You know those visualization exercises where you’re supposed to conjure up a safe and happy place? Well, mine goes something like this: I’m walking through some obscure patch of woods on Cape Cod. No one is around. It’s quiet. It’s beautiful. I’m filled with peace. Then I see a small, unmarked trail and, after deciding to follow it, I stumble upon a perfect, people-free, undiscovered pond where I have a leisurely swim in waters as sweet as honeysuckle and as gentle and inviting as an old cotton t-shirt. So, that’s the pinnacle. That’s what I’m searching for when I incompetently bumble around these conservation lands, and national parks, and random patches of shaggy scrub pines. But, that happy place is pure fiction. What I tend to experience instead is a bit dirtier, more comical, and a lot less placid. It always involves mosquitoes, getting lost, getting found, and getting lost again, yet, sometimes, just sometimes, I get a brief encounter with the happy place I’ve settled on in my mind. And so it was yesterday, as I battled my way through the endless maze of trails in Punkhorn Parklands in Brewster. With my sneakers blackened by bog gunk, my dog about to collapse from dehydration (and resentment) and only the GPS on my iPhone to guide me, I found my way to that perfect pond, took a serene swim, and snatched a moment from time where my real matched my ideal.
I decided to explore Punkhorn Parklands when I read about it in the wonderful book “Walking the Cape and Islands” by David Weintraub. The book details 72 different walks and gives very specific instructions on where to go and what you’ll see when you get there. I chose the Punkhorn walk because a. I had never been there before; b. at 5.6 miles long, it seemed to be a bit more challenging than the walks I’d been taking recently; and, c. most importantly, Weintraub wrote that the walk “visits a variety of habitats, including the area’s two largest kettle ponds, a freshwater marsh, and a serene forest.” Ok, great, I thought. This sounds perfect. So, I set off.
To get to the Punkhorn Parklands, you take Stony Brook Road off of 6A in Brewster to Run Hill Road, where, about a mile in, there’s small parking lot for those visiting the Parklands. I had my dog, my book detailing the path I planned on taking, my iPhone, some water, and, in hopes that I would find one of these kettle ponds, a towel. Of course, yet again, I forgot to buy and bring bug spray, which is moronic given that I was planning on spending three hours in a boggy forest in August. But, alas, my ill-planning is epic and, once I realized my grave error, I was more than willing to risk a little West Nile exposure for a nice walk in the woods.
Though the “Walking the Cape” book has minutely detailed, specific, and clear directions for the walk, I managed to get lost in a little under a minute. Punkhorn has many trails – both marked and unmarked – and I after giving up on following the trail recommended in my book, I decided to wander around on my own in hopes that I’d make it to those kettle ponds…eventually.
It took my dog, with her thick black coat of fur and a halo of mosquitoes constantly hovering around her, about twenty minutes into the walk to become really overheated and annoyed. A dog can smell fear, it is true, but they have an even keener ability to sniff out incompetence. And as I walked around, backtracking, questioning one choice and then making another, continually going off the marked trails, and putting us both up to our ankles in black muck, my dog’s faith in me waned. And because a dog’s faith is ever-bountiful, to see it actually run out is quite a disturbing experience. So, being totally lost, and having my only companion turn on me, I excitedly remembered that my iPhone has GPS. And, so, forgetting about the book and the Alice-in-Wonderland usefulness of the trail markers, I used the GPS to guide my dog and myself down a series of car-accessible dirt roads, and then to a little unmarked path and finally to Walker Pond – a totally deserted, undeveloped, gorgeous kettle pond. That it was mostly deserted because it was previously closed earlier in the summer due to a toxic algae problem was not something I knew at the time. But given how damn hot my dog and I were, and how long it took us to get there, I doubt poisonous algae would have kept me from that swim anyway.
So, we cooled off with a long, leisurely swim in Walker Pond. The only sign of life besides us was an osprey who flew onto a branch to check us both out before going off to find his breakfast in one of the ponds. We then, thanks again to my GPS, took a brief walk over to the adjacent Upper Millpond, which was also lovely though not quite as remote feeling (maybe because it lacked toxic algae).
After my swim, I headed back to my car. I avoided getting lost once again in the many trails by sticking to the wide, dirt, car-friendly roads that can be found throughout Punkhorn Parklands.
Both Walker Pond and Upper Millpond can be reached, in a much less circuitous fashion, by car. There is a large landing for Walker Pond off of Slough Road. And Upper Millpond can be accessed from Run Hill Road. But, really, it was fun to get lost, to get mucky, and to have the (completely wrong-headed) feeling that I had discovered these perfect swimming spots for myself (with more than a little help from GPS).
Punkhorn Parklands was mostly empty – I ran into one guy on a mountain bike (which looked like fun) and five young women riding around the trails on horses (which seemed like even more fun). The Parklands are full of pitch pine, black oak, black cherry, and red maple trees – to name a few. I saw a million robins, a couple cardinals, one osprey, and one downy woodpecker.
You can get a thorough amount of information on trails here.
Now that I have the first visit under my belt, and a much better understanding of how to negotiate this vast and beautiful bit of land, I’ll be sure to visit frequently and (here’s hoping!) much more gracefully – but I’ll always be sure to have my iPhone in my pocket, just in case I find myself lost yet again.