Today we tried out “The Underground Railroad Experience Trail” which is a part of the Rachel Carson Greenway Trail Corridor.
We’d heard of the trail a while back but I was hesitant based on its name and a description in my hiking guide which said, “Gain a better understanding of what escaped slaves endured on their trip north on this history-heavy trail.” I’m all for history but such descriptions conjured up images of dark, haunted, thorn-choked forests patrolled by vicious dogs.
Happily the trail didn’t quite live up to my over-active imagination.
The trail started on the historic grounds of a stately Quaker farm house. The place is so picturesque that set up for a wedding on the lawn was in full swing. We left the bustle of caterers and event staff for the peaceful quiet of fenced pastures. A solid grey stone barn overlooked the fields. It used to be a stop on the Underground railroad.
We passed the barn and followed the cleared fence line towards the wood. We stopped on the way to say hi to the grazing park police horses. They live on the grounds when they’re off duty.
M was hesitant to leave.
We headed into the woods. The forest was gorgeous. Sunlight illuminated the emerald canopy. Tall tulip populars towered over us and a thick and varied undergrowth crowded the trail. But the path was clear and well maintained and there were no vicious hunting dogs. We didn’t even see another human the whole hike.
We did see ironwood, a few pawpaw, thick brambles, frogs, butterflies, thistles, cardinal, hawks, goldfinches, innumerable deer beds, and spiders. The spider silk was so thick in places the forest shimmered and glistened. Huge webs hung everywhere and sparkled in the sunlight.
Based on their size, some of the trees were clearly ancient.
There was an old bridge over a sluggish creek that the kids enjoyed climbing.
The trail dumped us into a corn field which led to some happy exploring.
We headed back.
While everything about our walk was lovely I did feel a little haunted. Several times I found myself considering the impossible odds of escaping from slavery. Leaving no trace while navigating unknown terrain? Impossible. Eluding trained hunters and their dogs? Impossible. Trying to carry small children through the woods undetected? Impossible. Leaving your children enslaved to find freedom? Impossible. That is the stuff of nightmares, and it seems to cling like the broken webs to the ancient branches of the many witness trees.