I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know — it’s pretty awful. (That might actually be an understatement.) The street grids of New York are as daunting to me as unmarked gravel roads in Vermont, and no matter how hard I try, I never know which way is north.
Now some people have an innate ability to see their location from a bird’s eye view — my father and brother certainly can. Within a blink of an eye they can retrace a route they once took a few months ago, and, hey presto, arrive home. I just stare and wonder where the heck I am.
(I literally got lost in a supermarket once. I like to argue that it was a spectacularly confusing supermarket, but the fact remains that it was, in the end, a supermarket. And no, I won’t tell you how old I was.)
So it was with considerable trepidation that I set off a few weeks ago from my house to the Prunier Road trailhead that would eventually meet up with the TAM, or the Trail Around Middlebury. I had never been on the TAM before, but the sun was shining, the sky deep blue and my Labrador Annie was thrilled to wade into the puddles fresh from the previous night’s rain.
The Prunier Road trail goes from Weybridge, behind Monument Farms, and travels up past Bittersweet Falls before eventually meeting with the rest of the TAM. It’s a gorgeous hike, winding through beautiful meadows and farmlands you would otherwise never see, with views unattainable from any road. Every couple hundred feet or so the trail is marked by blue tape affixed to a swaying branch or hand-made sign, with occasional yellow arrows pointing where to go.
The trail took me past cow farms, across dirt roads, through overgrown meadows and past what looked like an abandoned train car. I stopped at yellow signs, felt nervous and retraced my steps, bit the bullet and chose which direction to follow. There were several moments of slight panic — the blue tape was sometimes covered by leaves or worn away, so I had to choose one direction and stick with it. All in all I walked about two and a half hours through clouds of mosquitoes on the edges of meadows, and through uneven, muddy fields, praying I wouldn’t somehow end up at the Canadian border and have to explain myself.
And then — I made it to the TAM trailhead. I couldn’t quite believe that I had arrived. From the trailhead there was a half-hour walk on a cool and shaded trail through the woods, from which I emerged onto Weybridge Road leading up to Middlebury.
As I walked up the road with the college looming before me, I realized how alert I had been on the trail. Yes, I was nervous about missing a turn, but that kept me attuned to the details surrounding me — the tree bending to the right was where I could turn back if this was a dud trail, I would think, or that puddle reflecting the silver underside of those birches would be where I had taken a left. All the views were fresh and new, and also important — they were markers as well.
While I would certainly be lost without my GPS, I wonder how different traveling through Vermont was before portable GPSs, maybe even before detailed maps. Perhaps our relation to the land might have been different, and I wonder if a certain partnership between the land and us has been changed through our adherence to pre-set directions. The trees bending in the wind might have served as markers more than figures to admire; the landscape a reminder as well as a home.
That said, who knows how long I would survive without a GPS on my phone. But really, if I had to get lost anywhere, I would certainly choose Vermont.