The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

A tunnel of lilacs

Imaging a tunnel of purple lilacsFirst printed in the Gettysburg Times, 6/14/2013)

I love motorcycling. I haven’t ridden in nearly 20 years, but it’s like another unmentionable pastime – it’s a bit risky but once you’ve done it, you don’t stop wanting to do it.

When we lived in Norfolk, Va., a favorite ride was the Colonial Parkway, through a tunnel of lilac trees towering and bowed over the roadway from both sides, forming a roof to trap the sweet perfume the way tunnels a few miles east kept the river from pouring into the Hampton Roads bridge-tunnel.

It was a sight and aroma not often allowed to penetrate our enclosed vehicles.

On a ride from Norfolk to Maine with The Boy, we rode through Rutland, Vt., and stopped awhile to listen to a town band perform in the gazebo. A few hours after that, at a rest stop on a northbound interstate, an elderly gentleman with a decidedly French accent said there was a state park a little south of “Mohn-peel-yay” that might be open.

“Get off at the exit and turn left at the bottom of the hill,” he said. “Follow the road until you come to a pond on the right. The park entrance road is on the left, between the house and the barn.”

It was late, preparing to rain, as we followed the Harley’s light-saber cutting a path through the two-lane darkness in front of the bike, awareness of roadside forest more a feeling than actual sight. Eventually we came to where even the feeling of somethingness disappeared where the pond made a space among the trees, and almost immediately the farmhouse and barn loomed.

But this collection of memories is not about the wonderfulness of motorcycles. It’s about being separated from our environment by cars with music, TV, rolled up windows and air conditioning, and trips that have become about the leaving and the arriving, missing completely the getting-there.

On a trip to Ohio a couple weeks ago, we passed a section of concrete sound barriers, molded and painted to look like the strata of the hillside that had been dynamited to make room for the road and the wall that blocked road noise from the houses on the other side.

Concrete “Jersey” barriers, erected in the name of safety, too often block our view of hills and streams, marked, only sometimes, by signs portending a Scenic Overlook, where we can stop to see a small portion of what we would have seen as we drove by, had there not been those walls.

One day a couple years ago I pulled onto a road somewhere in western Adams County. The hills and curves of the dirt pathway eventually rewarded me with the village of South Mountain, a very friendly sandwich shop, and the historic South Mountain Restoration Center not yet partially converted to a prison for naughty boys.

I can find South Mountain from several directions, but I wonder whether I can find that dirt road again.

Last week, on a drive 35 miles north on the two-lane from my home, I crossed a stream and passed a road leading along its far side. On a whim, I turned around and followed the road to a parking area, and spent a half-hour or so hunkering with a man who lived up the trail. That’s a tale for another time.

There is a similar park in Blue Ridge Summit, with a small parking area and walking trails past ferns, Jack-in-Pulpits, and an occasional deer. Some day, there will be tall Jersey barriers blocking the view of such secrets from highway passers-by. Until then, we have only to look out the window, and be patient.

It’s amazing what can be experienced among the wafting lilacs.


  1. What a beautiful way to present a lesson!
    At NSNC a woman (sorry I don’t recall who) asked if you were coming. She said she asked because we often have conversations about your posts. I thought it was nice that someone is interested in what we have to say.

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