mountain laurel over there,” one of us remarks, while another finds a few mushrooms sprouting just beyond our feet.

About an hour after we arrive, we circle back to the beginning, where a memorial bench dedicated to Dr. Edmund Tucker, “a public servant whose efforts led to the acquisition of many parcels for open space in the town of Orange”—including this one—overlooks the river that twists like a silent serpent in the distance. It’s a calming, reflective view of the Housatonic River from up high, and I can see the flagpole in Shelton across the way that marks the approximate location of my stepdaughter’s house. In the water, two canoes, one red and one blue, add more color to the scene, which will, in coming weeks, become more and more saturated.

In the end, I conclude, our adventure was a walk, not a hike. It was too easy and relaxed to be called the latter, even while it delivered rewards worth working for.

Written and photographed by Jill Dion.

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