Francelia Clark and her friends, Pam Godin and Shelley Mozier, find and follow two of the oldest trails in the Monadnock region into history—on horseback.
Over the course of 3 days, Francelia, Pam, and Shelley, wend their way around the mountain, discovering and documenting much of the early history.
As Francelia writes:
The earliest settlers’ roads in New England have long been concealed by forest or highway. But settlers on roads leave their marks. This book is a story of finding settlers’ stories, of uncovering the old roads and signs of the old homesteads and their settlers in a particular landscape—but it could be another landscape.
This book is also about exploring a familiar region in a new way, first by foot and map, then in partnership with the trail horse for which the earliest roads were laid. Town histories evoked for us some of the detail of substance and suffering that went into living in this landscape. Then a settler’s journal delighted and sobered us further.
There are survival stories to discover. A few of these early roads today have reversed their roles and become comparatively remote, as on Monadnock’s forested north slopes. There, Shaker Farm Road still lies in gravel or dry brook bed, flanked occasionally on either side with the cellar holes from known settlers’ original farms. Meanwhile, a group of earliest roads on Monadnock’s southern slopes have been selected from the forest: they are now well-groomed trails passing oldest foundations with their own stories and long views.
Some early roads can still lead a hiker or a horseback rider over long distance—such as King’s Highway, laid out in 1768, from Peterborough to Washington, and the traces of ‘great roads’ rounding Monadnock. These have historic links to, at least, the long arteries made by traveling settlers and Revolutionary War soldiers. So certain bypassed historic roads, by means of some hunting, can still take us through countryside—with the discoveries that this entails. From such discoveries we have emerged full of admiration for the animal carrying us, respect for hard survival, and the urge to help others explore their landscapes in these ways.
A reader who knows horses may ask why an author who earlier rode King’s Highway on a good black trail horse twelve years later rode the Monadnock roads on a Haflinger school pony, staying much more cautious, and grateful for two riding companions. The black horse might have told you that she and her rider actually were nearing the end of their story. Soon, she dramatically showed she had had enough, and was retired to a former owner. The recent Monadnock adventure underscores how lucky I feel today, albeit a widow, older, and quieter, to be exploring trails with this pony and these companions. It’s a good sign for others.