Take a Hike – Old Aucoot District

Have you ever noticed that each wood has its own unique personality – its own distinct feel to it? The difference in character between two woods had never felt more unambiguous to me than earlier this week, as I will explain in this second installment of Take a Hike!

            The most obvious of reasons would be that this time, we have left Rochester and skipped over to Mattapoisett, which has a land trust of its own that appears to maintain its nature trails at a different pace. There are several good-sized properties to explore, though, and this week I welcome you to the 300-acre Old Aucoot District, located near the end of Bowman Street, a residential dirt road off Aucoot Street.

There is not much available regarding historical information about the property, even with the help of the Mattapoisett Historical Museum staff. But one can feel the area is steeped in history, and several carved stones that still stand throughout the woods only further pique one’s interest.

This property summed up in a nutshell is peaceful, but spooky, and … beware of pigs. But we will get to that later.

The trail map on the Mattapoisett Land Trust website showed a “P” for an off-street parking area, but I had a difficult time figuring out its exact location, and I finally parked in what looked like the least intrusive area to leave my car. I also had a hard time finding the trailhead. There are two different paths on either side of the road, and I was fumbling about a field of unrestrained bramble and uninhibited vines looking for the path into the woods. I walked in circles. I kept heading toward the trees in the distance, no matter how indirectly the paths appeared to lead there.

There ahead, was the entrance to the woods, with two gatekeeper trees on either side, like a magic door, each marked with a white rectangle.

It was peaceful, hearing only the sound of the ambient air, like the sound of the Earth breathing. Just by the trailhead is the small Graces Pond, still frozen on the Wednesday I visited.

A small, wooded arrow points you in the right direction, and walking up, the first thing I noticed was the spooky, mossy trees with snake-like, twisted vines hanging down to the ground – the trees were all bare-boned, sinewy, and skinless like skeletons.

By the bases of the trees, soft green moss-covered rocks spotted the trail, and extra care is required to avoid tripping over one and slipping into a muddy spot. The path then came to a fork with two wooden signs, one for the “South Path” and one for the “West Path.” I wandered down the south trail, leaving the west trail for another day.

Following the white rectangular markers painted on the trees, the trail winds, rising and falling over rocks, decomposing tree trunks, and dry secondary stream beds. A layer of brown leaves carpeted the path, making it easy to walk over the muddy ground beneath.

What stood out most to me throughout the hike were the spooky tree formations around every corner. It was like some trees had personalities of their own – some looked happy, others had faces moaning in pain, while others appeared to be dancing motionlessly. There were even a few sexy trees along the way that looked like they were entwined in an embrace. Another stretched and curved like a figure of a woman; others were mysterious or sinister looking.

The south path led straight to a road, where it ended abruptly, so I had to turn around and head back the same way. I got rather spooked as I passed the small pond and back into the open field of brambling bushes. I could hear pigs making noises from somewhere nearby, but I couldn’t tell from where. I could smell the pungent scent of manure as well. Just then I heard pig noises getting awfully close to me, and then I suddenly saw pig hoof prints in the ground. Pigs? Running around freely? I did not stick around to find out, I just booked it to my car.

I plan to return to take some time exploring the west trail. According to the map, it has a couple of nice loops, and it looks like a good, robust hike. I’m not discouraged by the lack of signage, or the minimally-maintained paths that were strewn with sticks and tree limbs. After all, it is barely even spring yet. I spent about an hour finding my way around and navigating the trail. I bet once the foliage grows in, the Old Aucoot District property will be enchanting and perhaps even jungle-like once all the giant trees with twisting, scraggly vines fill out in green.

Find more information and trail maps at www.mattlandtrust.org.

By Jean Perry

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