When we bought a house in Unity last month, I knew the Hills-to-Sea trail would be close by, but I did not realize it would be a half-mile down the street. The house is on the other side of Crosby Brook Road from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners’ Association (MOFGA), and the edge of MOFGA is part of the official Hills-to-Sea trail route.
When first encountering the Hills-to-Sea trail map and driving by the field considered the MOFGA trailhead, I tried to wrap my head around how it fit into the grand scheme of this trail system from Unity to Belfast. At first, I thought the trail to MOFGA would be considered a spur trail, but from looking at the map at http://www.waldotrails.org/unitytrail.html, it became clear that it is part of the official route. The northern terminus for the Hills-to-Sea trail is in downtown Unity. Coming from Unity or Freedom, you can indeed easily opt for an short alternate route and avoid the official route that swings through MOFGA, but why would you want to?
I have only had the time to make a loop out of the MOFGA inset of the map: Berry Road to the Alternate Route to Sandy Stream to MOFGA to the Berry Road. Last Saturday night, my husband and I finally slept for the first time in the 15-passenger van that we purchased last fall with the intention of crashing in it while we were working on our house. Early in our relationship, we discovered my husband becomes so involved in projects that he likes to stay up until the wee hours of the morning wiring electrical whereas I konk out around 10pm.
When I woke up Sunday morning, sunlight streaming into the van from every direction, I decided to head out on a walk while my partner slept more. New to the property, I am interested in walking in every direction: down the railroad tracks to Thorndike, up the railroad tracks to the Amish store, but most of all, over to the section of the Hills-to-Sea trail.
I knew I could walk up Berry Road and avoid the crossing of Sandy Stream, and per usual, I had not committed to a concrete plan where I would go from there. Being my mother’s daughter, I even found Berry Road to be of interest simply because I had never been down that way before. My mother spent thirty years of her career as a visiting nurse driving the back roads of Somerset, Kennebec, Hancock, and Penobscot counties, and she taught me the joy of making the pages of the Delorme come alive. She lives for the scenic route, often at the expense of the underside of her car, and she would occasionally veer off down a back road when driving with my sister and me. “I have been down this road before–well, partially been down this road–well, my friend told me about this road.”
Berry Road is classic Waldo County pastoral, agricultural fields in use with an RV or something else for sale here or there. Well-marked as part of the Hills-to-Sea trail the whole road. At the top of the hill, I came across a sign directing me to Freedom if I headed South and Unity to the north. To outsiders these names may be strange, but I have known these town names my whole life and been driving through them, swimming in them, stopping at their general stores.
Then and there, I decided I would loop back to MOFGA via the Sandy Stream crossing. I had crossed waist-high water before, with my father I had forded a river notoriously discouraged by the MATC, I could handle this stream crossing.
I briefly walked on the alternate route before it veered off to Unity, and I headed towards MOFGA. I felt a little in awe that I could walk to downtown Unity some day. To me, I felt even more excited about our move to Central Maine because of this newly developed trail system practically in our backyard. The new trail system was not the fine stonework of Acadia. For the most part, it was the understated pleasure of walking through a hardwood forest and trying to remember from dendrology which tree was releasing these fluffy fruiting bodies that would sporadically coat the forest floor like a shedding animal.
In heading towards MOFGA, I crossed a field high on a ridge and had a Sound of Music moment. It was my only true view of the day, a bird’s eye view of field after field of the working Maine landscape. Perhaps the tourists of Acadia would be unimpressed, but I felt so much gratitude that I had to start singing THAT song. “The hills are alive…..” At the same time, I felt transported back to the sections of the AT in southern Virginia, where the trail maintainers install little steps to climb over fences you cross so many fields and usually you are crossing the fences under the watchful gaze of cattle. No cattle in this particular field on the Hills-to-Sea trail though.
From there, the trail meanders it’s way through the woods to Sandy Stream. For all who may worry about the stream crossing, fear not. It felt quite tame in my book, they had even placed stepping stones across the stream that were just barely under the surface of the water. I opted to take my shoes off and enjoy the pleasure of the cool water on my toes. Once I reached the other side, I hiked barefoot for a bit, in touch with the wild rugged quality of my childhood.
When I emerged from the woods to the field near Crosby Brook Road, I felt acutely aware that all the alpacas at the farm next door turned their long necks and stared at me. Awwww.
I know so many who attend the Common Ground Fair and say, “I wish this happened 365 days a year.” The Hills-to-Sea trail is the answer to that. The Hills-to-Sea trail pulls you into that working agricultural landscape in all seasons, and that is a tremendous gift for all of us who need a reprieve.