Published in The Hour Online – December 2012
PRACTICAL INFORMATION AT END OF ARTICLE.
Even if you’ve done it a hundred times before — and I can’t be far from that number — coming up to the Great Ledge is still exciting. After an hour surrounded by trees, there are signs of a view at last. The sky reaches further, a horizon appears, and the trail seems to run out of ground ahead. This morning, mid-December without snow, the sun was out, casting tree-shadows over the mossy rock where the ledge began. There was hardly a sound. It looked like I’d have the place all to myself — again.
I started my Devil’s Den hike as the sun was rising, lighting up the dense, spindly tree trunks on the first ridge. It was chilly — 25 degrees when I left home. Frost lay on lawns and roofs on the drive from Wilton to Weston. On the trail to Godfrey Pond the frozen earth sounded hollow to the tap of my poles. Mountain Laurel leaves drooped pathetically. But it was not bitter, and there are advantages to walking in the chill. There is no need for bug spray for starters, and muddy stretches of trail have congealed. But it hadn’t frozen long and hard, and Godfrey Pond was only half-covered in thin ice. It hadn’t rained much recently either. The brook that feeds the pond was barely full enough to gurgle beneath its boulders. The pond was deserted this morning, but it is the Den’s most popular spot, and rightly so — a place where wooded, rocky slopes wrap a centuries-old millpond. We can, sometimes, improve on nature.
Nature, in fact, had been wreaking havoc on the Den. Irene and the Halloween snowstorm, and then Sandy, have left plenty of snapped and uprooted trees — and at least one bridge with a hole that could swallow an inattentive hiker. On the main trails at least the Nature Conservancy has already been out with chainsaws to cut what could not be clambered over, and my hike was not seriously slowed up. I did stop though to count the growth rings on one sawed oak, but there were so many I could only conclude it had stood upright longer than I ever will.
From Godfrey Pond to the Great Ledge is a climb of several hundred feet, but it is spread over two miles, and the few steep bits are short. I suppose the uninterrupted trees could be thought dull, but there really is always something to wonder about. There are the crumbling stone walls here and there to testify to the early farmers’ struggle with stones that appeared magically in their fields. There are bits and pieces of a steam sawmill from a 19th century lumbering operation. And the woods and trail too are ever-changing. I have a favorite section of the Godfrey Trail, about ten minutes after the sawmill. It is level, on a ridge. There are wetlands below, which this morning were still in dark shadow. But most of all I like the tall conifers here, today standing out evergreen in the winter woods. It was peaceful of course, but not silent. Something tap-tapped on a woody outcrop, and I wished I knew enough to say for sure that it was a bird. Geese barked in the distance. Brooks tinkled.
I had breakfast at the Great Ledge, on the cliff where gnarled trunks and straight pines stand. The view is over woods that stretch away to the east, and look uninhabited. They are not uninhabited of course. They are, mostly, full of homes. It is the special magic of the Den that it gives us this sense of space in Fairfield County. It is the Nature Conservancy’s largest and most visited preserve in Connecticut, but you are unlikely to bump into many of its 40,000 annual visitors. I saw just two today. But that, come to think of it, was two more than any other species. There is wildlife here, from common deer to elusive bobcats. This time I didn’t see so much as a squirrel.
DEVIL’S DEN GREAT LEDGE
|PARKING||Pent Road, Weston, parking area.|
|DISTANCE||About 6 miles round trip.|
|MAP AND ROUTE||Trail maps available at parking area, and on TNC website. Hike follows markers 21-22-28-27-30-36-39-64-63-58-56 and on to vista. Back by same route.|
|WHAT TO TAKE||Sturdy shoes, layers of clothing, water.|
|WHAT NOT TO TAKE||Pets are not permitted in the Den.|