Bradbury Mountain State Park, where have you been all my life?

Bradbury Entrance signLast week I had the pleasure of my first visit to Bradbury Mountain State Park, in Pownal, right out side of Freeport. I’d driven by it two weeks before, on my way to the Pineland Trail Festival held right down the road, and because I found myself back in the neighborhood so soon, with a day that was all my own, I decided to check it out. Bradbury was known to me mostly from my mountain biking friends. Miles of trails constructed specifically for riding make it a destination for technical mountain bikers throughout the state. I figured that trails that are good to ride would be good to run, so when I headed to Portland for the night, I made sure my running shoes were in the car.

Twig of Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Twig of Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

The park was a delight (though much of Maine, in early June, with enough breeze or speed to keep the biting insects at bay qualifies as delightful), a forest just on the brink of summer fullness. The leaves were fresh light green and new, Ash, Beech and Sugar Maples were found everywhere, interspersed with Hemlocks. The forest floor was blooming, and the smells of the unfurling of leaves and flowers made me swoon. Early summer is fern season, and along with the Sensitive, Cinnamon, Interrupted and Lady ferns, I was excited to run past a large patch of Royal ferns. When I set out there was hardly another soul around and the park felt like my own personal spring wonderland…

Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum), showing why its called Cinnamon Fern.

Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum), showing why its called Cinnamon Fern.

…Which is just what I needed. I’d spent the night before in Portland, Maine’s mecca of good times and good food. Visiting a dear friend, excited by good conversation over a small table in a hip neighborhood restaurant I’d over indulged, eating more bread and cheese than I had since the last time I was in Portland. I’d passed on the $12 cocktails, but that simply left more money available for beer. I’d gone to a show and stayed out after, well past my normal bedtime, chatting up the East End locals in a “Beer Only Cash Only” hole in the wall. The only thing I skipped was dessert-but wait, actually, I got an ice cream cone in Bucksport on the way out of town, so really, my evening of indulgence started with dessert (grapenut/vanilla twist with rainbow sprinkles, in case you were wondering). By the time I pulled into Bradbury Mountain on my way home from Portland, I was tired and spacy, the combined effects of lack of sleep, food and drink toxicity in my system and the psychic disturbance that results from visiting both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods before ten o’clock in the morning (especially when you are a country mouse—I’ll admit, Trader Joe’s doesn’t really do anything for me, but the first time I walked into Whole Foods, I stood there with my jaw on the floor, completely bewildered by the absurd abundance. It messes with your head-that’s the polite way to put it. I have another, not so polite phrase for it, but I’ll let you guess that on your own).

Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) in bloom on the forest floor.

Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) in bloom on the forest floor.

I was in need of hitting the reset button. My night in Portland really wasn’t that rock and roll (tapas at an upscale eatery, a live show of the Moth radio program of National Public Radio fame, drinks after the show with friends); in describing this I am revealing my self to be not only a super nerd, but also apparently, an incredible light weight, if a bit of gluten, lactose, ethanol and a few less hours sleep knocks me off my center. I know that nature is restorative to a weary soul, I’ve experienced it repeatedly in my own life. Running in the woods on a Friday afternoon, after a week of teaching in a concrete box, sitting at a desk in front of a computer, hunched over stacks of home work papers, I feel the aches and pains (mental and physical) of the week literally melt away (that IS the physical sensation). So why I didn’t expect the same results on Friday, I don’t know. Maybe I subconsciously love the joy of this discovery, and my brain conspires to let me live it again and again. I think that I expect that trail running is how I get my head back on straight, how I change my attitude. What I haven’t realized, which is of course completely obvious, is that the transformation I seek is effected by the body. Move the body, create the conditions in which the body can do its thing, one of which is to flush out all the junk, and I mean this concretely, the actual physical junk that accumulates as we sit in our offices, and you feel better. Exercise of course, creates its own junk in the body, but its junk our bodies know how to deal with, and if you give your body even a little help with that (good nutrition, appropriate rest, challenging but not over taxing training volume), you’ll do just fine.

Friday my chief complaint was fatigue. I wasn’t mentally burnt out, far from it in fact. The stimulation of good story telling, revelatory conversation and envisioning broad possibilities left me with a mental buzz that will feed me for days (this is the real reason to periodically emerge from my little hole in the woods, Portland isn’t all hedonism, its also a shot of intellectual and social stimulus that reminds me how healthy diversity-of ideas, lifestyles, people-is. I get more different perspectives in a 24 hour trip to the city than I do in weeks here at home, where our lives, and hence many of our thoughts and priorities are so similar. Some of those new perspectives reinforce my choices, others refresh me and make me reconsider things. I love my community and I don’t regret the choices I have made that brought me here, but I think it is good for the country mouse to put on her skinny jeans and hit the town every once in a while). I wasn’t sure if a trail run could solve simple fatigue, it seemed a bit counter intuitive, but I decided to try. The park helped me in this way, if I had tried to go for an 8 mile run just anywhere, I am sure it would not have been the same.

The map, like the park, has two sides. Make sure you use both.

The map, like the park, has two sides. Make sure you use both.

At Bradbury, I was having an adventure, I was exploring a new place, and I was letting my curiosity choose my direction. My mind felt completely open and it was a day that would be dictated by the limits of the body. So I ran (slowly yes, but ran). It was so gorgeous I didn’t want to stop, and I ran until I was satiated mentally, physically, spiritually, but also hungry for lunch. A couple of years ago, as an exercise I was asked to describe my ideal physical self. One of the things I envisioned was to be able to go out for a two hour run every weekend, a goal that at the time felt over reaching. It has dawned on me that I’m there now. My body has become a vessel of exploration of space, great expanses of it. What a gift. What a blessing, to be able to be so inspired by a place that you don’t want to stop moving through it, and don’t have to.

I am sure the locals know how lucky they are to have such great trails so close at hand. Bradbury Mountain seems to be the home of the most active trail running group in the state (Trail Monsters), and now, having been there, its easy to see why. Make your way there. Bring a picnic. Head to the summit for the view, bring your bike and find the Royal Ferns. No matter what junk you bring there with you, the visit will lighten your load.

Sugar maples

 

 

Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.