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Rhode Island: Not Just Family Guy

Rhode IslandI give directions by referencing where things used-to-be; I drink cabinets from Newport Creamery, and I drank coffee milk and Del’s Lemonade growing up (I still do, but that’s our secret).  And like most people believe themselves to be, I am a questionably qualified driver–although I’ve been told Massachusetts-people (Massachusettites?  Massachusettans?  You all really need to work on that…) don’t agree. I’m used to telling people, “No, Quahog is not an actual town,” when I am asked about the television show Family Guy.  I may be a stereotypical Rhode Islander.

But Rhode Islanders are more than coffee milk and quahogs, and Rhode Island is more than the small, dowdy sibling of Massachusetts; it is more than Family Guy references and Iggy’s Doughboys.  It is more than blossoming waterfire during summertime, beautiful anytime beaches and hiking trails, artists and theatre and literature and music.  It is the home to many including “model politicians,” Ann Hood, James Woods, Family Guy, and myself; I grew up there–near where the old homestead used to be.  I know the secrets.

My secret is the hiking trail, hidden in the heart of Rhode Island, past farms and the small freshwater pond where kids cannonball into clear water to frighten the sunfish swimming below.  Cars can reach it, but only after bumping along miles of dirt roads.  A left here, a right there.  Ignore the “Private Property” signs long enough to get to the preserve, and you’ll find it.  An unassuming wooden sign marks the trail with it’s name (I can’t tell; it’s a secret), and beyond the sign the trail snakes up and over boulders split in half from time and the earth’s shifting.  Rhododendrons have invaded every inch of the forest floor here, crawled over fallen trees, and grown larger than beachside bungalows.

When I go, I can’t bring much.  At least not anything I have to carry.  To hike the trail, I have to climb.  One hand grasped around the pine tree to the right and another on the boulder to help lower me down.  At the bottom of the first hill, I always turn around.  The trail seems impossible from that angle, from the bottom, where the incline is almost vertical–a wall of trees and rocks.  The trail disappears somewhere beyond and above my line of sight. Not many people know, but Moonrise Kingdom was filmed here (and other parts of Rhode Island); Sam (what a coincidence!) and Suzy trekked through these woods, climbing rocks, and hoisting their luggage across babbling rivers.

I walk the same paths Sam and Suzy do, pushing aside leaves and using roots as stairs to propel myself higher.  From a distance, someone’s voice echoes, deep and quiet, off leaves and swaying trees. Fluorescent pink pops through the branches; it is the someone’s shirt. The faraway voices talk about fatigue, about how far along the one-and-a-half mile trail they are.  Half way, another voice responds.  They’re at the next peak, looking out, watching the calm pond below and the darkening clouds swirl over the forest.  Leaves are shifting, and the dewey scent of rain is moving in.  I’ll be caught in the downpour, but I don’t care.

I climb while the the two people pack their hammock and pass me on their way down from the peak.  We say hello, and they disappear into the rhododendrons.  I pull myself up the trail, fingernails dirty in the way my mother would have hated, sweat beading on my forehead.  The first raindrops fall when I plant my feet in the dried pine needles and oak leaves at the peak.  I lift my face to the rain and allow my eyes to settle on the rippling pond below.  I have written about this place before, and I have called it “the place where the entire world opens up.”  Nothing but endless green trees and a deep clear pond and the silence one can experience only in a forest. Each time, its beauty reminds me of how beautiful Rhode Island is, especially if you know its secrets.

Adventurous types might be interested in finding this path.  And, while I won’t reveal the secret through its name, curious travelers may be able to find it in Walks and Rambles in Rhode Island by Ken Weber or Discover Rhode Island by Christie Matheson.  Or, to whet your hiking appetite, you may want to watch Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom to see some beautiful Rhode Island vistas, beaches, and forests.  If you wouldn’t be caught dead on a hiking trail, but might want to make fun of Rhode Island, then Family Guy is the show for you.

Samuel Simas is the technology assistant at the Morrill Memorial library; he is a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. Read Samuel’s column in the May 5th issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.


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