On My Way: A walk in the clouds

Hiking at Sheriff’s Meadow on a damp and windy day.


We were above the treeline traversing the summit in the clouds for a moment.

This is not entirely true. Trees were all around us, and at 236 feet or so, we were not in the clouds. But it was the feeling of the summit of the Middle Line Woods property — for a moment.

The afternoon a few weeks ago was an expedition of sorts. Becham, my small, 8-year-old terrier-mix pup, and I would start with the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation’s (SMF) Brookside Ridge Preserve and find our way, with any luck, farther up-Island to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank’s (MVLB) Middle Line Woods Preserve.

I took a long look at the SMF’s TrailsMV app in advance. The King’s Highway, a public way, would be the main backbone of the hike. We would connect with a wide variety of trails and roads. The hike looked doable.

(The TrailsMV app is terrific. It is basically a map on your phone of all the conservation properties on the Island. One of my favorite features is that it shows not only the properties but also the public ways that connect the properties.)

I dropped our Christmas tree at John Keene’s in post-holiday tradition, and then found parking off South Road in Chilmark. I pulled into the small lot. Becham’s tail wagged with excitement, and he fretted about the truck. I was eager as well.

A deluge of rain and wind had pummeled the Island through the morning. The rain had stopped, but there was still a wind. The air was moist and warm for a winter day. We set off from the trailhead.

I had in mind a comment from last month. A reader noted the too-many bouncing balls we all have in the air. I agree wholeheartedly. For this reason, my bouncing ball for the afternoon hike (or the lack thereof, depending on your perspective) was going to be the wind in the trees, the wet fallen leaves, and the heading of the trail.

After a short ascent on a muddy easement, with puddles of wet leaves and a scattering of trees between some homes, we made Brookside Ridge. I looked at the SMF trailpost map and decided on a route. I then took a wrong turn.

The trail wound downward. Not coming to the expected connecting trail, I kept going. I crossed a picturesque, and dangerously slippery, wood bridge over a wetlands. Soon Becham and I were walking a field loop in the Tiasquam South MVLB property. The breeze over the open pasture blew over us.

We passed a pond. A paddle of 30 or 40 ducks took flight. We went upward on the loop. A big, brutish pair of oxen with beautiful black coats rested side by side in an adjoining farm field. I would not want to tussle with them. We came to Middle Road, and then back around on the loop. Turned around a few times by private property signs, I backtracked to Brookside Ridge. My breathing felt good ascending the trail.

Back at the SMF trail post, I made the correct turn this time. The Brookside trail dropped at a pleasant incline through the damp forest of bare trees. The forest floor was thick with fallen wet leaves. Sections of the trail were scoured deep by water. We walked a short half-loop through the property.

The King’s Highway was the next section of our hike. The trail runs south and west. At a few unmarked forks, I followed the general direction. The wide path turned to dirt road after some way. We came into a rural neighborhood.

A large dog bounded down to greet us, which set off my nerves. I am never thrilled at unattended dogs, especially large ones. This dog insisted on blocking Becham’s way every time we tried to keep walking. Becham showed great patience. Finally, I barked, “Stop it!” at the dog, and to his credit, he turned around and walked away.

The King’s Highway delivered us from its dirt road to the North-South Trail. (You need to know where to look for the North-South Trail.) That trail is a peaceful one. We went by hill and dale until reaching a noisy brook.

The brook was full with the runoff from the rain. The water was deep and clear. The fast-moving current went down a small falls, around moss-covered rocks. I looked and listened to the little river swollen to its banks.

We turned onto the River Trail. We passed a woman out with her pair of dogs. The trail was wet, and flooded ankle-deep in places. I could not avoid a soaked trail sneaker.

Meeting House Road was our next leg. We crossed Middle Road and walked a trail alongside the MVLB Tea Lane Farm property. Above Tea Lane Farm, we were back in the woods. We crossed a large wetlands on a wood-slat footbridge, and then followed an easement along a high stone wall. We continued on. Some signage at intersections of trail and road helped us along. We reached the Stonewall Trail to Middle Line Woods.

The Stonewall Trail was flat until its end, and ran parallel to a dirt road for all of about a half-mile before turning up into the Middle Line Woods. The small wooded preserve of less than 50 acres was worth the effort.

I turned right onto the Middle Line Woods loop. The trail ascended. My legs felt strong and relished the exertion of an incline. The trail turned and climbed in an easy manner. I was invigorated.

We passed a gigantic, errant rock — a sign of a retreating glacier. I looked through the trees. Becham and I were at the summit of a small Island hill. Peaked Hill was shrouded in mist across the way, and Menemsha Hill was somewhere in the offing. I walked the ridgeline with euphoria, and looked out over the Island.

Unfortunately, the sensation was short-lived. Becham and I were soon descending the backside of the small hill. We completed the Middle Line loop, and then turned back the way we had come on the Stonewall Trail.

We found our way. We returned on the same easement over the wood-slat footbridge, walked again along Tea Lane Farm, and recrossed Middle Road. We walked Meeting House Road. The trees leaned over the road in search of light, making a canopy. I skipped the River Trail and the North-South Trail, and sought out King’s Highway directly. (A wrong turn to South Road and then back cost about a mile.)

We passed a horse farm cut from the woods. The dirt road of King’s Highway turned back to trail. We went along. Becham was tired, and stopped every now and again. The afternoon light was dappled on the dirt path through the trees.

At times I was not sure we were still on the highway, though I knew we were headed in the right direction. The trail began to drop downhill. An intersection appeared. I recognized it from the start. We turned. We were back on the wet and muddy path between the homes where we started. The truck was in the parking lot.

The 3½-hour expedition into the interior of up-Island, with ankle-deep puddles, wrong turns, summit vistas, fallen leaves, a breezy wind, and more, was all one could have hoped.