noah’s ballast


A few weeks ago, my walking partner K. and I hiked up to Noah’s Ballast, a field of granite boulders that sits between Goose Pond and Red Point on Swan’s Island.  The interesting thing about this field of granite boulders is that the boulders are made up of a type of granite not found on the island — hence the genesis of the name.  It turns out that this particular field of granite, which sits alone in the middle of the forest, is actually glacial moraine, the residue of a former ice age.

Noah’s Ballast is an impressive spot — it reminds me a bit of Ringing Rocks in Pennsylvania, though without the ringing — but I think I like the hike up from Red Point road even more.  The path is marked out by small cairns, mostly made up of three-stone piles, that mark the way.  It’s remarkable how much a simple structure like a cairn calls attention to itself as an object constructed by human hands; it takes the smallest amount of shaping to make things want to stick in the eye and mind.  The path climbs up the mountain through bogs, a series of granite ledges topped with bonsai-sized pines, and a thick spruce forest carpeted with soft needles.

In order to get the most out of the walk it’s important to pay attention to the micro details.  There’s sphagnum moss everywhere on the island, but this hike was the first time for me to see large patches of bright pink-red moss growing at the edge of the bog.  Investigating under and around, like Thoreau so often does, I found a few wild cranberries; the one I ate tasted exactly like I imagined it would — sour and crisp, and bitterly refreshing.  Here’s what Thoreau writes about spring cranberries in Wild Fruits:

We require just so much acid as the cranberries afford in the spring.  No tarts that I ever tasted at any table possessed such a refreshing, cheering, encouraging acid that literally put the heart in you and set you on edge for this world’s experiences, bracing the spirit, as the cranberries I have plucked in the meadows in the spring.  They cut the winter’s phlegm, and now you can swallow another year of this world without other sauce.

Later, amid the granite boulders at the Ballast, we found huge colonies of an incredible lichen that looked very much like the crystalline entity from the Next Generation.  Thoreau surely would have read this as evidence of his theory that, contra Goethe’s claim that the leaf form is the primary shape in nature, it’s the crystal form that’s at the base of all things.


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