Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Walking Wellfleet's White Cedar Swamp Trail

Occasionally Sven and I learn about Wellfleet from guests. Last summer we had a couple who returned one day invigorated by a hike through the White Cedar Swamp. When they asked if I had been, I said yes because I thought they were referring to the Red Cedar Swamp, in Eastham. I should know my cedars as we have seven old ones out front, but I guess I don’t. White, red, not the same thing!

The White Cedar Swamp is located in Wellfleet and can be accessed from the Marconi site parking lot. The trail belongs to the National Seashore and is well maintained, like those in Germany and Sweden. As we started down, a jogger surged past, emerging from a path to our right. His presence signaled that we would enjoy this walk. In France, Sven used to jog every week, so I know how discerning joggers tend to be in their choice of terrain and scenery.

We proceeded down log steps that wound past bear oak, broom crowberry, and pitch pine. “Quite a nice trail!” Sven exclaimed with surprise. Each new species was identified by a small sign. We had to go quite a ways before reaching the swamp, again clearly marked. I followed Sven like a hesitant deer, alert to possible danger. The air smelled different, more woodsy.

White cedar tree trunks soared at weird angles and were spaced quite close together. No light reached the ground in some spots, creating an eerie, otherworldly glow. Not a place to recommend to parents with young children as the elevated boardwalk had no guide rail. While kids would surely enjoy the adventure, how easy to fall in.

“Very unusual landscape,” Sven said as we penetrated deeper into the darkness. At a curve, pedestrians find a bench where they can sit and meditate. In summer, the temperature here must be more pleasant than up at the parking lot. I loved the murky water, which only reflected the blue sky from time to time. What extraordinary colors: bronze, beige, black, lavender, and green.

Wellfleet's White Cedar Swamp gave us an glimpse of what the wilderness confronting colonists in the late 1600s must have been like. They encountered cedars three to four feet thick and cut most of them for lumber. The White Cedar Swamp cedars are younger trees. According to the pamphlet provided by the Seashore, "All of this land was barren in the 1850s, a result of years of overuse. From the original primeaval forest, almost no trees remain.

The boardwalk meandered through the swamp and looped back to the entrance where we followed a different path up to the car, the one the jogger had chosen, soft earth, ideal for running.

“Reminds me of the forest in St. Germain-en-Laye,” I said.

“Yes, the one with the wild boars,” Sven replied.

I didn’t remember any wild boars, but apparently my husband actually had seen a whole family in the St. Germain forest. We didn’t observe any wildlife at the White Cedar Swamp, not even birds.

We completed our walk by heading towards the site of Marconi’s wireless station. Off to the right, I snapped the landscape as we drove past. The Seashore has built an observation platform on a rise near the exhibit. From there we had a great view of the Atlantic, which turned wild and white-capped as we watched. A cold wind blew up, chilling me to the bone. We hurried back to the car, pleased with this new addition to our walking repertoire, one I will certainly recommend to future guests, those without children!