Getting lost in Dogtown

Dogtown, nestled between Gloucester & Rockport on Cape Ann Massachusetts, is a magical nook just outside of the bustling highway. It was first known as the Common Settlement in 1693 when colonized by English millers and farmers. Close enough to the water to thrive but far enough to be safe from pirates, the community flourished for a century. 80-100 families made this rocky wooded area their home until just after the American Revolution. When Gloucester revived its fishing industry after the Revolution, families moved closer to the water and even the meeting house location was reestablished; the small wooden homes were abandoned. Over time, the dogs who lived with the widows of men lost to sea and the war, were left behind, became feral, and overcame the land – one legend says this is when and why the name was changed to Dogtown.

As I walked up Dogtown Road I saw a sign for trail “G”, and as my married name starts with a G I figured this was a great place to start. As I wandered down the trail, I found much of the path covered in water. I was wearing my vegan Docs, so I kept going. And going. And going. I found myself getting lost in the woods, which I love to do. The trees wrestling against the cold wind. The streams on the path gurgling. The quiet of being away from urban life in Salem.

Seemingly abruptly, but really after a half hour, I looked up and realized the path I was on had ended. It seems I’d somehow come off the path and was in fact following a stream that lets out into the Babson Reservoir. Confused, I looked around and realized I was quite lost. There was no path in view. I’d become soaked from hopping through and over the burbling stream. I turned on my phone and pulled up a map.

I was even more off the trail than I’d thought. As I was walking I realized how quiet everything was – there were no birds, no squirrels.  I had wandered far enough from the Reservoir that I couldn’t hear the streams any longer. Besides my boots crushing the dried and dying leaves below, the only sound I could hear was the howling of the wind – bending and cracking the tallest branches of the tallest trees as it gushed by.

Not one to become easily frightened, I kept going.

As I pushed through the brush and the fallen leaves, I noticed boulders all around; some were giant and blocking my path so I had to backtrack to find a way around them. Bittersweet stuck to my clothes, my hat, my face, and even my hair every ten steps or so, causing me to backtrack in hopes of finding ways around it. My legs had cuts all over them from the thorny vines.

I checked the map again; I’d backtracked too much. I swear I was walking toward the road, even with the backtracking, but I was even further from my destination than I was when I was at the Reservoir. I couldn’t help but wonder if the bittersweet was holding me there, in the forest. Reminding me of the lure of nature, the way fresh air can be so healing. Pausing for a moment to take it all in, I breathed in and out slowly, thanked nature for this reminder, and began my trek again.

I won’t bore you with all of my tangles in the bittersweet, all of my climbing over, between, and around boulders, and the time I thought a pile of leaves were on sturdy ground but were actually covering a hole between two boulders that was full of water. It took me almost an hour to find my way back to the road. It felt like a time warp in which I kept moving but not actually making progress.  It was frighteningly wonderful.

You can imagine my relief when I found Dogtown Road again. Before starting my trek again, I googled “Dogtown maps” and the first search noted that one would be “foolhardy” to wander Dogtown without a map. Rolling my eyes, I found my way back to the parking area, took a photo of the map on the way-finding sign, and began walking up Dogtown Road – skipping trail G this time.

The sun was shining warmly and, though it was 32*, I was warm from finding my way back from the reservoir to the road. After a few minutes of walking, I paused again to adjust my scarf and to take in the nature around me. I looked forward at the path. As I did I began thinking about the English settlers (colonizers) who came to the area. How many were lost in the woods as I just was? How frightened were they when sun set and nocturnal animals, unfamiliar to them, began roaming? I laughed at myself thinking how grateful I was for them that bittersweet isn’t native to Massachusetts and that the human-made Babson Reservoir wasn’t in existence yet. I tucked my scarf – which kept coming undone – back into my jacket and began my journey again.

Abruptly, I had a feeling I wasn’t alone. I forced myself to look up. And I saw it.

A human sized figure – completely white or light grey – moving from the right side of the path to the left right in front of me.

I froze. Was it a bird? Maybe. But I didn’t hear any birds. Also, what kind of giant white bird makes no noise as it travels across a path full of leaves and surrounded by trees? It most definitely wasn’t a person – the crunch of fallen New England leaves are a sure sound this time of year when wandering in the woods. What was it?

When I got home, I shared on Instagram that I had gone to Dogtown. In response I received several messages from people who had gone and who had become so lost they will never return. One person messaged me to mention she saw I was headed to Dogtown and had inspired her to want to learn more about Thomasine (Tammy) Younger – the Queen of Witches. It seems Tammy lived in Dogtown in the late 1700.  She collected “tariffs” from anyone passing by her home on Fox Hill, harassing oxen drivers until they complied. It was rumored that if you didn’t pay up, her spirit would spill wood from your cart. Tammy had two long teeth interfering with her ability to eat, causing her to become even more of an outcast. When she died, a family built her coffin, but refused to keep the coffin in their shop because they felt her spirit was in the coffin well before her body was. Some believed she never actually died.

This morning, as I began writing this post, I pulled up several maps of the area to try to sort out where I was lost and how I can avoid doing that next time I visit. Curious, I looked for Tammy’s home. Tammy’s home is near the Reservoir – the Reservoir where I ended up when I felt the woods luring me off track.

Photos of my travels at Dogtown.

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