An Ode to the Home Trail

Blind Man’s Loop
The Natural Trail
Glover Archibald and Battery Kemble
Potomac Overlook
Masonic Hill
Four-Mile Hill
Mushroom Trail

For most, these might as well be place names on a map in some Wes Anderson film. To me, they’re some of my favorite spots in the world. They’re connection to the land. They’re how I’ve experienced the seasons. They’re where I’ve learned about myself. They’re home. Through the years and as I’ve moved around the U.S., each has been my home trail and each means so much to me.

This realization came to me this past week when I decided to once again run what I call the Mushroom Trail, a 1.7-mile stretch of singletrack carved out of the hillside above Cement Creek here in Silverton, Colorado. It’s all of a half mile via the town’s dirt streets to the trail’s southern end or closer to two-an-a-half miles if I take the country road out of town in order to run the trail in the “easy,” more generally downhill direction starting from its northern end.

These days, I’m drawn to the trail for the cacophonous explosion of beauty in the form of the brilliant orange columbines, delicate purple fairy slipper orchids, and supporting casts of white and yellow and blue flowers as the trail sidehills the steep, conifer-covered east flank of Anvil Mountain.

Western red columbine - Aquilegia elegantula

With its thick stands of spruces only occasionally interrupted by an aspen grove, the Mushroom Trail and its two-mile tunnel offer a microclimate I don’t often otherwise encounter on the trails and roads around Silverton. It’s always shaded. If not distinctly humid, then it’s at least not as starkly dry as the surrounding area, and that humidity supports a carpet of mosses, lichens, and, for a few weeks some years, its namesake mushrooms. Heck, I’ve named the trail for myself. Some locals call it the Three Creek Trail. Others, the Soda Creek Trail. Not me. As the singletrack nearest my house (and without an official name), I feel a strong enough bond to affix my own moniker to it.

Along the Mushroom Trail

With frequent late-spring runnings of the trail the past three years, I’ve come to know the order in which flowers will bloom, not only their temporal order as the season progresses, but the order that they bloom along the length of the trail itself. Over its short distance, it climbs 500 feet from south to north, meaning the deep winter snows gradually melt out starting with the lower elevations closer to town and ending at the trail’s northern terminus at Niagara Gulch. As a result, the length of the trail yields three weeks of wildflower progression simultaneously, at least during spring and early summer.

Fairy Slipper orchid

Late two summers ago, I made the frequent acquaintance of a porcupine on the Mushroom Trail. I knew that if I headed out in the early evening, there was a good chance I’d spot this plodder within a short span of trail. Sometimes, it’d be moseying along the trail. Other times, I’d stop and look and listen and quickly enough pick up its prickly shape in the trees.

Mushroom Trail porcupine

So, too, have I become familiar with the rhythm of the twists and turns, the punchy little climbs, the flowy traverses. In either direction, the trail now plays out like a song. Or maybe a music video, as I know where open vistas will warrant a few seconds’ stop at which I absorb that time and day’s take on a particular scene.

Boulder Mountain view

As the seasons change, I marvel at the few stands of aspens as they first leaf out in a riveting yellow green, move on to their rich green leafquakes, turn a vibrant yellow, and, lastly, lose their leaves upon the ground. And so, too, do I observe the grasses, the flowers, the creek, and myriad other natural aspects along the trail.

I could write similarly about each location I mentioned at the outset. At one time or another, they’ve been my home trail. I’ve watched as they’ve presented nature’s rhythms through the seasons and been the concert hall in which I’ve played out the rhythms of my running and my life. We all have a nearby trail, no matter how seemingly ordinary, on which we can witness and play out wondrous music in our own beautiful call and response.

Call for Comments
What does or has your “home trail” meant to you? What have you witnessed about nature or yourself there?

A porcupine blaze

Kendall Mountain View - Mushroom Trail