Inspired by the recent PBS series on our national parks, we left the yard chores behind on a recent Sunday and set out to enjoy a two-hour walk on the beautiful 44-acre Tidebrook property on the shores of the Harraseeket River in Freeport. The generous property owners at 38 Staples Point Road formed an easement a few years ago with the Freeport Conservation Trust to allow nature lovers the opportunity to walk the paths through their majestic woods and meadows.
From the Freeport Public Safety Building on Route 1 follow West Street and Torrey Hill Range Road to Lower Mast Landing Road. Continue straight ahead onto Bartol Island Road and follow it for 0.7 miles to a small parking area on the left, opposite a tall hedge. A small trail kiosk is across the gravel road, next to a private home. The trail leads through a small apple orchard and enters the woods behind a white trail sign. Large blue arrows nailed to trees occasionally mark the forest trail. Some of the arrows have fallen down over the years. Please respect the privacy of the homeowner and stay on the trails both in the woods and in the meadows. No dogs are allowed, and the trail system is not open to the public after Nov. 1.
We took a definite John Muir approach to our walk – slow and easy, often getting down on hands and knees to photograph yellow poplar leaves dappled with rain droplets, and to observe chanterelle mushrooms and other forest-floor surprises. From the cool shadows of mature hemlock, spruce, and white pine groves we enjoyed the golden flashes of maple leaves in the hollows below us; yellows startlingly brilliant in the cloudy, drizzly morning light.
The forest trail meanders west a half mile, crossing a small marshy drainage leading out to the upper reaches of the Harraseeket River near Porter Landing. From the marsh the trail leads up a short, steep banking into a mixed forest of evergreens, and the occasional birch, beech, and oak. The trail comes to a series of debris-covered stone walls, and the three-sided ruins of what might have been a cattle pen or old storage building a century ago. Note the large hemlock and its elongated, exposed root growing along the westerly wall. Mother Nature slowly but inexorably reclaims man’s works.
The last trail arrow ended here, but before retracing our steps we scampered up onto a lumpy ledge outcropping dotted with trees and sat and absorbed the sounds of an October forest: acorns rattling from tree to forest floor, blue jays and crows competing to see who could maintain the loudest decibel level. Raindrops from overnight showers pattered down from leaf to leaf to the layer of colorful new leaves loosely scattered atop the compacted brown layers of previous autumns. The seasons and years just keep marching on, regardless of our presence.
We headed back over the marsh drainage and followed green trail arrows leading out from the woods to a series of meadows south of the house. At the edge of the dark forest we peered out 30 yards to trees chock full of berries. Birds darted back and forth from the cover of forest to the meadow grasses and up into the maze of brilliant red berries. We scanned the trees with our binoculars and filled the lens window with the brilliant red top of a pileated woodpecker’s head. It was gobbling down massive amounts of berries. The only red that could have been bolder and more brilliant than the shiny red of the berries was the tuft of a pileated. Robins and cedar waxwings flitted in and out of the treetop, maintaining an admirable deference to the grazing path of the pileated through the succulent red canopy. We stood with mouths agape, not daring to move for fear of interrupting nature’s beauty, bounty and seasonal rhythm.
We headed south down through the field toward an opening in a wooden rail fence adjacent to a small farm pond on the right. An arrow on the fence pointed across the field to the gravel private road leading down to the end of Bartol Island. Far down in the field 15 wild turkeys slowly moved across the slope feeding on grasses and grains. Meandering down through the meadow east of the private road we quickly came to a bluff overlooking the vast Harraseeket River estuary, near a small pile of white birch logs.
The fleet of sailboats and pleasure boats in the South Freeport anchorage is shrinking by the day as boating season nears its end for another year. We gazed out through the narrow gut between Winslow Park and Wolfe’s Neck to the islands of Casco Bay. A blue heron flew by at eye level only a few yards away. A kingfisher rattled away somewhere down in the small oaks leaning out over the estuary below us. Across the water two miles to the south a gigantic elongated glacial erratic boulder rose out of the water along the edge of the trail system over at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park.
All too quickly it was time to get back to the yard chores that had so kindly given us the morning off.
For help in getting to Staples Point Road consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (Map No. 6). For more information on other Freeport Conservation Trust projects check out their informative Web site at freeportconservationtrust.org, where there is online map of all FCT trailheads.