The Expanding Jungle
The Canonchet Preserve in western Rhode Island is a collection of smaller preserves cobbled together with some private land sandwiched between. Off Route 3 is the Hoxsie section, where I began my journey. This area is filled with large stone structures, apparently the remains of a town. Whoever might have lived here before, it is home to rocks, trees, and flies now. I planned to take the Canonchet trail through the Hoxsie section all the way into the next section and then north to Stubtown Road before turning back, reentering the Hoxsie section, and taking the Hoxsie trail to the parking lot. The map at the trailhead made it look like a four-mile round trip, tops – at least that’s the way I remember it.
The first thing I noticed was the prevalence of yellow leaves on the ground. It was too early for autumn, and they were all of one kind. What was going on?
There was also stonework everywhere, especially stone walls and stone-lined pits. There were also many of these odd stone nests:
I also saw this boulder carrying her babies on her back:
And this one:
And this one:
I also saw this giant piece of quartz:
I also saw a few flowers:
And there were mushrooms of every flavor:
At last I came to the edge of the Hoxsie and set forth on to Stubtown Road. My trek had felt much longer than it should have been. I was tired. There was a map at the junction of the two trails as well, but this one made it look as though I was facing an eight-mile round trip! Could I have misread the earlier map? No, there must be a reasonable explanation. I’ve heard that the universe is expanding due to dark energy, but this is just ridiculous!
I decided to press on anyways. A little further down the trail, I looked back and realized that I could see a lot farther than I could when I had looked forward. It seemed as though the trees were further apart now, allowing me to see between them. Was the space between the trees getting bigger?
Something else happened. I noticed it was very quiet. I could no longer hear the traffic from the road. The only noises came from myself and my ever-loyal companions the deerflies, who had followed me from Hoxsie. They would stick with me right until the end. I could no longer hear civilization at all. Was the park expanding so fast that I was receding from the parking lot faster than the speed of sound and that was why I could hear nothing? I shuddered, but kept onward.
There were also spiders living here, some of whom had carelessly strewn their webs across the trail. I walked into four of them. Well, it serves them right. My deerfly companions were content to let me walk ahead of them. I don’t blame them.
These spiders were a strange breed, with high, spiny backs of a silvery color (spiny micrathena). I tried to take a picture, but the camera would not focus.
In one area, I came across several trees that had been damaged by what I can only guess to be some sort of spatial disruptor weapon. Obviously, a gunfight had broken out here once – but who was fighting whom? And were they long gone or still lurking around?
As I examined the trees and contemplated this mystery, a bomb from above narrowly missed me. I dove for cover, but it did not explode. It wasn’t the only one. This area was almost carpeted with them. Curious what was inside, I cut one open and found it full of maggots. These weren’t bombs at all. They were the fruits of the maggot tree!
This was an eerie place indeed. Everything wanted to be something else. I encountered these mushrooms pretending to be lettuce. Their smell gave them away. They smelled like mushrooms, a bit earthy and a bit grassy. I was not fooled. They would not end up in my salad.
I came across this stump pretending to be a duck. Again, I was not fooled. It never quacked once.
I don’t know what this is, but it was pretending to be a caterpillar. I knew it wasn’t. No caterpillar would ever be caught outside the home looking that silly. I think it might have been a drunk college student.
Reaching a swampy area, I encountered a tree whose roots were pretending to be a boulder. I wasn’t fooled. I never sat on it. Just beyond this were tree roots spread across a brook and covered with moss that were obviously mimicking the nearby bridge. I wasn’t fooled. I chose the real bridge.
Once past the swamp, the trail gradually went uphill and the average size of rock became bigger. The boulders were absolutely massive. Clearly, they were taking steroids – or maybe they were mutants. The size of these stones gave cover to hiding animals, as well as hijackers and pirates, probably. I rounded one stone only to encounter a mess of roots and dirt pretending to be a black-cloaked robber. I almost peed myself.
Shortly after that, something passed me that looked like a bumblebee, but wasn’t. It was at least twice the size of the largest bumblebee I had ever seen. Settling on a leaf just two steps in front of me, I could then see that it was possibly the scariest-looking insect I had ever seen in my life. It had a vaguely bee-like body, but the wings and head were all wrong. I can’t even be sure it was Hymenoptera. In its jaws, it held the lifeless body of another insect, as if to demonstrate what it would do to me if I stepped out of line. I almost peed myself again.
Note: After returning home and looking it up, I think it might have been a European hornet, though this is doubtful; it didn’t look quite the same. It may of course have been a mutant European hornet.
At last I reached the end of the trail. Here there were flowers, open air, and direct sunlight. There was also a wasp on the ground pretending to be an ant (No, seriously, I’m not joking this time; look it up).
I turned back the way I came. By this time I was exhausted from the heat and humidity. If not for the constant encouragement from the deerflies to keep moving, I probably would have taken a nap. One of them even kissed me on the cheek to make me feel better. It hurt.
I have always found it remarkable just how many new things can be seen on the way out that were missed on the way in. Everything looks so different when seen from a different angle. I saw little bits of green wood like I had seen at the Davis Memorial Wildlife Refuge. How had I missed that? I also came across the edge of a boulder sticking through the ground. It was a stone pretending to be a log! How had I missed that? I then came across some more fungi. There was no way I could have missed it. Had it grown up while I was gone? Was time expanding as well as space? Was I about to return to an Earth where humans had long been extinct?
As time went on, I realized it had been a long time since I had seen any of the landmarks I saw on the way in. Every hill and valley looked unfamiliar. I began to wonder if I had somehow stepped onto the wrong trail, though I could not understand how, since I never saw an intersection. “I think I might be on the wrong path,” I said to my deerfly companions, just as I walked face-first into yet another spider web.
Since I had walked into every web on the way in, I was now sure I was on the wrong trail. After seeing through all the other trickery around me, I had been duped by the wrong trail pretending to be the right trail! I should have known all those other things were mere distractions! I considered turning back, but I was too tired. For topological reasons, I knew I must have been heading in roughly the right direction, since I had not yet run into the roads that border the preserve. Besides, I was too curious to see what lie ahead.
Eventually, the trail dumped me onto a road next to some houses with beautiful gardens. My deerfly companions finally bid me farewell as I walked along the road back to the place where I had left my car. Human civilization still seemed to be intact. There was no sign that more than a few hours had passed or that the world was any bigger. I’ll let the cosmologists figure it all out. I give up.
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My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.