On a bitter, wintry day I walked up onto the Tableland to have a look at the beginnings of things. Any day now, the snow would come. Already there was a dusting in crevices and on a few dark green nests of moss. At this time of year my need to get out becomes fierce. I get an urge to visit as many of my favourite places as possible. Hurry. Soon they may be denied to you by ice and snow.
So, on a raw, cloudy day at the very end of November I decided to head for the Tableland while I still could, before the heavy snows come. Although I often dream of visiting this harsh but magical landscape at the top of the big ridge which guards our valley, many things deter me. But today there was no blazing sun, and there were no deerflies, no hunters, nor threats of phantom bears to keep me away. Facing into a small, raw northeast wind, easily ascending by the newest of our neighbour Blake’s excellent trails, the steep climb to the ridgetop lifted my heart.
With its open habitats of either a thin covering of soil or no soil, some might call the Tableland a “starve acres”. It is true that up there only the poorest trees survive, mainly greatly deformed red oaks and ironwoods. These are trees twisted and sick, surrounded by jumbles of fallen branches from hard times, branches which are going to make more soil some day. In the stony November afternoon light, this poverty was particularly evident.
Given the extreme fluctuations in temperature up on the Tableland, with scarcely any insulation from trees, and with pitifully little soil to gather moisture, or to drain off excessive water, you might say that the rocky outcrops of this area were inhospitable. But I see this place as a crucible, the difficult melting pot where new life originates. At the moment patchy lichen and moss and fungus communities, the precursors of true plants, dominate the exposed rock, although in places there are grasses and other tough plants, such as early saxifrage (“stonebreaker”), which takes root in cracks in the original granite. To me each piece of fragile life here is precious, worth seeing. So I strode along joyfully, greeting many familiar small landmarks.
As I clambered over the starry moss and lichened rock-face I could feel the morning’s desk-work tension falling from me. How healing it was to be able to walk, to see. Often, too, I turned to take a breathtaking look over my shoulder, back through the ridge’s bare-branched trees, looking into a vastness which stretched beyond Bobs Lake and even beyond the far away pine forests. On and on.
A year ago, when I first set out on Blake’s newest trail, hurrying along in delicious exploration, I was forced to turn back when the flakes of the year’s first snow flocked too heavily around me, obscuring the slick rocks.